Bj Avery

Executive Director
Texas Optometric Association
Austin, Texas

CHOSEN BECAUSE… “She is a leader in directing the Texas State Optometric Association on both a state and national level.”

Leaving the University of Texas armed with a degree in Journalism, Bj Avery never expected to work in the optical field, let alone head up a major optometric association boasting some 2,000 members. However, she admits her early career experience in newspaper and television reporting have come in handy as she designs and implements statewide political strategies for eye doctors and regularly consults on legislative/third party issues in her role as executive director of the Texas Optometric Association.

Avery also conducts seminars on various topics and teaches Medicare/Medicaid/Third Party management, billing and coding, as well as leadership and teambuilding. She views working for the association as a team effort. “No one is a one-person show. The doctors call the shots and our association staff are unsung heroes working behind the scenes to keep the trains running on time. I am a facilitator, who not only tries to roll with the punches but sometimes manages to avert them. I try to find a middle ground whenever possible.”

But make no mistake, Avery is an impressive leader in her own right. Over the last 10 years, she has served on various American Optometric Association (AOA) committees and from 2009 to 2010 she was president of the International Association of Optometric Executives. She is also active in a networking organization known as Texas Optometric Women’s Network (TOWN), which allows local ECPs to socialize while comparing notes on how they run their practices and handle problems.

SHE SAYS…“I have had so many great, talented mentors, advisors and supporters. I am inspired by each and every one of them who gives of his or her time and effort on a voluntary basis to keep this profession strong and vibrant.”

Joan Blackwood

Senior Vice President, CMO
1-800 CONTACTS and
Draper, Utah

CHOSEN BECAUSE…“As chief marketing officer, Joan is a member of the senior management team and is responsible for all retail web and phone-based sales of contact lenses.”

It should come as no surprise that as chief marketing officer, Joan Blackwood’s main focus is on the consumer. Managing the marketing side consists of brand marketing and media, social strategy and public relations, pricing and promotions, direct marketing, website management and application and mobile development. But what Blackwood really believes she provides is a service to vision-corrected consumers as much as delivering vision-care products.

“We have a responsibility to the optical customer in educating them on the importance of eye health and compliance, especially as it comes to their contact lenses and how to wear and care for them,” she said.

After relaunching the brand in 2010, the company has driven up awareness, website traffic by 40 percent and web revenues by 20 percent. Through the use of customer relationship management, over 80 percent of revenue comes from repeat orders.

Blackwood predicts that technology will be the biggest driver of change in the optical industry as products improve and consumers enter that category earlier and stay longer. Among the technological advances she is involved with implementing are enabling consumers to use applications and mobile sites to interact. For example, capabilities include downloading a prescription or scanning in a credit card.

Other ways she’s involved with simplifying the ordering process is by tracking contact lens consumption and saving prescription information.

SHE SAYS…“It is always interesting to me to uncover the key insights that create the connection between a company’s product or service and what drives the consumer’s decisions. Creating that connection is what it’s all about to me.”

Teresa Carter

International Eyecare Center, Inc.
Quincy, Illinois

CHOSEN BECAUSE…“She is the leader and driving force. Having been with the company for over 27 years, she has worked her way through the ranks and has held nearly every position within the company. Her dedication inspires the staff and doctors on a daily basis.”

Drawing her work ethic from working on the family farm in Cohoka, Missouri, a 2,200 person town, Teresa Carter took her conviction for finishing projects and seeing things through into her career. Initially working double shifts as an LPN, Carter grabbed the opportunity to become an optician as soon as it hit her. “I fell in love with it, with the people, and the vision. The opportunities were there to learn more and to expand my knowledge, and that is something that I love to do.” Liking the challenge, Carter “essentially learned every single department” until she made her way to president of International Eyecare Center (IEC), a nine-location business.

While working her way up the ranks, Carter became a NCLC certified technician, a certified laser technician, a Fellow of the National Academy of Opticianry (FNAO) and a motivational speaker on practice management. She also sings in the “praise team” at her church, and is involved with Relay for Life and the American Lung Association. “IEC has seen me through many hardships and they’ve never let me down. So, I try hard every day not to let them down.”

Carter says her ultimate responsibility is ensuring the 130 IEC family members and their families have a safe and secure future. By working the floor when possible to ensure her decisions are successful, along with her duties overseeing acquisitions, vendor/partner growth, management partnerships and onsite lab and Lasik centers, she still finds the most exciting part of opticianry to be working with people and helping them find a new look, and a new outlook. “The look on their faces when they can see…It’s an amazing, amazing thing.”

