Shrewsbury author focuses on decline of Polaroid
By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury/Westborough – Milt Dentch of Shrewsbury enjoyed most of his time working as an engineer and manager at the Polaroid Corporation in Waltham.
“I had a wonderful 24 years, but unfortunately I stayed for 27,” said Dentch, who left the company in 1996. “I loved Polaroid so much when I started. I was so disappointed about the way it finished.”
Dentch drew upon 27 years of experience with the company to write his book “Fall of an Icon: Polaroid after Edwin H. Land,” which he discussed Jan. 4 at Tatnuck Bookseller, Gift Gallery & Café in Westborough. Among those in attendance were former Polaroid employees from Southborough and Westborough.
“The company changed dramatically after Dr. Land left,” he said. “It became a company that was not led by technical people, but by the MBAs and finance people trying to satisfy Wall Street.”
In the book’s preface, Dentch states, “In chronicling Polaroid after Land, I’ve attempted to describe how a special company with a unique leader could shine so greatly the first 50 years, struggle for several years, and finally crash.”
The author emphasized that his book differs from previous publications about Land. His story records lesser known examples of Land’s management style.
“The culture of Polaroid was quite different than most companies,” Dentch noted. “It was a very open atmosphere with no time clocks, which turned out to be both a strength and weakness.”
The author devotes a separate section to each of the company’s four CEOs beginning with Land, who founded Polaroid in 1937. The other CEOs were William (Bill) McCune, Israel MacAllister (Mac) Booth and Gary DiCamillo.
“Dr. Land tried to run the company very professionally and the people who followed him did the same,” Dentch said. “The next two CEOs Bill McCune and Mac Booth tried the best they could, but unfortunately, they were in denial when it came to digital imaging. Even as far back as 1980, we had the first digital camera ever at Polaroid. We had partnerships with Sony and Panasonic. Polaroid could have switched to digital, but they didn’t.”
When Booth retired in late 1995, the board of directors selected Gary DiCamillo as CEO. At the time, Dentch was on the senior staff and director of materials.
“Polaroid had always promoted from within,” Dentch explained, “but the board of directors decided to go outside and they brought in Gary DiCamillo from Black and Decker. He was the one who helped market the adjustable workbenches and some of the power tools that were popular in the ‘80s.”
Dentch left Polaroid the next year, which was good timing, he noted.
“I told my wife that they were always offering an early retirement program, but you had to be 55, and if they ever offered one for over 50, then I’m out of here,” he relayed. “Sure enough, they offered one that was very generous. We got a bunch of stock.”
DiCamillo left after Polaroid’s declaration of bankruptcy in 2001 and prior to it becoming a private company.
While working at Polaroid, Dentch kept notes and articles from the Internet and newspapers. He spent about five years writing and collecting stories about the company. Some chance meetings reunited him with other former Polaroid employees who shared their firsthand experiences. Several Polaroid executives and managers contributed to the book.
The profits from sales of “Fall of an Icon” are donated to Smile Train, a charity for children with cleft lips. So far, Dentch’s donations have funded four operations.
“Dr. Land always took pictures of kids smiling,” Dentch said, “so I thought Smile Train would be a good connection.”
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