Innovators

By


Laura Askew

NEW PRODUCTS PROJECT MANAGER
Transitions Optical
Pinellas Park, Florida

CHOSEN BECAUSE… “Her expertise in bringing a product to market and her ability to succinctly distill the key features and benefits of a product make her an integral part of Transitions Optical’s product leadership team.”

 
Laura Askew has worked in the optical industry for 20 years, all with Transitions Optical. She has served in various capacities, including process engineer, process engineering team leader, product marketing manager, production manager and training manager.

Since 2009, she has been a new products project manager on the company’s product leadership team. Askew is responsible for managing new products from research and development through launch, and working with all appropriate functional teams. She has worked with Transitions Optical’s global marketing team on product tests and clinical trials. Most recently, she was the global project manager for Transitions Signature VII.

“What first attracted me to Transitions Optical was their sense of entrepreneurship and a corporate culture of inclusion,” she said. “The philosophy of having people involved in the work they do and the decisions that affect them really appealed to me. I really didn’t know much about the optical industry back then but the more I’ve learned, the more I want to stay. Our industry offers personalized unique products that allow people to best use their most important sense—sight.”

Askew credits her father with influencing her interest in understanding how things work. “He was the fix-it man around the house. I helped him do a lot of things like tuning up the car, which I really enjoyed.”

Prior to Transitions Optical, Askew worked in manufacturing engineering and product development roles with Reflectone, Polaroid and Gillette.

SHE SAYS… “Choose to soar with the eagles, even though it’s easier to quack with the ducks.”


Kristan Gross

DIRECTOR, CORPORATE COMMUNICATIONS
Essilor of America, Inc.
Dallas, Texas

CHOSEN BECAUSE… “Kristan works closely with her executive team to communicate Essilor’s vision to the eye health industry and consumers. In addition to developing and implementing a clear communications strategy she serves as corporate spokesperson and collaborates regularly with the global corporate communications team of Essilor International.”

 
Kristan Gross joined the optical industry eight years ago, with a prior background in marketing/public relations/communications that included health care, education and engineering. For the past four years, she has represented Essilor on the Vision Council’s MarComm Committee and was an integral part of the national launch of Think About Your Eyes in 2010. Her U.S. and global communications function spans marketing communications; media relations; public affairs; crisis and reputation management; brand management; content management for internal and external websites and social media channels; and internal communications.

Gross launched an industry-first news center providing media-rich content for reporters, influencers and consumers. From seasonal stories around polarized sunglasses, to broader health stories like “How to Stop a Twitching Eye,” she’s helped establish a digital media presence for Essilor designed to generate positive news coverage and public conversation. The combined corporate and agency team operates like a news organization, producing five articles per week using internal and external sources, guest bloggers and industry partners.

“I like to believe my strengths lie in being a good storyteller and communicator with a passion to educate others on the importance of vision health. I’m empowered to excel in this area because, along with some 55,000 Essilor employees, I truly embrace the mission of improving lives by improving sight.”

SHE SAYS… “I’ve had opportunities to see the faces of children whose lives were changed by their first pair of glasses, to celebrate wins with Special Olympics athletes—wins that resulted from clear vision. The beautiful smiles brought about by clearly seeing the world are an inspiration to us all.”


Dawne Hanks

CHANNEL MARKETING MANAGER
Oakley Inc.
Foothill Ranch, California

CHOSEN BECAUSE… “She’s taken a brand synonymous with men and developed it into one that is now successfully marketed to women. She believes in the power of women and does everything to drive that belief forward.”

 
“I got started by accident—not only was I unfamiliar with the optical industry, I had never heard of Oakley,” admitted Dawne Hanks. “An opportunity presented itself to work here because of Becky Wilkinson and I fell in love with the challenge of a category few other people were familiar with. I was able to learn, build and discover so much because she saw something in me that I didn’t.”

At Oakley, Hanks has since created go-to-market strategies across multiple categories and when the company identified the need to connect with their best accounts and the industry in a stronger way, she was integral to the process. “We created an alternative to trade shows by producing a large scale brand immersion event focused on top accounts that generated revenue in 2013,” she said.