SHE SAYS...“If your passion for the industry begins with the difference you can make in the lives of others, your business decisions will have a strong compass.”

Gail Elias

Director of Finance
Henry Ford OptimEyes
Madison Heights, Michigan

CHOSEN BECAUSE…“Gail oversaw the implementation of Electronic Medical Records for our 18 offices last year, smoothly and on time. At the same time, she managed our continued strong financial position as well as opened our seventh super vision center.”

After retiring from a 31-year finance and accounting career at Ford Motor Company, Gail Elias knew she didn’t want to stop working. While searching for a position that would allow use of her skills as well as make a difference in peoples’ lives, Elias found Henry Ford OptimEyes and knew it was the perfect fit. “I was so inspired by the staff and everyone I interviewed with and the culture…I knew this is where I wanted to be,” Elias said.

For the past five years, while leading the finance, accounting and billing departments of Henry Ford OptimEyes, Elias has been responsible for overseeing 17 locations, including the opening of two satellite offices called Super Vision Centers which she describes as a “one stop shop” of services for patients and staff. She has also been involved in several initiatives to encourage and develop her staff and stores, such as the implementation of new billing and electronic medical records systems. The “exciting new software” is just one example of how Elias is always looking for new opportunities for growth and expansion. Additionally, she participates in a fundraising program through the Lions Club called KidSight which provides vision screenings for underprivileged children.

A strong believer in leading by example, Elias emphasizes getting to know her staff so that everyone is empowered and engaged. “I’m not sitting in a bubble. I make it a point to really relate to the staff as much as I can.”

SHE SAYS…“I hope that the difference I make is in supporting the Henry Ford OptimEyes team to be successful, with careers focused on excellence in customer service and patient care.”

Stephanie Haenes

Owner and CFO
Art of Optiks
Wayzata, Minnesota

CHOSEN BECAUSE…“She is one of the few women business owners in optical. She started the company in her 20s and has created a unique business model. Art of Optiks combines one of the most technologically advanced eyecare facilities with exclusive, high-end eyewear. Stephanie’s sense of design and passion for a holistic patient experience makes her a creative and dynamic innovator.”

Stephanie Haenes, ABOC began her career in optical at the ripe age of 21. With no optical training, she began working at Sears Optical in Appleton, Wis. in order to support herself and her child. When the manager and other staff member left one month later, Haenes was left to learn opticianry and manage the store, and she took off from there.

A self-proclaimed victor of “trial by fire,” within a year Haenes was recognized by Cole Vision as having the top producing store in the country for its size and was then recruited by Pearle Vision. She developed her selling abilities and knowledge of optical products, and soon moved on to InVision Optical in Edina, Minn. Once again, the young optician was recruited, this time to manage a luxury optical store. “I found that I was born to be in this industry,” Haenes said. “It was at this point that I started to really believe I had the ability and drive to open my own luxury optical.” Having made contacts over the years in multiple levels of the industry, Haenes and her husband opened their own store, Art of Optiks, where she acts as operations manager, accountant and optician. Her husband is the on-site optometrist.

“I excel at seeing the big picture,” Haenes said. “I have always been the type of person that does what is needed to keep things running smoothly.”

SHE SAYS…“I have changed my business over the years to more closely align myself with the changing values and buying patterns of our customers. I believe that most of my success has been due to this philosophy of changing with the times.”

Marjorie Knotts, OD

Knotts Optometry
Indianapolis, Indiana

CHOSEN BECAUSE…“Dr. Knotts was named the IOA Optometrist of the Year in 2009. She has also volunteered many hours to numerous other professional and community organizations. She enjoys spending time with her patients to ensure they receive the personal service they deserve.”

Marjorie Knotts, OD has been in practice for 28 years, and has owned her own private practice for 22. After graduating with honors from Indiana University School of Optometry in 1984 and spending time as a clinical assistant professor there for subsequent years, she has since left the faculty but remains heavily involved with the school.

Along with her service on the Dean’s Advisory Board and the Dean Search Committee, Knotts has devoted considerable time to volunteer organizations. In addition to her participation with Prevent Blindness of Indiana, several state commissions and Vision USA, her biggest effort has been her 25 years volunteering for the Indiana Optometric Association (IOA). “It’s a lot of fun to get energized about giving back to the profession,” Knotts said.

