ExKodak CMO Jeffrey Hayzlett Warns Adapt Change or Die

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Jeffrey Hayzlett describes himself as a maverick marketer in cowboy boots ... among other things.

A primetime TV and radio host, his eclectic career includes mentorship, corporate governance, brand building — and a three-season stint as a judge on NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice with Donald Trump.

A best selling author and public speaker, he was the CMO of Kodak from 2006 to 2010. I met him in 2009, when he was helping the photography pioneer reinvent itself for a world dominated by digital competition.

During his tenure, he was responsible for Kodak's worldwide marketing operations including the design and implementation of all marketing strategies, investments, policies and processes, as well as brand development, corporate communications and public relations.

Hayzlett left Kodak in 2010 and capitalized on decades of experience in business growth, communications and marketing to create his own marketing empire.

Charting a New Course


He currently leads The Hayzlett Group, the C-Suite Network  and TallGrass Public Relations.

The Hayzlett Group, with offices in Sioux Falls, S.D. and New York City, offers a range of strategic business consulting services, including marketing, public relations and business development. The C-Suite Network includes a peer network that connects senior business leaders.

A native of West Virginia who calls South Dakota home, Hayzlett likes to point out that he's a cowboy. He said he enjoys caring for his horses Blaze and J, riding the prairie and "hunting pheasants and enjoying the cowboy life" in blaze orange gear during hunting season.

Hayzlett is the author of two business books, The Mirror Test and Running the Gauntlet. In the books and in his life, he focuses on driving and delivering change — topics we touched upon during a recent interview with CMSWire. 

Sobel: After years of running companies such as Colorbus (networked print servers), Webprint (web-based printing services) and Cenveo (commercial printing services), you joined Kodak, a company that was falling behind in a world of digital photography. Can you share your journey?

Hayzlett: It’s been learning experience, and one thing I learned is that there isn’t much difference between a small business and a large one. The only difference between a business on Main Street and a business on Wall Street is the number of zeros.

Kodak was different than my previous companies because of its scale but only in terms of its scale. The problems are bigger but they are the same problems small companies have. One of Kodak’s biggest issues was that the mood wasn't right. Everybody believed that the best days were behind it and it’s very difficult to overcome those kinds of attitudes in a business of that scope.

Sobel: In your bio, you note that you are "credited with the economic turnaround of this iconic firm.” Can you talk about that and some of your successes?

Hayzlett: If you look at what is left at Kodak you’ll see it’s now a B2B business. The consumer business should have gone the way of the dinosaur a long time ago. It just did not adapt. In business, if you don’t change or adapt you end up dying. That’s what happened to Kodak’s consumer brands.

The runway for us to be able to turn around the whole business was never there. One always hoped for a turnaround but you can’t live in hope when people’s livelihoods and investments are at stake.

The only thing that really had value at Kodak was its Intellectual Property portfolio and its B2B businesses, which are still alive today. Kodak needed to shed all of its legacy brands and that was a challenge by the time I got there in the early 2000s. But the writing was on the wall.

Our job was to save what was left of the company and make those things a success. I think you can see that in the company Kodak is today. I left almost five years ago and you can see the aftermath of the seeds we planted a decade ago. Those are the things that are flourishing. (Ed. Note: Kodak filed for bankruptcy in January 2012 after spending $3.4 billion to shrink and restructure. It emerged from bankruptcy in 2013.)

Sobel: I read an interesting blog posting of yours from a few months ago entitled “What Would I Tell My 22-Year-Old Self.” In it, you noted, that the most important piece of advice was to go with your gut, as long as it was something you truly believed. Elaborate on that.

Hayzlett: I can’t tell you the number of times I've sat in meetings and people have said things I didn’t agree with I would anyway because of their position or stature or my background, education or even my confidence level. I would think "gee they must be smarter than me," so I would agree. However, my gut told me deep down that it was never going to work, never going to make money.

Whenever I have not acted on those feelings, I've made a mistake. Even the times my gut has been wrong, at least I know that I did what I thought was right.

Sobel: In one of your books you note, “The most dangerous move in business is the failure to make a move at all. The history of business is filled with companies that are no more because their leaders refused to enact change when the writing was on the wall. Fear. Apathy. Lack of personal responsibility. These simple human flaws can turn a good company into a dead company. Can you expand on that?

Hayzlett: It’s all about saying you are going to do something, getting it done and taking responsibility for it. Don’t get caught up in the excuses like: this project won’t work, we have tried that before and we aren’t the company we used to be. Of course you’re not the company you used to be. You should be a different company.

You should be a smarter company, a more experienced company. Sign on to a project and figure out a way to make it work. Just do something, even if you are wrong, because then at least you are heading somewhere. Adapt, change or die -- there is no other option.

Sobel: I was also quite impressed with your venture “The C-Suite Network,” which you describe as "the world’s most powerful network of C-Suite leaders, with a focus on providing growth, development and networking opportunities" for executives with titles of vice president and above from companies with annual revenues of $10 million or greater. Can you tell us a bit more about the network — and what about people who run businesses under $10 million in revenue?

Hayzlett: There is nothing wrong with the businesses that have $10 million or less in revenue. We love those guys. We chose business with over $10 million in revenue because that’s roughly seven percent of the total business in North America and these businesses control about 97 percent of the B2B spend.

That is a significant number. We are creating an environment where these business leaders can get together to share ideas with their peers. The conferences are a safe place for leaders to learn so they can continue to be the most strategic people in the room and have good open conversations that you may not be able to have within your company.

Sobel: Finally, in an article entitled “Change Agents: An Introduction," you state, “Driving change in any business is going to be tough. Trying to convince the naysayers alone can sometimes feel like defeat, but I implore you: Look beyond the obstructionists who refuse to recognize that change is required. Push, and then keep on pushing. To be an agent of change, you must not relent.” Can you share you thoughts and give our readers some suggestions?

Hayzlett: Drink espresso.

Do whatever you have to do to beat the naysayers. Every single business has them – they are the people who want to keep things safe. That's not the job of a business leaser. A leader’s job is to create tension. There is a saying in sports --“no pain, no gain.” The same is true in business. You have to push the boundaries within yourself and your team. You are going to make mistakes but, by and large, in business no one is going to die. Never give up, constantly strive, and when you think you have arrived its time to change the game again.