Chief Operating Officer
Chosen Because... “She is highly strategic and driven toward customer-centric innovation.”
Jill Albrinck moved into her current position as chief operating officer for Luxottica Retail’s LensCrafters chain in late May; previously she spent four years with Luxottica Retail in strategic roles. Most recently, she was the company’s senior vice president, strategy and marketing, responsible for strategic planning and marketing for all of the company’s retail brands as well as for EyeMed Vision Care and Luxottica Retail’s manufacturing operations.
Prior to that, Albrinck spent 10 years with a management consulting firm, then worked on a corporate turnaround in Cincinnati, where she met Kerry Bradley, president of Luxottica Retail North America. Shortly thereafter, Albrinck joined the optical retail giant.
In her new position as LensCrafters’ chief operating officer, she sees her short-term challenge as dealing with the country’s current economic woes and what they mean to the consumer and to the optical chain. Longer term, Albrinck will be working to “leverage the strength of LensCrafters to continue to grow our business to fulfill its potential.”
SHE SAYS... “I think being a women in today’s optical business is no different in terms of opportunities from being a man. I look at the world through gender-blind eyes, and feel the world looks at me the same way.”
||Julie Metzger Aubuchon, OD
Metzger Eye Care
Chosen Because... “An established leader known for her teamwork, communication and dedication.”
Aubuchon’s father, an optometrist with an active history in Kentucky, was president of the board of examiners, head of the state’s optometric association and served 50 years with Lion’s Club in addition to his role as city council member and vice-mayor.
That commitment is reflected in Aubuchon’s work as owner of the Metzger practice and her own extensive activities. She is the Kentucky Optometric Association’s president-elect, serving on numerous committees and four years on the board of the group’s Foundation. She was first elected to the City of Florence’s City Council in November 1988 and won six subsequent elections. She’s chairman of the city’s planning and zoning committee, serving as the city’s representative on the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments, is past chairman of the Boone County Citizen Corps Council and is a member of the Boone County Health Department Board.
During 2003, she served as National Chaplain, and in 2004 served as Chief of Staff and was elected in 2005 as the 85th National President of the U.S. Junior Chamber. That work took her to almost all 50 states and several foreign countries as an ambassador for young leaders in service to their communities. Aubuchon is a featured speaker and trainer. She lives with her husband Pat, past president of the Missouri Jaycees, and their son Brady in Florence, Ky.
SHE SAYS... “Thrive on what you can learn next. My father, first and foremost, is my biggest mentor; and Darlene Eakins, executive director of the KOA has enormous passion for optometry. Build coalitions and be involved in your community—because it’s the right thing to do.”
Balester Optical Co.
Chosen Because... “With her leadership and guidance, our company has grown over the years. With her at the head, we have won such titles as Essilor IDD lab, Crizal Award of Excellence, Transitions Lab of the Year and Premium Materials Awards of Excellence from Essilor.”
Balester was born into the optical lab business. In 1949, her father and mother were traveling throughout Pennsylvania, upstate New York, and New Jersey, building a customer base for Balester Optical, a wholesale lab founded by her grandfather, Fred Balester, Sr. As she tells it, “When I came along, they simply put me in a baby basket in the back seat and took me with them. We traveled together on and off until I was five and it was time to start school.”
When Balester was 16, she started working as a lens clerk in the stockroom. Since then, Balester has worked in nearly every part of the lab, “except the ones that require ‘hands,’ which I rather notoriously lack,” she said with a laugh. In 1970, she created a customer service department, which remained her “home” until she assumed the role of president in 2000.
Balester is proud of the fact that the lab is “still in business, still growing and getting better, and still independent after 75 years.”
SHE SAYS... “We help people see—isn’t that an incredible gift? Every single lens we grind, treat, or finish will make a positive difference in the quality of life for someone, somewhere.”
Chosen Because... “She’s committed to a personalized service that isn’t often seen in today’s acquisition-riddled optical world.”
With 38 years of experience in the optical lab business, Janet Benjamin commands the respect of both her customers and colleagues. She began working at Milton Roy when she was 19, later moving to Lens Tech in Florida, B&L, Pioneer Optics and finally Laramy-K, an uncut lab which she founded 20 years ago with her husband Jack.
