Mentors

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Carol Alexander, OD
Director, Professional Affairs
Vistakon
Fullerton, Calif.

Chosen Because...“She helps educate fellow optometrists about all aspects of soft contact-lens practice and marketing. Carol is a credit to her profession and her company.”

After 20 years running her own optometric practice in Sylvania, Ohio—including a stint as the first female president of that state’s optometric association—Carol Alexander, OD, joined Johnson & Johnson Vision Care’s Vistakon operation three years ago. Currently, she works between Fullerton, Calif., where her husband, Kevin Alexander, OD, is president of the Southern California College of Optometry, and Vistakon’s headquarters in Jacksonville, Fla.

Her job responsibilities include training a cadre of 19 eyecare professionals who do speaking engagements on contact lenses for Vistakon, as well as working with the company’s sales and marketing teams to help them understand practitioners’ needs.

After starting her eyecare career as a paraoptometric, Carol Alexander graduated from Ohio State University’s College of Optometry in 1987, one of 13 women in a graduating class of ’62. Though she faced some discrimination back then—finding it more difficult as a woman to secure financing to open her optometric practice, for example—Alexander feels her profession is much more open to advancement by women today.

SHE SAYS...“Women are a part of everything in the eyecare field these days; today’s optometry student can be anything and do anything in the profession.”


Jill Cox
Director of Network Resources , VSR Coordinator
Vision Source
Oklahoma City, Okla.

Chosen Because...“She created the idea of involving staff to become trained in new programs and procedures to become better leaders.”

With an interest in creativity, Cox earned her BA in interior design from the University of Oklahoma but started her career in an ophthalmology practice, earning her COA and CMT, becoming a scrub tech, assisting in surgeries. An opportunity came along with a new refractive surgery group where she got involved in the expansion of those centers. Her experience with general practice issues taught her the value of involving the staff, which she was able to develop once she joined Vision Source in 2001.

Cox created the idea of selecting a staff representative from Vision Source offices and forming local study groups to share practical ideas and develop training that could pool experiences for the advantage of all. Cox said, “Networking at this level has raised the overall understanding of how to manage and support the business side of an optometric practice.”

There are now some 82 groups across the country with two regional representatives and 82 lead facilitators. The rich resources and training materials and processes that Cox and her team have developed, focus on all business elements of the practice and led to the initiation of the Vision Source Business Associate (VSBA) program in April 2005.

She noted, “When I started working, the power was at the top, as in any corporation. But there’s been a generational shift, people are used to working in teams to come up with solutions, there’s a lot of collaboration.” Cox credits Vision Source’s Glenn Ellisor, OD and Bobby Christensen, OD with “setting me loose” and “always thinking outside the box.”

SHE SAYS...“It’s amazing how one step will lead to another and before you know it, there is a whole journey to talk about.”


Rebecca Johnson
Director of Education
Eyefinity/OfficeMate
Fletcher, N.C.

Chosen Because...“She is an amazing instructor to so many, and always has a positive attitude.”

Johnson started at the front desk of an ophthalmology practice, 27 years ago, a young mom without a college degree, but two young kids to support. She started to learn everything she could, eventually developing a formal training program for the large staff, creating manuals, books and study guides. She went to college when her daughter did, starting with one business course part time and achieving a full scholarship as well as gaining certification as a paraoptometric and as a certified ophthalmic executive.

After working in the systems arena, she started her own firm, the Foundation for Ophthalmic Training & Development, where she began to consult for several ophthalmic and optometric practices throughout Florida. She was persuaded by OfficeMate president Ed Buffington to join the company three years ago. Today, she directs 19 training specialists and implementation trainers who work on-site as well as teach online through OfficeMate University—teaching some 140 classes a week via WebX.

Last year, she initiated a virtual users’ group meeting, subsequently recording classes and distributing links afterwards to reach some 3,000 practices. Her focus this year is to get some 7,000 O/M clients ready to move on to version 9.0 “The work we’re doing is pouring the concrete and building the foundation, so everything a practice puts on top of it is stable. We’re motivating people to move forward in their practices.”

SHE SAYS...“Take advantage of every opportunity to learn. And thank the people who give you that chance.”


Neera Kapoor, OD, MS, FAAO, FCOVD-A
Associate Clinical Professor, Chief of Vision Rehabilitation Services
State University of New York, State College of Optometry
New York

Chosen Because...“As chief of the Visual Rehab Department, Dr. Kapoor trains residents, sees patients and oversees all administrative functions of this large service. Her sheer passion for her specialty influences young optometry students to pursue this worthwhile area. And her patients love her.”

Over the past 14 years of working with individuals with acquired brain injury (ABI), Neera Kapoor, OD, has co-authored 22 peer-reviewed articles, 8 textbook chapters and 19 poster presentations, as well as having lectured locally and regionally, regarding vision and ABI.

Having completed a Masters of Science in Vision Science, Doctorate of Optometry and a residency in Vision Therapy and Rehabilitation , all from SUNY-Optometry, Kapoor has been a full-time clinical faculty member there for 14 years.