She also turned an internal presentation into a national speaking tour on women’s shopping and buying habits which contributed to 38 percent growth of the women’s category over the prior year.

“Women in this industry inspire me every day,” she added. “I spent years learning from them and they’ve helped me find my voice and passion. Without that, I would never have found my mission—to building a culture of strong women who stand up, speak out, promote and uplift other women so we can all become agents for change.”

SHE SAYS… “This industry, though vast, is still really small and familial. You have to be kind, supportive and curious about everyone you meet. You never know what exciting opportunities will come your way because of the relationships you build.”


Cindy Hussey

FOUNDER
Velvet Eyewear
New York, New York

CHOSEN BECAUSE… “Cindy is the rainmaker at Velvet Eyewear. Her ideas drive the team to build a benchmark company. In just three years, she has taken an exceptional ‘must-have’ product to market and pioneered marketing campaigns that are groundbreaking for the optical industry.”

 
The optical industry was a “natural fit” for Cindy Hussey. “I discovered it at the very early age of 6,” she said. “I have a very high RX of -6.00 and have worn a correction since the first grade.”

She has been in the industry in various capacities since 1987 including retail owner, buyer, optician, wholesale founder and designer. “In 1999, I made the transition from retail to wholesale with Velvet, specializing in action sports for women, specifically sunglasses and snowboarding goggles. I developed many proprietary technologies and products while pioneering the female optical action sports market. I sold Velvet to K2, the ski giant, but in 2009, I purchased the Velvet trademarks back from K2 and launched Velvet into the female fashion optical and sunglass markets,” said Hussey.

Currently, as the founder and creative director of Velvet, she oversees all aspects of product development, sales, marketing and the direction of the Velvet brand, and she has lofty goals. “Personally, as a woman, my goal is for the optical sunglass industry to take a piece of the billion dollar cosmetic industry and claim it as our own,” she stated. “Good sunglasses with 100 percent UV protection are as important in the defense against crow’s feet, fine lines and wrinkles as any cream on the market. I’ve started this crusade with our Velvet {BB} Lens.”

SHE SAYS… “If you are lucky enough to find a place in the industry, hang on….it’s a rewarding industry with a lot of upside and stability.”



Cathy Ives

CO-OWNER
The Optical Vision Site
San Diego, California

CHOSEN BECAUSE… “Cathy’s passion, creativity and willingness to share her knowledge of the latest trends, technologies, and fashion helped many optical companies kick start their social media programs.”

 
In the optical industry for nearly 35 years and blogging about it since 2008 before it became trendy, Cathy Ives strives to be unique and encourages ECPs to differentiate their practices. She started grinding lenses in a small surfacing lab, graduated to selling lenses and then moved into selling eyewear and managing sales reps, with some marketing thrown in.

“My passion for the optical industry came when I moved into eyewear, being in the field, selling fashion, meeting great people, and having lots of fun while earning a living,” she said. “What more could you want, finding something you love, making friends, having fun, being creative and making money.”

Currently, she manages three blogs – www.opticalvisionresources.com, www.theopticalvisionsite.com, and www.greenecoservices.com. She is a member of The Vision Council and the Optical Women’s Association. Her advice to women: “Be patient and work toward a position you love. Surround yourself with positive, passionate people who will motivate and challenge you. Strive to educate and better yourself, mentally, emotionally and physically.”

She feels that the role of women in optical has changed greatly over the last 35 years. “This is one industry in which women can compete fairly and financially with men. I see more women optometrists and opticians, as well as women involved in media, marketing and sales. Over the last 10 years, in social media, there are more women bloggers, and opportunities abound for designers and writers of fashion and tech.”

SHE SAYS… “Do not lie, steal, cheat or deceive. Constantly strive to be unique. Think positive and find a way to give back to society.”


