Kodak chairman retiring; news sends stock soaring

Eastman Kodak Co., the film and drug giant seen by many as slow to make changes, has delivered yet another surprise this year by putting chairman, prez and chief exec Kay Whitmore out to pasture.

Kodak shareholders saw their stock jump to a 52-week high after the news, closing at 58 5/8 Friday, up 3 1/4.

Whitmore has been viewed as a drag on the stock price because of his reluctance to chop costs and cut staffing levels.

But Kodak employees should probably start worrying, as the chances that more layoffs are coming likely has increased.

Whitmore’s retirement was announced Friday morning. Eastman Kodak said the search for an outside replacement will be overseen by a special committee of the board. Whitmore will stay on until the successor is found, projected to be by the end of the year.

Kodak’s board will be looking for a cost-cutter who will come equipped with a carving knife rather than a scalpel. Wall Street analysts came away feeling the directors are clearly dissatisfied with the extent of the company’s expense reduction efforts so far.

It is the second significant management change in recent months. Chief financial officer Christopher Steffen, appointed in January amid great expectations for cost cuts, left in April after clashing with Whitmore on the speed of implementing an expense reduction plan.

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