Among her accomplishments, Knotts considers the best to be inspiring four women in her practice (one of whom is her associate) to become optometrists. Her inspiration? “I spent a lot of time with my local optometrist and ophthalmologist because I had histoplasmosis chorioretinopathy as a teenager,” she said. Many years later, she is a prime example of making the right choice, and offers these words of wisdom: “Practice where you are happy personally because it will show. Get involved. Make a difference in your profession.”

SHE SAYS… “It’s been a fantastic profession for me. The positive thing about the ‘three Os’ is that we know how to adapt to changing environments economically. I think that’s what we’re really good at.”

Mary Anne C. Murphy, OD

Chair, U.S. National Committee
Optometry Giving Sight
Golden, Colorado

CHOSEN BECAUSE…“Dr. Murphy is a dynamic leader and charity champion. As Chair of the U.S. National Committee, she volunteers her services, time and extraordinary leadership skills to the Optometry Giving Sight team to influence change in the world.”

Even before her entry to optometry school Mary Anne Murphy worked full time as a certified optician at LensCrafters and continued to work part-time during her doctoral training. She described her time there as “a wonderful experience and an amazing training ground for opticians.” Upon completion of her degree, she worked as an associate in private practice for four years before starting her own practice in 2006. Today, as founding optometrist and president of Front Range Eye Associates in Broomfield, Colo., Murphy’s practice has grown to three doctors and 15 staff and “we are proud members of the Vision Source network of premier practices,” she said.

These days, she cherishes her time and role at Optometry Giving Sight (OGS) as Chair of the U.S. National Committee which “allows me to create and develop relationships with vendors and doctors to raise money. These funds support the primary mission of the organization—to end refractive error blindness through delivery of eyecare services, training of eyecare professionals and the establishment of infrastructure dedicated to service delivery and training. During the past year, we have increased our fundraising by over 50 percent and have established domestic support in the U.S. with the Special Olympics while continuing to grow our international support.” The organization is currently funding projects in over 15 countries.

With four days a week at her practice and one day devoted to OGS, Murphy said she “is enjoying the ride while trying to set an example for my daughter. Working professionally and giving back on an international level is so rewarding.”

SHE SAYS…“I surround myself with people that are smarter and more motivated than I am. This constantly encourages me to do more. I excel only because I have the support of my family and co-workers.”

Margaret M. Nekic

Chief Operating Officer
St. Louis, Missouri

CHOSEN BECAUSE…“Margaret is a seasoned, strategic and process-minded leader who helps others deliver measureable, cost-effective results; she has spearheaded a performance culture among diverse, talented individuals and has the skills to tap into the power of each team member.”

From her start as an entry-level claims manager to her position as COO, Nekic has worked in health care for both mid-sized and Fortune 500 insurance corporations for over 15 years. In addition to her executive duties at Advantica, the vision care and dental benefit management company, she also is actively involved in the National Association of Vision Care Plans and the National Association of Specialty Health Organizations.

At the age of 13, without vision insurance, she put on eyeglasses for the first time and realized how clear everything could look. “I immediately understood all the things that I had been missing and wanted to share that realization with others,” she said. “I am now part of an organization that delivers that vital service to millions of individuals nationwide. Vision insurance takes a proactive approach by encouraging patients to get comprehensive vision care regularly.” Still, she never imagined her undergraduate degree in political science and MBA would lead to this area of the insurance industry.

“The managed vision care industry has traditionally been dominated by women in all facets of the business except for the executive suite,” she continued. “That is changing. We are seeing more women emerge as proven, valued and equal leaders.”

While she feels that women bring vital insights and strength to leadership, she believes it really boils down to the person regardless of their sex and that breaking stereotypes is the key to success as it brings about true equality in the workplace.

SHE SAYS…“I am inspired by positive individuals who drive corporate growth and professional development within their organization, people not only skilled in their field but highly motivated and results oriented. I have had a few mentors throughout my career who exemplified these characteristics, and today it is my goal to exhibit these attributes as well.”

Georgette Pascale

Founder, CEO
Pascale Communications LLC.
Fairfield, Connecticut

CHOSEN BECAUSE…“Seven years ago, after holding high-level positions at several top public relations firms, she launched her own virtual company, using a new business model, in order to address an underserved niche within health care public relations.”