Angela McCoy

VP, OPERATIONAL SYSTEMS
Eye Care Associates
Raleigh, North Carolina

CHOSEN BECAUSE… “Angela applies technologies to our business execution that have increased revenues consistently while managing profit margins.”

 
There are few retail/IT positions that Angela McCoy hasn’t held since 2002 when she joined Eye Care Associates, an optical chain with 27 locations (acquired this month by MyEyeDr). She has been an optical consultant, office manager, IT assistant, managed vision care manager and company trainer, and was named Outstanding Associate in 2009. This experience has provided a solid foundation for her current role as vice president of operational systems, with oversight for IT, training and development, and managed vision care.

McCoy is a true innovator at heart, seeking to use technology in new and creative ways to reduce costs and boost revenue, while keeping patient care the number one priority. She helped introduce a new Point of Sale System, upgrading the company’s IT platforms to combine insurance claims, medical records, lab data and distributor orders into one integrated system for greater efficiency. She also coordinates the training of 60+ associates and is responsible for $15 million in annual insurance receivables, with 16,000 claims processed each month.

How does she accomplish all this? “I look at problems in unique ways, that is how my analytical brain is wired. If I can communicate those solutions effectively, I can help solve complicated problems.” Her business philosophy is simple: “Take care of the patients and they will take care of you. If they have a good patient experience, they will come back.”

For women looking to succeed in the optical industry, McCoy offers this advice: “The career ladder is crooked. Instead of always looking for a better job, look for ways to further develop your skill set. Understand what is missing from your toolbox and seek opportunities to learn those skills.”

SHE SAYS… “Don’t be afraid to fail, be afraid not to try.”


Tami Ortiz

SENIOR MANAGER, MARKETING
Altair Eyewear
Rancho Cordova, California

CHOSEN BECAUSE… “Tami spearheaded the development of Altair Inventory Management (AIM) which features a user-friendly interface that enables doctors to use their computer or mobile device to manage their inventory. She also led the development of AltairEyewear.com.”

 
“I graduated from California State University Sacramento with degrees in journalism and graphic design. After the dot com bubble burst in 2001, I searched for my next career move. I’ve worn glasses since I was seven years old and always had VSP Vision Insurance. VSP is headquartered in my region and I had heard it was a great company to work for, so I decided to explore job opportunities,” Tami Ortiz explained when asked how she got into the optical industry.

“I was hired as a marketing specialist in 2001 when we had two licensed brands and a couple of house brands. I was a one-woman show for a handful of years which empowered me to acquire an array of new skills and learn the industry quickly.” Some 13 years later, she has assembled a team of talented marketing professionals, weathered a corporate acquisition and aided in the launch of three new house brands and seven new licensed brands.

“I am privileged to work with a group of engaging, creative professionals that make coming to work each day a true joy. We celebrate successes as a team and learn from failures together. I alone cannot assume credit for the work that comes from this team. I am humbled by their talent, work ethic and loyalty,” Ortiz concluded.

SHE SAYS… “Life is much larger than a ‘job.’ People have goals and dreams that extend beyond the cubicle walls. It is my role to create opportunities for goals and dreams to be achieved. Good leaders are constantly reflecting, evolving and asking ‘How can I help you achieve your goals?’”



Carey Reynolds

Senior Marketing Manager
Allergan, Inc.
Irvine, California

CHOSEN BECAUSE… “She is a creative leader who has consistently developed unique programs and services to support the eyecare professional.”

 
Carey Reynolds has more than 11 years of management experience in the field of eyecare, including roles as the marketing director of a subspecialty ophthalmology practice (Manatee Sarasota Eye Clinic in Sarasota, Florida) and as a practice management consultant with Allergan’s Eye Care Business Advisory Group. She is a Certified Ophthalmic Executive (COE), American Society of Ophthalmic Administrators and an Ophthalmic Coding Specialist (OCS), American Society of Ophthalmic Administrators.

In her current role at Allergan, Reynolds is responsible for development and implementation of professional marketing plans for optometry to drive success across the company’s eyecare portfolio, including the dry eye, glaucoma and allergy franchises. She develops marketing strategies to promote Allergan’s eyecare pharmaceutical portfolio, including branding, advocacy and customer support initiatives.

