My First Job in Optical


First jobs are a bit like first dates. You’re not quite sure what to expect, but you feel excited about the possibilities. You wonder, does this feel right? Will it develop into something more? The only way to find out is to jump in with both feet and hope for the best.

This week, we’ve asked some industry veterans to describe their first job in optical, and tell us what they learned from it. Their work experiences provide not only a window on their early career, but also a glimpse into corners of our industry that you may have never have set foot in yourself.

If you’ve got a first job story you’d like to share, please contact us at

Bill Gerber
Founder and CEO, Contentlinq
Founder and CEO, OMG! Optical Marketing Group

My first job in the industry was as a sales rep for Neostyle Eyewear covering the San Diego territory. I was all of 22 at the time and believed that my field training with a seasoned rep meant I would go out and sell $10,000 every day—easy peasy. That's not exactly how it went. I quickly realized it was not that easy and I'd need to really get to work to deliver some serious value to my clients. It was a fantastic job that taught me how to listen, persist, speak publicly and do the work needed to be successful. I would not trade that experience for the world! Being a rep is hard work and I have so much respect for those doing the job today.

Darren Horndasch
President, CEO, Wisconsin Vision and Eye Boutique

I personally started wearing glasses in seventh grade (yes, that was in 1973) and remember to this day that my dad let me get my first pair with a grey gradient tint lenses (cool for the 70s btw).

My true entry in the optical business came in 1989 when I was hired as the CEO of Wisconsin Health Fund in Milwaukee. Our organization was a unique health care trust fund in that it not only provided health insurance benefits to members, but we owned and operated a multi-disciplinary medical center, dental center, pharmacy and…optical!

After a couple of years in my position, we recognized the need to expand the network of providers in certain areas, including optical, to make it more accessible to our members and their families. It was in 1991 that I signed an agreement with a small regional, family-owned optical [business] called Wisconsin Vision. Over the ensuing years, Wisconsin Vision was able to grow through hard work and relationships that we shared.

I left Wisconsin Health Fund in 1998 and moved back to my home state of Illinois to run a publicly traded health care company that was sold by 2000. The chairman of Wisconsin Vision, Paul George, found out that I was available and offered me the opportunity to become President/CEO of Wisconsin Vision Inc. and Eye Boutique Inc.

Needless to say, I was excited about the challenge and to get my family back to Wisconsin. When I arrived the company had 15 locations. Today, I am proud to say that we are opening our 40th, I am celebrating 17 years here and we are still a family-owned business.

Finally, as a result of my experience in optics, both of my sons have found their own success in the optical industry gaining their first exposure, of course, working as opticians at Wisconsin Vision. So the story continues…

John Alofs
CEO and founder, Eyewear by R.O.I.

My first optical job was in the summer of 1979 when I worked as a contact lens “polisher” for a local optometrist. Using a small rubber suction devise (to hold a hard PMMA contact lens in place), I used a polishing wheel to remove scratches from the patients lenses (while occasionally, unintentionally adding -0.25D of additional power if I pushed too hard).

What I recall most about this job was not a day went by that I didn’t shout “nobody move,” while getting on my hands and knees to try to locate a lens that had flown off of the wheel, before someone in the back room stepped on it.

Michael Suliteanu
President, WestGroupe

Actually, I had a bunch of jobs growing up in my family’s company. When I was 8 or 9 years old, during the Christmas holidays, I use to collate the paper sheets for WestGroupe’s (at the time we were known as Western Optical) three-ring paper catalogue. My father would set up a system where my sister, myself and my two cousins would sit and collate the paper sheets and then insert them into the three-ring binders. We must have done that for at least 5 years. It was a ritual … Go snow skiing during the day and collate at night.

My first adult job was working in our lab, known then as WestLab. I was 17 or 18, and I worked on a part-time basis. I worked my way through the entire lab from the tint machine, to the blocker, generator , polishing machine, and then the edger to cut and mount the lenses. My father believed that I had to not only learn every job but do every job in company. When I officially started my career at WestGroupe in 1990, I was given a sales territory of Northern Ontario (9 hours from my house) where I would visit our customers every 8 weeks. I held that sales territory for 15 years.

Tiffanie Burkhalter
Vice President, e-Commerce Solutions, VSP Global

I was introduced to the optical field after being presented with the opportunity to be a part of the VSP Global team over six years ago. I was working at that time for Ernst & Young, where I managed international teams supporting clients across multiple industries.

At VSP, I immediately gained an appreciation for the common thread throughout the optical industry of improving the quality of life of others through access to quality eyecare and eyewear. I found VSP’s mission and not-for-profit structure to be particularly appealing. I love that our success is measured by more than shareholder returns and that we have the ability to make decisions with short and long range outcomes in mind.

My philosophy around being successful in optical is that I firmly believe if you focus on individuals and deliver high-quality products and services that meet their needs, then you can position yourself to overcome unforeseen competition and or disruptions in the marketplace. While this concept is simple to comprehend, successful execution takes commitment and hard work.

Bob Woyton
Senior Marketing Director, Hilco

My first job with Hilco Vision in 1987 was as an eyewear repair and customizing technician. I was very fortunate to be trained by some of the company’s engineering pioneers in aftermarket eyewear soldering and plastic frame repairs. The soldering techniques I learned spanned from carbon arc, to gas to laser welding. Over the years we expanded into full customizing services from temple lengthening/shortening, cable conversions and medical devices such as ptosis crutches and moisture chambers. Our customers frequently challenged us with special requests which we embraced. We never wanted to admit defeat. Our motto was “if you think it can’t be done, think of us.” Although our lab was not the traditional lab environment, I also learned how to edge lenses, use a lensometer, make patterns and even repair the equipment we used.

I think the most influential part of the entire experience was learning firsthand the challenges our customers face with frame repairs and the limited or ineffective tools available to deal with it at the practice. It was these early years that gave me ideas to create self-tapping screws, locking screw coatings, Logic Universal Nose Pads and Ergo Pro pliers.