However, recessions are always particularlyhard on companies with structural problems.
The interesting thing with the Pentax story is that the problems seem to have come after the shift to digital imaging.
Let’s go back in history and take a look at how Pentax handled the shift to digital imaging and what happened after this.
In 1952, Pentax introduced the first Japanese35 mm camera. Ever since, the company has had a strong competence base in optics, producing lenses, binoculars and other optical instruments.
The cameraswere exported tothe United States under the name Honeywell Pentax. The company grew just like the entire Japanese camera industry in the period 1950-80.
Analogue cameras are a mix of many technologies: optics, precise mechanics and some electronics.
Digital cameras are a mix of electronics, optics and some precise mechanics.
Having a strong competence base in optics,Pentax chose to focus on this and develop digital cameras together with consumer electronics companies.
The first digital Pentax cameras were co-developed with Hewlett Packard, and later on worked with Casio as well.
The Pentax Optio was co-developed with Casio. Pentax provided the optics and Casio made the electronic components. Thanks tothe modular structure of digital cameras, this kind of collaborations worked well.
The corresponding Casio camera was called Exilim.
The modular, standardized structure also implied that consumer electronics companies could work on each component.
But despite heavy investmentsin developing SLR cameras, Pentax lost market shares.
Massive economies of scale and R&D were needed tosurvive in this industry and few companies could keep it up.
The SLR segment wassubject to very tough competition as well.
Given the competitiveclimate, Pentax sought tofocus more on optics and expand its medical equipment and optical component business.
"We want to balance our portfolio by making the imaging systems, medical gear and optical device businesses each make up about a third of sales" // Fumio Urano, CEO of Pentax
Due to thesedifficulties,Pentax wasnow bought by HoyaCorporation.
After a lot of turmoil and theresignation of Mr. Urano, themerger was finally completed in October 2007.
Pentax had been under increasingpressure from its shareholders to accept the offer.
In early 2008, Hoya announcedthat Pentax as a company would cease to exist and only remain as a brand.
Hoya had bought Pentax in order to enhance its capabilities in optics.
Pentax had plenty of knowledge related toendoscopes, intraocularlenses, surgical loupes,biocompatible ceramics.
However, the camera business kept generating losses andthings got even worse when the recession broke out.
After the huge losses, Hoyahas announced that cuts willbe made, both in production and in R&D.
These cuts will lead to evenless competitive products, which in turn implies even lower revenues.
Pentax has entered a vicious circle where the problems willgenerate even greater problems.Can such a company survive in the long term?
When a company in a competitve digital marketstarts to cut down on R&D, it is usually an indication of a collapse in the near future.
Who knows what will happen… Maybe Hoya will keep the optics and sell the Pentax brand to Samsung or another company that wantsto grow in the camera market.
So, whatlessons can belearnt from the Pentax story?
1. Surviving a shift to digital technology does by nomeans guarantee success in the long term. On the other hand, such a shift usually implies an increased competition and a furioustechnological development.
2. It is possible to survive digital revolutions bypursuing collaborations.
3. It is never sustainable to lag behind in a digital industry. Given the rapid improvements, second-movers can in the end neither compete on price nor on performance.
“A revolution is not a tea party” // Chairman Mao