Kay Whitmore: Mormon Businessman

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Kay Whitmore Mormon Businessman

Kay R. Whitmore was an American business executive and chemical engineer who spent thirty-seven years with the Eastman Kodak Company. For his final three years with the company, he served as chairman and chief executive. He retired after disagreeing with board members about how fast the struggling company should cut costs and jobs to overcome intense competition from Japan.

Whitmore was born on July 24, 1932, in Salt Lake City, Utah. He spent most of his summers working for his aunts and uncles—including a slaughterhouse in Utah, a fish cannery in Alaska, a dude ranch in Arizona—that taught him to work hard. He earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Utah. He studied at MIT on a fellowship for one year and earned a master’s degree in management in 1975.

Whitmore joined Kodak in 1957 as a quality control engineer in film manufacturing and worked his way up through its photographic film business over the next 25 years. In 1962, he became a product engineer on graphic arts films and in 1969, he was sent to Mexico for two years to oversee the startup of a film manufacturing plant. He was elected president in 1983 and became chairman and chief executive officer in June 1990. He came under intense pressure in April 1993 when Christopher Steffen, hired months earlier from outside the company to be chief financial officer, abruptly quit because of disagreements with him over how to improve Kodak's financial performance. The board of directors dismissed Whitmore and the press reported that he did not cut costs fast enough to satisfy investors.

Beyond his work with Kodak, he helped develop Rochester Brainpower, which was a coalition of businesses aimed to improve the quality of education in public schools. President George H. W. Bush recognized the organization and was named first honorary member and later was inducted into the Brainpower Hall of Fame. It was also the subject of a 1988 in-depth series on education in U.S. News & World Report. In 1991, Bush appointed Whitmore to the board of directors of the New American Schools Development Corporation. He was also chair of the National Action Council of Minority Engineers from 1978 to 1990. He was president of his local Scout council, served on the board of directors, and became regional president, which comprised the entire eastern coast. He was awarded the Silver Beaver, the highest award given by the Boy Scouts. He was a Silver Antelope recipient, which is a regional award recognizing service to youth.

Whitmore served as chairman of the Business Roundtable’s Education Task Force. He was a trustee for the University of Rochester, International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House, and National Center on Education and the Economy. He received numerous awards for his community service. He received four honorary degrees, including doctor of science from Clarkson University, doctor of humanities from Nazareth College of Rochester, doctor of humane letters from Keuka College and honorary doctor of law degree from The University of the State of New York. He and his wife, Yvonne, married in June 1956 and had six children. They were honored by Brigham Young University with the creation of the Kay and Yvonne Whitmore Global Management Center at the BYU Marriott School. It is designated by the U.S. Department of Education as one of the nation’s thirty-one Centers for International Business Education and Research. Whitmore also served as a member of the Marriott School’s National Advisory Council.

Six months after his retirement from Kodak, the Whitmores presided for three years over the England London Mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 2002, they served as Church Education System missionaries in San Diego.

In 2004, Whitmore found out he had leukemia and one month later, on July 26, he passed away.