The company that came immediately to mind when I read your question was Polaroid.
When I was a boy, Polaroid instant cameras were the technological
miracle of the marketplace. The idea that you could take a photo, pop
the film out of the camera, have it develop before your eyes **in
broad daylight** and have the whole thing take just a minute was --
well, like I said -- a miracle. It was a sad day when the
much-revered company was forced into bankruptcy in 2001.
Edward Land, who founded Polaroid in 1937, was one of the great
inventive geniuses in American history, and is second only to Thomas
Edison in the number of patents he held. Many observers think that
when Land died, the company lost its creative vision, although others
say that Land himself -- as visionary as he was -- had some fatal
blindspots as well.
Wherever the blame may lie, it's universally agreed that Polaroid got
stuck in a one-technology business. The initial success of instant
pictures was threatened in the marketplace by two things.
First, the availability of one-hour processing shops and kiosks, that
could provide pictures almost as fast as instant film.
Second -- and the real hammer blow -- came from digital photography,
where pictures appeared not only instantaneously, but without the need
for repeated purchases of expensive instant film.
Furthermore, Polaroid prints never overcame the intial limitations of
their technology -- a fixed and fairly small picture size, picture
quality that was only modest at best, and the inability to make
The company's decline was nothing less than ignomious. From a stock
price that peaked at $60 a share in 1997, shares were selling for 28
cents each at the time the company declared bankruptcy. A name that
was synomynous with innovation came, instead, to symbolize a
technology that became stuck in time, and failed to adapt. As one
observer commented, the company "allowed one of the 10 greatest brands
in the world to go down the drain".
I trust that brief summary will assist you in your work. I've
included links to a good deal of additional information below, along
with some relevant excerpts.
However, if you find you need additional information, just let me
know. Please don't rate this answer until you have everything you
need. Just post a Request for Clarification, and I'm at your service.
Good luck in your ventures,
Friday, 12 October, 2001
Polaroid files for bankruptcy
...The US firm has been struggling under a debt mountain for some
months, and the announcement had been widely rumoured.
...Three months ago, Polaroid said it was exploring strategic options
including a sale of the company, but no buyer emerged.
...The company's popularity was etched away after the introduction of
one-hour film developing shops and video cameras.
...And the firm struggled to adapt to new digital technology as its
core instant film business faded.
...Polaroid's financial difficulties began well before 11 September.
...But a slowdown in travel - and the purchase of cameras and films -
could have been the nail in the coffin of the company.
...The company was founded by Harvard University dropout Edwin Land in 1937.
...Total debts at the firm amount to almost one billion dollars.
...Polaroid shares, which traded as high as $60 in 1997, were frozen
on the New York Stock Exchange at just 28 cents last Tuesday.
Polaroid on the brink
Wednesday, 11 July 2001
...Anyone who has been following Polaroid's fortunes over the last six
months won't be surprised by the events of the last week or so.
There's been plenty of talk of bankruptcy, sales and mergers. They've
simply not moved quickly enough to embrace digital photography or
digital photo finishing. "Pending the announcement, Polaroid shares
were suspended near the end of trading Wednesday after falling 30
percent to $1.92 on the New York Stock Exchange (news - web sites)
amid reports it was considering filing for bankruptcy."
...Polaroid, founded in 1937, made its name producing instant cameras
and film, but it was caught flat-footed by the recent shift to digital
...In May, Polaroid debuted a line of Opal and Onyx digital printers,
and unveiled a plan to share the technology with other companies and
build kiosks in high-traffic areas like shopping malls...But while the
technology impressed analysts, some said it came too late to make a
dent in Polaroid's debts, which totaled $860 million last month. The
company laid off 950 workers in February and another 2,000 last month.
...The Polaroid Corporation was founded in 1937 by Edwin H. Land. It
is most famous for its instant film cameras, which reached the market
in 1948, and continue to be the company's flagship product line. The
company's original dominant market was in polarized sunglasses, an
outgrowth of Land's self-guided research in polarization after leaving
Harvard at the age of 17 (he later returned to Harvard to continue his
...After Polaroid defeated Kodak in a patent battle, Kodak left the
instant camera business on January 9, 1986.
...Polaroid managed to develop an instant movie system, Polavision,
based on the Dufay color process. The product was too late to market
and had to compete with the upcoming video based systems. As a result
most of the manufactured product was sold off as a job lot.
...The company entered the digital photography market late in the
game, and as a result has neither a significant market share nor
significant innovation in this area.
...The company filed for federal bankruptcy protection in October 11,
2001, but most of the business is carried on by a new Polaroid company
managed by Bank One. Criticism has been raised over the way this
process was undertaken, because the process left the executives of the
company with healthy bonuses, while stock holders, as well as current
and retired employees, were left with nothing.
