Engineering a Kodak career

Norm Naumoff, P.Eng., had an industrial engineering background that took him from the basement of Kodak Canada Inc. to president and chair, and beyond

Norm Naumoff, P.Eng., graduated from the University of Toronto’s industrial engineering program in 1966 and immediately got to work in the graduate development program in the basement of Kodak Canada Incorporated. He’d worked there as a student, liked the company and decided to stay on. A testament to his professional dedication and work ethic, he continued his studies at extension school while working full-time, earning an MBA (majoring in economics) at what is now the Schulich School of Business at York University.

Innovative and at the top of its game, Kodak was a natural fit for an engineer like Naumoff, who rose through the ranks until his retirement almost 38 years later as president and chair.

Norm Naumoff spoke to Engineering Dimensions from his home in Georgian Bay.

WORKING HIS WAY UP

Starting in the industrial engineering department, a new area of Kodak’s engineering division, Naumoff got to work mapping out plant capacity studies, laying out facilities and calculating statistics for growth based on GDP. Early on, he was pleased to be part of a recommendation to the senior engineering team to buy 200 acres in Brampton, Ontario for a large industrial site in 1967. He spoke about working his way up through various senior engineering jobs, carrying out site planning, analyzing equipment needs and working with consulting engineers and architects. “My engineering background, industrial, fit perfectly with that—workflow analysis, looking at bottlenecks, where we thought the plant flow would be congested based on future volume—so it’s systems thinking, and I think that’s important for young engineers to know,” says Naumoff.

It wasn’t long before Kodak saw fit to place him in a management position, making him head of the manufacturing department in 1976. With a staff of over 3000 at the time, it was a challenging position that he excelled in, but soon he moved on to head the film emulsion and paper division, which he described as the heart of the company in those days: “It was a chemical company, today it’s digital—it’s a different company today than what I retired from,” he says.

In 1984, those sharp analytical skills landed him the management of personnel and labour relations. This was a very different position. But he had years of leadership under his belt, a vast knowledge of technology and extensive experience working with people of diverse backgrounds in a supervisory role. This, combined with years of factory experience, saw him well-equipped to manage people and facilitate union negotiations—he engineered the human factor.

As the jobs and divisions changed over the years, one thing remained consistent: his knack for problem-solving and ability to see the big picture. No matter what position he was in, he was an engineer. He was troubleshooting. He was thinking systems.

Eventually, he made the move to Rochester, New York, where he became the assistant to the senior vice president of global manufacturing and logistics for the Eastman Kodak Company in 1995. This gave him a big picture perspective, including exposure to global budgets and people from around the world. “We had factories in China, Brazil, France, England, India, Australia, Mexico, and of course all over the United States and a major one in Canada,” says Naumoff. “So, I had a good global look at how the company worked, at how budgets were set—and they were fairly big budgets in those days—so it just broadened your management exposure.” He returned to Canada in 1997 to become the vice president of manufacturing logistics for the Canadian company, eventually joining the board of directors and ultimately taking over as president and chair of the board in 1999. He retired at the start of 2004, after nearly 38 years with the company.

Summing up his time at Kodak as challenging and enjoyable, Naumoff stressed its progressiveness and innovative nature. “Eastman Kodak, even though it went through some very difficult technology changes, was a very progressive company for management systems,” he says. He’s proud of being a part of implementing several initiatives that reshaped the company. Perhaps the most dramatic example was the implementation of what was coined the Kodak Operating System, based on an operational philosophy called LEAN thinking. LEAN, a concept that’s quite popular today, has roots in the Toyota Production System. Kodak Canada—a microcosm of the global company that made for the domestic market, exported globally and had manufacturing through to marketing—became a model for global operations. LEAN thinking was applied to all areas, from marketing and finance through to manufacturing and sales. In the 1990s, Kodak was changing its shape, and the LEAN philosophy was a critical factor in helping the company navigate some difficult growing pains. Says Naumoff: “We developed this in Canada—I’m very proud of this—this is where you look at the customer and you work backward from the customer and make what they really need, when they want it, and you push it through the process. But it’s actually pulled by customer demand. It’s a very simple concept for an industrial engineer, but very hard to do…and that was the model for Eastman Kodak, which is still used today in the digital company.”

Other notable accomplishments were implementing SAP, a global software integration for the entire corporation—again, done in Canada first as a model for the Eastman Kodak company—and steering the company through International Standards Organization (ISO) certification, a challenging and lengthy process that included prepping to go through several quality standards. He would draw on this experience in post-retirement roles on the board of directors at both Humber River Hospital, where he eventually became chair, and the Georgian Bay Cancer Support Centre. Whatever the challenge was, Naumoff remained flexible and ready to meet it.

THE DIGITAL TRANSITION

Naumoff waxes poetic when the conversation turns to the camera film era, enthusiastically and adeptly describing a very detailed and complex film manufacturing process, culminating at the end of the assembly line with a roll of Ektachrome in a small yellow box. He wasn’t a chemical engineer, but after living with it for so many years, he understood the technology and respected the process. He spoke of how film demands a degree of discernment, a level of skill with composition and lighting that digital does not. Digital technology, he points out, though phenomenal today and, ironically, created by Kodak back in the 1970s, doesn’t require the same consideration that film does. Some may think that’s a good thing. Others—industrial engineers, perhaps—might appreciate the thought process behind it. Explaining how Kodak wanted to marry the convenience of digital with the beauty of film’s silver halide, he added they “had to be very careful not to kill the golden goose, but in the process, technology just kept changing.” Naumoff says he still enjoys photography, joking, “I don’t know what to do with all my Nikons,” and adding, “I wanted to get into the marketing side because I really enjoyed that, but in those days, you went where you were told.” As an engineer, he made it work.

Naumoff says his degree in industrial engineering, which he describes as a systems-oriented thinking degree, allowed him to move between departments with ease and made him comfortable with change—and breaking things down into systems was a constant that helped him learn the business. He was an engineer no matter where he was. “Everyone has a process,” he says.

A LIFER

Reflecting on his long career at Kodak, he mused on the rarity of being a lifer, noting that only one other classmate enjoyed a good career with a single company: “The others, amazingly, had anywhere from about three to 10 jobs—consultants, downsizing, let go, caught—nothing has changed from today with young people, when you really go back and look at what it was like to be in business even 50 years ago.” He keeps in touch with his University of Toronto classmates—they get together regularly to catch up and recently celebrated their 50th class reunion.

When asked what advice he’d give a young engineer entering the workforce, Naumoff offered this: “First, understand the key process or drivers of whatever it is you start out with in the working world, and ensure your work is followed through to completion… be accountable for your creation. That builds true confidence. Second, never be afraid of a problem: problems are treasures to learn from… Third, find what you enjoy. If it’s design, technology, pursue it. If it’s dealing with people, pursue leadership of others. Failure to be true to your real interest can lead to unnecessary hidden stress over your work life. Lastly, think about your passion and what you want to accomplish. You’re educated to think through issues. Do not dream about what you want to do—thinking is harder and will yield an action plan and path forward. An engineer is educated to do actionable things.” Solid advice, for any industry.

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