“My philosophy regarding optometry is to treat the patient as a whole person, and not just a pair of eyeballs,” she said. Through vision therapy, Kapoor believes, “We are in the position of helping patients to help themselves,” and mentions that she finds that aspect most rewarding.

She is also involved in professional organizations like the New York State Optometric Association. “When you’re more involved at that political level, you have a stronger voice,” she said, encouraging other female optometrists to take part in political organizations in their field.

On a personal front, Kapoor says that her mentors are her parents, Ajit and Prem Kapoor. “If you listen to the ideas from those you love and who know you, you can really reach the maximum potential.”

SHE SAYS…“I would like to think that the passion I have for optometry comes through in all that I do and is how I make a difference professionally.”


Harue Jean Marsden, OD
Chief of the Stein Family Cornea and Contact Lens Service
Southern California College of Optometry
Fullerton, Calif.

Chosen Because...“Dr. Marsden is a tireless worker, teacher, private practice professional, president of the California Optometric Association, volunteer and COPE-approved speaker.”

Although Harue Jean Marsden, OD graduated optometry school 23 years ago, in some ways she feels as if she never left school. As a teacher at the Southern California College of Optometry for the past 21 years, her academic vantage point and participation in organizations such as the American Academy of Optometry is her way “of paying it forward. Nothing is more rewarding than to see my previous students as leaders of their organizations,” she said.

Marsden is currently chief of the Stein Family Cornea and Contact Lens Service at the Eye Care Center at SCCO and will be assuming the role of Assistant Dean of Clinical Education where she’ll direct outreach missions for students at military installations in far-flung places such as Japan and Guam. Throughout her two plus decades at the college, her greatest challenge has been “keeping ahead of the ever changing game of health care. It’s easy to maintain the status quo but in the last 20+ years that I’ve been in practice if I continued to do what I did then, the world would have long passed me by.”

SHE SAYS...“With more female professionals entering the optical industry we are seeing phenomenal leaders in industry, research, academia and business. The lines of gender no longer act as a barrier to what we can achieve but now serve as a path to expansion and improvement.”


Carol Mason
Vice President, Client Administration
Davis Vision
Latham, N.Y.

Chosen Because...“She’s exhibited the confidence to face the toughest challenges and demonstrated strong, dynamic leadership.”

With a degree in engineering from Penn State and a masters degree in computer science from Union College, Mason started on a technical path, first working for Getty Oil in Houston as an engineer, then joining General Electric, where she held a variety of roles, acquiring her Six Sigma Black Belt certification. Approximately half-way through her career, Carol was asked to assume management responsibilities for technical and operational units.

She joined Davis Vision five years ago to learn a new industry and “to be part of an organization with phenomenal growth capabilities and a national presence.” She started in 2006 as the director of project management where she led the company’s Sarbanes Oxley initiative. She was subsequently promoted to senior director in 2007, assistant vice president in 2008 and most recently was named vice president of client administration in 2009.

Mason presently leads five departments and a staff of 50 associates at Davis Vision (Billing, Claims, Electronic Enrollment, EDI and Client Reporting). Her focus is on operational excellence, ensuring regulatory requirements are met, introducing new technology/systems, and delivering business efficiencies for Davis Vision clients.

She said, “Davis’ senior management team took me under their wing and taught me the industry; My background enables me to get into the details but as I’ve acquired additional responsibilities I’ve learned to grow my team and delegate.”

SHE SAYS...“Don’t be afraid to take on tougher assignments, view every challenge as an opportunity to grow.”


Laurie Pierce, LDO, ABOM
Instructor, Opticianry
Hillsborough Community College
Tampa, Fla.

Chosen Because...“Her energy and enthusiasm for improvement of the profession seems endless. She consistently earns the highest ratings from her college students for her enthusiasm, encouragement and knowledge of the profession.”

For an optician who has been so involved in furthering the profession, Laurie Pierce is certainly quick to praise others. “My mentors are my optical mom, Wolfgang Liese from Classic Eyewear in Portland, Maine, and industry leaders like Raanan Naftalovich and Hilaire Van der Veen from Shamir, Carole Bratteig from Transitions Optical, Rene Soltis, Danne Ventura and other leaders who have helped to raise the bar in optical excellence,” she said.

Pierce started her optical career while still in high school at the Kennebunk Optical Center her mother owned in Maine. From there she went on to Newbury College’s opticianry program in Boston, during which time she worked at a mom-and-pop optical business, later managing Lugene Opticians, and upscale optical boutique in Boston’s Copley Place.

Today, she is a full-time instructor of opticianry at Hillborough Community College in Tampa, Fla. and consultant for Shamir and Transitions. She is also a member of Professional Opticians of Florida, Opticians Association of America, National Academy of Opticianry and National Federation of Opticianry Schools and has received several awards including The Earl Cooper Award and the Dennis Tilley Educator of the Year Award.

SHE SAYS...“We all want to leave a little something behind and I feel like I have a fantastic opportunity to make a difference in my little corner of the world and elevate the field of opticianry with great new members.”


Tammy Reaves
Vice President of Operations, Pearle, Vision Franchise and Corporate Stores
Luxottica Retail
Lake Mary, Fla.