She also developed and launched Optometry Jumpstart, Allergan’s new graduate support program, which connects newly practicing optometrists with patient care resources; a majority of optometry school graduates choose to join Optometry Jumpstart each year since its launch in 2012.

“I view my role as channeling the voice of optometry at Allergan,” said Reynolds. “While my customers are working hard every day to preserve and improve their patients’ vision, it’s my job to ensure that Allergan makes that easier through innovative products and programs designed to support their practices.”

SHE SAYS… “Since women are the primary health care decision makers for families, the optometric profession has an opportunity to leverage the female perspective to learn how to elevate eye-care in the minds of patients. I think the challenge for optometry now is to ensure we have strategies in place to leverage that perspective.”


Janelle Routhier, OD, FAAO, FBCLA

SENIOR DIRECTOR, CUSTOMER DEVELOPMENT
Essilor of America
Dallas, Texas

CHOSEN BECAUSE… “Janelle Routhier develops and introduces key programs to ODs and is very involved in Essilor’s professional relations programs. She carries out this role very successfully for one of the largest spectacle lens companies in the world.”

 
Janelle Routhier, OD, has been a part of the optical business since childhood when she worked with her grandfather in his optometry practice. Since then, she’s worn many hats including optometric technician, independent optometrist and academic clinical faculty member. She has worked for two major players in the ophthalmic industry— a two-year stint at Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Inc. before moving on to Essilor of America in July 2013.

Her current responsibilities at Essilor include creating and driving the strategies behind the company’s professional relations and customer education teams, along with managing strategic, innovative programs aimed at helping ODs run a smarter business operation. She cites being trusted with the responsibility of leading a team of up to 11 people as one of her major accomplishments.

In addition to handling the P&L for Essilor’s on-site optical dispensary for employees and their families, Routhier spent the better part of a year helping to develop and launch a new mobile app, AskAboutEyes, to help consumers find relevant information on individual issues or concerns about their eyes prior to visiting their ECP. “It was a special project outside my regular scope of responsibilities, but that’s what helps set Essilor apart—it’s an innovative company that encourages its employees to be entrepreneurial.”

SHE SAYS… “Motivating others to excel is what inspires me. People are capable of so much more than they think, and finding creative ways to tap into that and push them to be their best is one of the most rewarding things I can think of.”


Shirleen Steele

PURCHASING DIRECTOR
Henry Ford Optimeyes
Madison Heights, Michigan

CHOSEN BECAUSE… “She guides the purchasing for a fast growing, high volume organization and she implements tech systems to raise efficiency while coordinating opportunities created by the introduction of new products to increase the customer base and member satisfaction.”

 
In the industry for 36 years, Shirleen Steele began her career as an optician at Detroit Optometric Centers, with 11 years at Tuckerman Optical as an area manager and training consultant and the last 25 years in her current position with Henry Ford Optimeyes. She’s also been an instructor for Ross Medical’s optician program. Over the years, she’s been named area manager of the year for Tuckerman Optical and employee of the month for Henry Optimeyes. She is ABO and NCLE certified.

Steele cites “many wonderful mentors over the years.” In particular, “I count Nanette Michaels, our VP and the person that hired me for Henry Ford OptimEyes, to be an invaluable resource. She is always there for me,” she said.

Her biggest challenge, she feels, is achieving balance. “Everyone needs that to be successful in the long term. I hope I can make a difference by the level of care and sense of responsibility I feel for our team and patients.”

Her advice to women trying to build a career in the industry is to know their strengths. “There are so many incredible opportunities for women in the optical industry,” she said. “It is important to find your passion, and from there all good things come.”

SHE SAYS… “I never forget that the optical field is a helping business, and I have always been inspired by the desire to help patients see and look their best on any budget. Any measure of success I have had through the years has come from a strong work ethic, personal integrity and the ability to communicate in relatable ways.”