As CEO of Laramy-K, Benjamin manages a staff of 22 employees. She loves her job “because every day is different… because I know I’m making people’s lives better by helping them see.” Laramy-K is known for its excellent customer service, and Benjamin still answers the phones and takes orders every day. She takes pride in the fact that at least 10 of Laramy-K’s customers have been with the lab from the day it opened for business.
Having witnessed the great strides women have made in optical in recent years, Benjamin believes women will continue to influence the industry “with loyalty and integrity...not to mention, impeccable taste.”
SHE SAYS... “People who strive to make a difference inspire me, from the staff I work with every day to our customers, who believe in opticianry as a craft, not just a profession.”
Owner and Practice Administrator
Chosen Because… “She and her husband have built Artisan Optics from the ground up and now have two very successful locations despite not using any traditional advertising.”
“I know I am supposed to say something profound, but the truth is, I was drafted by my husband into the optical industry after he began the practice in 1991,” admitted Lynda Johnson of Artisan Optics. “The practice had grown to the point that there simply wasn’t enough time in the day for him to see patients and manage the practice, so I became interested.”
Today, Johnson oversees and manages the day-to-day operations of the now two-location strong practice, which includes their optometric physician and all medical functions of the practice, the optical boutiques, an onsite surfacing and finishing lab, the developmental and vision therapy departments and the onsite refractive surgery division.
That may seem like a lot for one woman but in addition to a dedicated staff, Johnson already has relief lined up. “Our son is currently attending Southern California College of Optometry,” added Johnson. “Our daughter is completing her undergraduate degree and also considering a career in optometry. We’re already putting systems in place to help facilitate the transition of our practice to the next generation.”
SHE SAYS... “Enter the industry as an equal. Step in with confidence. Commit to self improvement and education and always remember it is our patients who sign our paychecks.”
President and Owner
Chadwick Optical Inc.
White River Junction, Vt.
Chosen Because... “Karen has guided her company in a major leap forward by re-inventing her small optical lab to service the visually impaired and their eyecare providers…She has inspired her staff and developed a team of engineers to create new concepts in lens design.”
Keeney began her career at American Optical, having been inspired by her grandfather who overcame a visual impairment to become a small business entrepreneur. She also credits several mentors, including AO’s John Chadwick, for whom Keeney’s lab is named, as well as her mother, Jane Keeney.
In 2003, Keeney was awarded a National Eye Institute grant for nearly $500,000, the first known NIH grant to be awarded to an optical laboratory. It was used to develop functional, low cost lenses for people suffering from hemianopia, a type of blindness caused by head trauma, stroke or brain tumors.
Three years ago, she was awarded a second-phase grant of $750,000, which has allowed Chadwick Optical to continue a collaboration with the Schepens Eye Research Institute, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, to further refine the first glasses to significantly improve quality of vision and life for sufferers of hemianopia.
Under Keeney’s direction, Chadwick Optical also provides eyewear to people in third-world countries who cannot afford to purchase it.
SHE SAYS... “I am inspired by the statement ‘It can’t be done.’ I have an insatiable desire to solve problems, take on challenges and do the seemingly impossible. My mentors are those who come to me with impossible problems. They are my teachers.”
Minnesota Eye Consultant
Chosen Because... “She understands how ophthalmology, optometry and opticianry depend on each other’s skills to bring patients the best possible solutions for their eyecare needs.”
An industry veteran with more than 25 years of management experience, Simerson got her start as a contact lens fitter. She served as the administrator for Eye Physicians & Surgeons in Edina, Minn. for over 15 years.
For the past decade, Simerson has headed Minnesota Eye Consultant, the largest independent MD/OD practice in Minnesota, with 12 locations and close to 200 employees. She served on the American Society of Ophthalmic Administrators Governing Board of Directors for 15 years, and was president from 1997 to 1999. She also served on the national board for the Certification of Ophthalmic Executives for nine years.
Currently, she serves on the executive committee of Minnesota Medical Group Management Association and will be president for a one-year term beginning October 2009. She just completed a certificate program in Advanced Health Care Management at the University of St. Thomas, Minneapolis, Minn.
SHE SAYS... “My favorite quote comes from Abraham Lincoln: ‘The best way to predict your future is to create it.’”■