01 Apr 1998

Snapshot: Gary DiCamillo, Polaroid's CEO

by Nancy O. Perry


Gary T. DiCamillo (MBA '75) was second in command at Black & Decker Corporation and leading a turnaround of that company's power tools division when Polaroid snapped him up in late 1995. The world-famous instant-imaging company made him the first noninsider CEO in its sixty-year history. A marketing specialist with an engineering background, DiCamillo immediately set about restructuring Polaroid, filling key positions with new people, "refreshing the brand," as he puts it, and instituting cost-cutting measures to stem a decade of lagging performance. That process included difficult decisions about reducing the company's work force; most downsizing was achieved through attrition and early retirement incentives.

"This is not an earthshaking turnaround," notes the straight-talking DiCamillo during an interview in his modest Cambridge, Massachusetts, office. "Rather, it is a work in progress." DiCamillo is seated before a tall cabinet displaying a collection of Polaroid cameras and equipment spanning six decades - including famed inventor-founder Edwin Land's "Land" camera and the all-time best-selling "One Step" camera. He explains that Polaroid, the worldwide leader in instant imaging with $2.2 billion in sales, is now in the early stages of an eighteen-month streamlining and consolidation strategy that was announced in December. He expects that within the next year an exciting line of Polaroid products - including an instant single-use camera - will start to emerge.

The photography business, DiCamillo observes, is on the threshold of change. "This industry is moving to digital," he explains. "Its evolution is being affected by the Internet, personal computers and peripherals, and the information explosion. We're smack in the middle of it."

One of Polaroid's challenges, DiCamillo notes, will be transposing some of the company's formidable technological know-how to the newer segments of the market and offering digital products that fit the user-friendly Polaroid tradition. Two current examples are the recently launched PhotoMAX Digital Camera Creative Kit, a filmless camera with CD-ROM software that captures and edits images on personal computers, and the PDC-2000, an affordable digital camera for industrial and commercial photographers.

DiCamillo takes a somewhat cautious approach, however, to the enthusiasm surrounding digital imaging. "Some people think photography is going to go away as everything in our industry becomes digitized. But I disagree," he says. "I think analog photography will endure, because it still satisfies many users, and digital imaging businesses will grow up around it, creating a much bigger, faster-growing market. Our challenge will be deciding which of those markets to pursue."

With more than half of the company's business outside the United States, DiCamillo sees tremendous potential abroad, especially for instant imaging, where infrastructure is not required. "If you're in the hinterlands of China," he asks, "where are you going to have your 35-mm film processed? You won't find a Walgreens." To begin a relationship with a new country, Polaroid, the world's largest driver's license producer, often starts with a national identity-card program. In Mexico, for example, the company ran the country's voter registration/identity card system. DiCamillo notes with pride that last June's elections there were perhaps the "cleanest" in Mexican history, due to the minimization of fraud and vote tampering afforded by the highly secure Polaroid card.

DiCamillo jokingly compares his job to "someone changing the fan belt while the engine is running. We're still selling cameras and film and growing all around the world," he notes, "but it's not the kind of growth befitting a company in this exciting digital arena. Still," he concludes with a smile, "we'll get there."


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