Kodak hires new CFO, delays investor meeting

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NEW YORK -- Eastman Kodak Co. said Tuesday it hired a new chief financial officer and postponed a key investor meeting as it pins down the fate of its health-imaging unit and prepares to launch new products.

The photography company said Frank Sklarsky will join Kodak Oct. 30 as executive vice president and become CFO Nov. 13. Sklarsky was CFO of ConAgra Foods Inc., and served in executive roles at automaker DaimlerChrysler and computer maker Dell Inc.

He will replace Robert Brust, 63, who previously announced his intention to retire by January 2007. ConAgra named its controller John Gehring as acting CFO.

Kodak said it rescheduled its investor meeting to Feb. 8 to first close on some of its strategic plans and to give Sklarsky time to get up to speed on Kodak's operations. The meeting had already been postponed once to Nov. 15.

Chief executive Antonio Perez said Kodak investors deserved to hear the financial story from executives who will implement the strategies discussed, rather than one who is retiring.

"I think it would be almost disingenuous to get a CFO to predict and commit to numbers for next year, who is not going to be there in another month," Perez told Reuters.

"Most investors will understand that positively. There is nothing to hide except for the fact that it is a new critical member of the team that is going to be responsible for the results of the company at the highest level ... and he should be part of the team that makes that presentation," he said.

Shares of Kodak were down 10 cents to $22.29 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

The Rochester, N.Y., company typically details its fiscal and operational outlook to analysts and investors at meetings in January and September.

This postponement means that more than a year will pass between its last investor meeting and the next gathering to outline its strategy.

The meetings have been a critical source of information about Kodak, which since late 2003 has shifted its focus to digital cameras and imaging, hoping to outpace the drop in demand for traditional film products that have been its main revenue source.

Before the next meeting, analysts expect the company to introduce new imaging products which it has not yet detailed. They will likely include digital cameras, and analysts say they expect Kodak to launch a line of inkjet printers.

The company is also aiming to reduce costs by cutting up to 27,000 jobs and trimming manufacturing.

Investors await word on the fate of Kodak's health imaging division, a maker of X-ray film and medical printers, including its potential sale. Perez on Tuesday reiterated that Kodak expects by the end of the year to say how it will proceed.

Analysts said they believed Sklarsky, who was involved in a turnaround at ConAgra, would be well suited to navigate Kodak's own business overhaul. But his appointment does not change the main challenges ahead for the company, they said.

"We remain concerned about the growth and margin challenges for the consumer digital business, where the bulk of the revenue is derived from the maturing digital camera and home printer markets," J.P. Morgan analyst Paul Coster said in a research note.
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