Dog Watch: Polaroid
NEW YORK - Polaroid won a reprieve from its bankers this week, but the
instant-camera maker remains in deep trouble. It needs to develop a
deal to save itself from bankruptcy, but potential acquirers may
prefer to let this firm slide into Chapter 11 before making an offer.
What a sad end it would be for Polaroid (nyse: PRD - news - people) if
this storied firm ends up on a slab in bankruptcy court. And what a
hard lesson for those "buy and hold" investors who paid big bucks for
this stock 30 years ago, when it was one of Wall Street's brightest
...Polaroid in the early '70s was one of the so-called Nifty Fifty, a
group of stocks seen as "can't miss" investments. Even among this
group, Polaroid was expensive: At its peak, the stock's
price-to-earnings ratio topped 90. Nowadays, Polaroid can be had
cheap, but there are few takers.
...Polaroid, it seems, is fading away, like a sepia-toned photograph
of a long-dead ancestor. By next year, this famous name may be only a
memory. That and a big tax writeoff for those true believers who
bought it back in 1972 and have hung on ever since, waiting for this
onetime highflier to live up to its Nifty Fifty billing.
Polaroid Goes Bankrupt; Plans to Sell Existing Assets
Economy and Digital Competition Explain Low Sales
October 23, 2001
...Last June, Polaroid announced that it would lay off 2,000
employees, approximately a quarter of its 8,000-member global
workforce. In September, the company reduced health benefits for some
of its workers.
Stephen A. Benton ?63, Allen Professor of the Program in Media Arts
and Sciences, worked at Polaroid from 1961, when he was still an MIT
undergraduate, until 1985. Benton worked closely with Land until his
retirement in 1982....Benton attributed at least part of Polaroid?s
troubles to Land?s departure....?I wish I could say that things would
be different today if Dr. Land were still running Polaroid, but my
guess is that the days of instant photography have simply run out,?
Benton said. ?However, Land might have been able to reinvent the
company again, as he did at the end of World War Two, when it went
from an optics company to a photography company.? ...Benton noted,
however, that Land ?really was resistant to the digital revolution.?
...Land?s emphasis on research and development established Polaroid?s
reputation as a center for innovation and invention. Throughout World
War II, Polaroid developed new military technology under a U.S.
government contract. Some of the company?s wartime inventions included
infrared filters, heat-seeking missiles fitted with miniaturized
computers, and target finders.
POLAROID IS ONLY THE LATEST IN A LONG LINE OF ONCE-POWERFUL
BOSTON-AREA COMPANIES TO SLIDE INTO IRRELEVANCE. ALL SHARED THE HUBRIS
TO BELIEVE THEIR TECHNICAL SMARTS WOULD KEEP THE WORLD BEATING A PATH
TO THEIR DOORS.
...For those who had been part of the company during its heyday in the
1960s and 1970s, the bankruptcy filing, though not unexpected, was
...The average Polaroid employee--6,500 remain, down from a peak of
nearly 21,000 in 1978--has been there more than 20 years
...Ask any of them what went wrong and almost all will eagerly, if
unhappily, offer an opinion. Polaroid remained too insular, they say;
the CEOs and the executives who followed legendary founder Edwin Land
were shortsighted engineers who made an endless stream of costly bad
bets and questionable strategic choices. DiCamillo, the long-awaited
new blood who arrived from Black & Decker in 1995, surrounded himself
with Polaroid veterans, preventing the injection of new life into the
old company. Polaroid missed the shift to digital imaging and couldn't
catch up once the digital revolution got rolling. Polaroid couldn't
climb out from under the mountain of debt created when it fended off
the now infamous Shamrock Holdings takeover bid in 1988. Known for its
relentless technological innovation, Polaroid lost its golden touch
once Land retired in 1982, after which its labs continued to turn out
nifty technology that didn't sell. Polaroid wasted the $ 925 million
payoff in 1991 from a Kodak patent-infringement case, an amount that
should have been used to pay down the onerous debt.
...But one thing is clear: Having established one of the world's most
recognizable and admired brands over the course of 40 glorious and
profitable years, Polaroid's leaders permitted that brand to devolve
into irrelevance. "They allowed one of the 10 greatest brands in the
world to go down the drain," says Peter Wensberg, who served as senior
vice president of marketing during the company's glory years. "A
priceless asset was wasted."
...Land was a mythic figure--handsome, graceful, and elegant. I met
him only a few times but always had an urge to bow my head. After all,
the man had single-handedly invented an entire industry--instant
photography--and the innovations poured out of his mind and the
company's R & D labs like water from a fire hose. He owned more
patents (533) than any American inventor except Thomas Edison. The
prevailing feeling then was simple and powerful: Anything was
possible. Under Land's watch, Polaroid became one of the ten most
recognizable brands in the world. All you had to do was turn on your
TV and you'd see commercials featuring the likes of Sir Laurence
Olivier touting the company's remarkable SX-70 camera.