Chosen Because...“People want to work for Tammy because she develops and grows her team…she is a role model as she leads the field management team.”

Responsible for approximately 800 Pearle Vision optical stores located in the U.S., Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, Tammy Reaves spends a lot of her time on the road. Her current position as vice president-operations for Luxottica Retail’s Pearle Vision franchise and corporate stores—which she has held for about a year and a half—includes responsibilities to drive the overall sales strategy for Luxottica’s Pearle Vision locations, while overseeing the ongoing growth of the Pearle retail brand.

Having begun her career in the retail business outside of optical, Reaves joined Luxottica Retail in 1996; since then, she has worked as a regional vice president for Pearle as well as in regional management positions with sister retail brands LensCrafters and Sunglass Hut.

Among Reaves’ responsibilities these days is helping to organize the first Pearle Vision brand summit scheduled for this October, which will bring Pearle Vision optometrists and personnel from both the corporate and franchisee sides together in New Orleans, replacing the former annual Pearle franchisees’ convention.

SHE SAYS...“In business today in general, and particularly in the optical retail business, opportunities are incredible for women if they’re driven, committed and have the tenacity to follow through on their leadership beliefs.”


Diane Strickler
President/Owner
POL Labs
Roanoke, Va.

Chosen Because...“She took a lab that her father left her and created her own identity that anyone who meets her can respect.”

Originally a high school art teacher, Strickler entered the family business, Professional Ophthalmic Laboratories (POL), in 1977. Working alongside her brother, she learned all aspects of making prescription lenses before buying him out in 1992.

“I learned by making mistakes,” she recalled. “I like to tell my staff, ‘Don’t be afraid to admit you’re doing something wrong,’ because I’ve probably made the same mistake.”

One of only a handful of women who owns a wholesale lab, she currently manages a staff of 35 employees that services accounts throughout Virginia and the surrounding states.

Breaking into the male-dominated lab business has been tough, Strickler admits. Yet she credits two men who mentored her: Hal Rothstein, owner of Hirsch Optical and the late Phil Whitaker, a Silor Optical sales rep. “Hal shared his core values with me and told me that I could make it if I poured my sweat and blood into the business, like he did. Phil was one of the best reps in the industry. He was also an advisor and friend. He gave me the shot in the arm I needed to succeed.” Strickler also said that joining Global Optics, the lab buying group, is “one of the best decisions I’ve made. They’ve become a total business partner.”

SHE SAYS...“I see women becoming very powerful in our industry. Compared to 25 years ago, there’s been an equalization betweeen men and women, and with that has come mutual respect and friendship.”


Stephanie Turk
Director of Marketing
Altair
Rancho Cordova, Calif.

Chosen Because...Stephanie loves to focus her energy on training and helping the sales team and accounts grow their business. She enjoys teaching the team how to open a conversation and create interest in a product. Since Altair sells primarily over the phone—a very difficult sell—it’s thanks in large part to Stephanie’s trainings that the company has mastered this technique.”

A 25-year veteran of the optical industry, Turk currently divides her time between Altair, VSP Global, and Marchon. She oversees Altair’s marketing efforts and works on companywide initiatives that support their doctor community.

“We’ve pushed the envelope on brand e-learning to help our customers achieve greater levels of success. We recently deployed the Marchon University, an online training resource for Altair and Marchon sales representatives,” explained Turk. By asking “what if” questions such as, “What if we could better use technology to provide service and support to our customers?” Turk has found that by stretching yourself, your team, and your company, you can get results that are extremely rewarding.

SHE SAYS...“I’ve been mentored in one way or another by just about everyone I’ve ever worked with. I try to look for at least one quality in every person that I interact with that I can learn from and incorporate into what I do. I’m inspired by constantly learning, trying new things and bringing out the best in others.”


Ivy Zito
Chief Financial Officer
Encore Optics
South Windsor, Conn.

Chosen Because...“Ivy is my go-to person when I need greater understanding about financial situations. I trust her knowledge and have the greatest confidence in her abilities. Ivy has a great ability to not only mentor her knowledge with women but I have seen her mentor businessmen as well.”

Ivy Zito was in public accounting as a CPA for 18 years before becoming involved in her husband’s optical businesses. As Zito describes it, she became interested in the optical industry by osmosis. Her husband, Paul Zito, started QSA Optical in 1979, the year Paul and Ivy were married. Even though she didn’t work with her husband at QSA until 1996, she helped set up the initial financial and accounting systems for QSA. As time went on, she couldn’t help but get more and more interested in the industry. “And the rest is history, as they say!” said Zito.

Today, as the chief financial officer for Encore Optics, Zito manages all administrative areas including accounting and financial operations, banking, legal, outside CPA and insurance relationships, HR, personnel, employee benefits and payroll.

SHE SAYS...“My first mentor was my father, in whose footsteps I followed by becoming a CPA. My father taught me to ‘give back’ to your chosen profession, and that’s what motivates me—watching those I’ve worked with and mentored grow in their own careers so that they can pass along their wisdom to someone else.”