Georgette Pascale studied communications at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology with the intention of becoming a stylist. But after an internship at a public relations agency involved in the entertainment and music business, she fell in love with the fast-paced world of PR. She eventually ended up at the global PR leader, Hill & Knowlton, working with a variety of accounts in a range of businesses. But Pascale was always drawn to the idea of starting her own company. About eight years ago, she formed a “virtual team” of experts with different skill sets to serve clients in the health care arena at a time when diverse and digital communications were transforming the field.

Today, Pascale and her team works with such leading pharmaceutical, medical device and health care clients as Allergan, Acufocus, Abbot Medical Optics, Zeavision, Wavetec, Advance Vision Research, Iridex and many others. “It’s energizing to learn about their businesses, to strategize with the teams to relay a message that’s on target for our clients,” she said.

Pascale regularly lends her PR expertise to nonprofits including Prevent Blindness America and Ophthalmic Women Leaders (OWL) where she holds an officer role as secretary.

SHE SAYS…“You’ve got to go for it, don’t be afraid but be creative. There are always challenges. But if you help people out, they’ll then help you.”

Holly Rush

Senior Vice President, Sales
Luxottica USA
New York, New York

CHOSEN BECAUSE….“She is a great leader, with a clear vision and a management style that inspires people who work for her and with her to raise the bar, to do better, to aim for the bigger picture. An accomplished executive who entered the eyewear industry a scant 15 months ago, she has mastered the industry and its nuances in record time.”

Rush “swam her way through school” as a competitive swimmer, attending West Virginia University on a scholarship, coming to the Northeast after graduation with an interest in marketing. Exploring packaged goods companies’ training programs, she started what would be a nine-year stint at Duracell, rising from the field as a sales rep through various managerial posts, including national account manager for Target. She moved to a new startup business involved in reviving classic beauty product brands. Rush recalls, “It was entrepreneurial, and I was director of sales and business development, responsible for Walmart and other national players as well as many internal support functions.”

Rush joined L’Oreal for its niche professional/salon division brands. She recalls, “It was best of both worlds—a smaller division but the resources of a really big company.” She moved up within L’Oreal to be VP of education for two different medical skin brands. “When I was called to consider Luxottica’s wholesale division, I had not heard of the company, but within five weeks, I met Andrea (Dorigo), learned more about the challenge and I was in—thrown into the deep end!,” she said laughing.

Rush oversees Luxottica sales to independents, department stores and key accounts. New to a company, a culture and an industry, she said, “it’s about learning everything you can and really listening, leaning on key advisors and then, you go back to the basics, with the right teams in place.”

SHE SAYS…“You have to believe in yourself. Confidence doesn’t come overnight. But take responsibility for your own growth, you can’t always wait for someone to help. Talk to people you admire and respect and, sometimes, ask for help.”

Robin Scheer Ettinger

Vice President of Marketing Americas
Safilo Group

Parsippany, New Jersey

CHOSEN BECAUSE… “Robin demands excellence but is not afraid to get in the trenches and show people how to excel at their positions. She invests time and leadership with everyone she works with and has an amazing capability for bringing people together in a collaborative manner.”

Being responsible for all the marketing activities for licensed and house brands for an international company like Safilo in the Americas—including all visual merchandising, PR, in-store activities, training and advertising—is a huge responsibility. Luckily, Robin Scheer Ettinger had a mentor whose behavior she could emulate.

“The woman that has made the deepest impression on me is Carmen DuBroc (VP, Girls Scouts’ board of directors). She taught me about always taking the high road with colleagues and competitors.

“Early in my career, I was nervous to walk a trade show and meet the competitors. Carmen walked up to each of them, introduced herself, shook their hand and complimented them on the great products they made. She was so gracious and genuine. I realized that was the way I wanted to conduct myself throughout my career, with grace and confidence,” said Scheer Ettinger.

And for the last 25 years, Scheer Ettinger has done so. “I love what I do and bring enthusiasm and a positive point of view to most things. I believe in collaboration with my colleagues as it makes work more fun when you do it together.

“I am always open to learn; about new industries, new cultures, new brands, etc. I’m usually pretty good at figuring out each new challenge and then bringing the team along to meet it.”

She believes there is great opportunity in this industry. “The fact that we are made up of many independent optical doors means you can find your niche and prosper. Overall, this is a nice industry with real people—not just giant corporations,” she added.

SHE SAYS… “I’m not going to cure a serious disease or invent something critical but I can influence the people I come in contact with on a daily basis by creating a positive, caring environment where there is great respect for each person and everyone treats each other with kindness.”