...In 1970, in response to a bid by the United Rubber Workers union to
organize Polaroid workers, Land sent a photocopied handwritten note to
all 10,000 employees. "This is no ordinary company that we have built
together," he wrote. "It is the proud pioneer that set out to teach
the world how people should work together. Polaroid is on its way to
lead the world--perhaps even to save it--by this interplay between
science, technology, and real people. I have waited many years for
this next great step in our growth toward the perfect scientific-human
company. I cannot imagine that many of you could turn away now."...And
not many did. Most Polaroid employees joined up for life. For many who
stayed on even as the magic petered out, there was a stubborn belief
that the good old days might return. This futile determination only
added to their deep eventual disappointment. As it turned out,
Polaroid could not save the world: The company couldn't even save
...In 1991, Polaroid won a $ 925 million settlement from Kodak in a
patent-infringement case, and Booth invested $ 300 million of it to
build a plant in New Bedford that would make dry film for a new
medical x-ray business. He poured another $ 300 million into research
and development to support that business, which ultimately failed. He
earmarked yet another $ 300 million to build the Captiva, a new
instant camera with a smaller format film than the SX-70. Though
market research showed that the camera wouldn't sell if priced above $
60, Polaroid stuck a $ 120 price tag on it. It, too, ultimately
failed. "Essentially, the $ 925 million was pissed away," says Yannas.
...Since 1976, in fact, Polaroid had been losing money selling
cameras. The money was in the film. Historically, gross profit on film
was more than 60 percent. As long as Polaroid kept the film revenue
growing, it would stay profitable. But after the early 1980s, Polaroid
started to lose its marketing edge, and it was here that Polaroid's
vaunted brand was allowed to erode.
...Even if there was a thriving commercial business for Polaroid's
instant cameras among the likes of real estate brokers and insurance
adjusters, the company lost touch with its consumer audience.
Consumer-use rates typically dropped from 5 packs of film the first
year after purchasing a camera to 2.5 packs the second, and fewer
beyond that. At that rate, Polaroid needed to sell 1.5 million cameras
a year to keep film sales steady. But Polaroid's marketers were
suddenly no longer able to communicate the fun of instant photography.
Their once-captive audience was embracing cheap new 35mm
point-and-shoot cameras and one-hour processing.
...Yet the company held on tightly to its core technology. An instant
picture could be only as big as the camera that created it, so the
cameras were bulky and unwieldy. People going on vacation left them
gathering dust at home. Also, the picture quality was poor in relation
to 35mm 4-by-6 prints, and the only practical way to make duplicates
was to shoot the same picture again.
...Polaroid allowed its brand to become about a single technology,
says Sam Hill, president of Helios Consulting and coauthor of The
Infinite Asset: Managing Brands to Build New Value. "Their fundamental
premise was under constant attack, first from one-hour photo shops,
then digital cameras and camcorders. If they had invested in digital
much earlier and maybe offered a line of minicams, they might have
saved the brand. People haven't stopped loving instantness."
...But Polaroid's research pipeline had lost its direction after Land
retired. His insistence on building and releasing the Polavision
instant movie system even as video cameras loomed on the horizon
tarnished his previously unassailable reputation for product
development. Despite that debacle, no one was ever able to effectively
fill the void Land left. At his best, Land knew the difference between
good technology and good products. Without him, the R & D group tried
to bring new life to the product line but always seemed a day late and
many dollars short.
...Successful existing products were left to languish. That OneStep
camera, originally offered in 1977, is still on the market, unchanged
except for a few cosmetic touches. In fact, the product line today is
overloaded with dozens of models and variations of instant cameras and
film types that have done little but confuse consumers. "If you don't
renew consumer products, they die," Yannas says.
...Polaroid had a brief spike in its fortunes in late 1999 when it
unveiled the cheap i-Zone camera. Polaroid engineers dismissed it as a
toy, while the marketing staff argued that it would be a hit among
teenagers for its postage stamp-sized prints, which could be affixed
to binders and assignment books. The marketers prevailed, and three
months after it was introduced, the i-Zone was the best-selling camera
in America. i-Zone film sales fueled Polaroid's first annual profit ($
9 million in 1999) since 1994, and another profitable year in 2000.
Unfortunately for Polaroid, the i-Zone suffered the fate of other teen
fads: a short shelf life. Unable to sustain interest, the i-Zone did
little more than stave off Polaroid's bankruptcy for a few more years.
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