How to run a photo business

One gets it. The other? Oh! well.

I’ve mentioned before that the greatest photographic companies of the twenty-first century will not have their roots in photography. As Kodak, Fuji, Minolta, Leica and Konica all die on the vine, new entrants like Samsung, Casio, Sony and Epson take their place.

And by any standards, two of the outstanding ‘new’ photography companies are Apple and Hewlett Packard. The former makes great enabling technology, both hardware and software, to make the photographer’s life an easy one. The latter makes some great digital cameras and drop dead fantastic printers like the DesignJet series (click ‘Printing’ in the left column for more).

Both companies have great chief executives – the one a driven visionary, the other an outstanding operator.

Yet what a contrast in governance. Whereas you never hear of Apple’s board, the one at HP takes the prize for The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.

Apple cleverly includes a former vice president of the US (you know, the guy who discovered the internet). Politicians are cheap and this one isn’t going to get in anyone’s way as he eyes the White House yet again, right after he fixes global warming. Plus you get all those sales to fellow travellers. The others – there are only six in addition to Steve Jobs – are the CEO of a clothes manufacturer (what?), the CEO of a genetics company (double what?), two techies (it’s lost on no one that the latest addition is the CEO of Google – now that’s a money making opportunity, no?) and a brilliant financier to give some gloss to the whole thing. In other words, Apple doesn’t let the Board of Directors get in the way of business. Clearly, Jobs is managing these not-so-cool dudes right, judging by the complete absence of boardroom leaks. Heck, he probably doesn’t tell them about the next great thing until it’s on the market….

Now look at HP. You cannot but help look at them, for they make the headlines daily. Here the board numbers no fewer than nine (and falling rapidly, thank goodness – it was an unmanageable eleven in May), including the CEO. This is the same board, recall, that gave us a predecessor CEO who had two goals in mind. Maximizing the number of glossy covers she made and maximizing time on her bottom in the corporate jet. Unfortunately, she also minimized shareholder wealth. Now why the new CEO simply didn’t fire the lot when he came in beats me. Not like he didn’t have the opportunity. So now HP is lost in umpteen investigations of how it tapped telephones to trace endless boardroom leaks and is mightily distracted from making the shareholders money. Every schmuck lawyer, in our out of government, is all over this like slime on a …. well, lawyer. And this board is a real dusie, as former NYC mayor Ed Koch might remark. A couple of women whose qualifications seem quite irrelevant to the job, and at least one of whom might end up in the Federal pokey for her part in a small matter of phone tapping. Time will tell. And six guys, some of whom cannot keep their mouths shut. You want to be on a board where one of your fellow directors is tapping your phone? How badly do you need the fees and free dinners?

And that’s bad for photographers because, despite having a board room full of dopes, HP – to borrow from Apple – makes some insanely great products.

Still, I suppose there’s always Samsung waiting to take its place.