‘What’s the Best Meeting You Ever Attended?’

Last month, during his presentation at the Vision Monday Global Leadership Summit, National Vision CEO Reade Fahs asked the audience, “What’s the best meeting you ever attended?”

Fahs said that of the countless meetings he has attended throughout his career, his favorite was one that involved Restoring Vision, a non-profit group that provides reading glasses to people who would otherwise not have access to them.

For me, it was not a meeting but an event that changed my life: the second Vision Expo. As many readers will remember, it was held over Halloween weekend, 1987. I was new to the industry then, and Expo was, forgive the pun, totally eye opening. Experiencing the excitement and energy of the industry for the first time confirmed what I had already suspected, that the unique combination of fashion, technology and medical was fascinating, and could be an endless source of ideas for articles. Three decades later, I have ample proof that my instincts were correct.

Inspired by Fahs’ question, I asked an eclectic group of VM readers what was the best optical meeting or event they’ve ever attended, and what they liked about it. Here’s what they said.

—Andrew Karp

Dick Whitney
Manager, Industry Standards and Customer Enablement
Carl Zeiss Vision
Executive Director, Optical Heritage Museum

I first became involved in the industry in 1974, when I joined American Optical in Southbridge, Mass., my hometown. I started participating in industry standards meetings in 1990, and have been active in ANSI, ISO and Vision Council meetings since then.

ISO delegates in front of the former American
Optical Main Plant entrance in Southbridge, Mass.
Last September, I was fortunate to serve as the host of ISO TC172/SC7/WG3 spectacle lens meetings which were held at the Southbridge Hotel and Conference Center on the site of what was formerly the American Optical World Headquarters. This was a career highlight for me, and is my choice as the most memorable event of my career. I was able to share my experiences in this field with my friends and optical colleagues on the very spot where so many industry contributions were made.

The reason for having the meeting at that time was that the Optical Heritage Museum was selected to host this event. At the previous ISO Meeting in Sydney, Australia in 2016, members voted to come to see the Museum and conduct our meetings at the neighboring conference center. I am the executive director of the Optical Heritage Museum which is sponsored by my company Zeiss, which bought American Optical and SOLA Optical. At the September ISO spectacle lens meetings there were 31 experts from 11 countries participating—Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, France, Israel, Mexico, Japan, Germany, the U.K., and the U.S.

Dr. David Sliney admires a WWII tri color
goggle used to detect camouflage.
Matthias Hornauer and Timo Kratzer (Zeiss)
examine the first AO Lensometer from 1914.

These meetings were especially poignant for me, as my father, Don Whitney, preceded me in participating in ANSI/ISO work. Don was responsible for having the U.S. participate in the International Standards Organization (ISO) representation when it was formed in 1979 and was the U.S. leader. He, along with other industry greats such as John Young, Dave LaMarre, Dr. Bernie Grolman, Dr. Raoul van Ligten and John Davis all worked at AO Southbridge and each were major contributors to the industry and were active in ANSI/ISO. It was an honor to relive the contributions that these and other industry greats, such as Dr. Estelle Glancy and “Doc” Edgar Tillyer who are world famous today for their industry contributions. While I look forward to other meetings and events, I do not believe I will ever experience a more rewarding and memorable event given my personal connections to this one.

Gerard Santinelli
Santinelli International

Through the years, I have attended quite a few optical events in so many places. But I guess I’d have to say it was Opti-Fair 1980 at the New York Hilton. It was the first major optical show I attended. My father flew me in from Boston while in my junior year at college. I was fascinated by the entire sequence of events. Flying into NYC. Staying at the Hilton. Setting up our booth. The show floor activity and buzz. The international vendors and customer dinners. Breaking the booth down. And then returning back to school and settling into my business classes.

The experience made a grand impression for me, and I knew I wanted to be a part of it. Thirty eight years later I’m still traveling around to many shows and events, meeting people, continually developing relationships, experiencing and learning new things all the time.

Heidi Q.T. Pham-Murphy, OD
Vice President
Eye Designs Optometry
Clinic Director, Northern California, Special Olympics Lions Club International Opening Eyes

One of my favorite events was the Special Olympics Opening Eyes Event - TTT (Train The Trainer). It was held at beautiful Villanova University where folks from several health professions, including optometrists, were trained to become clinic directors of the Special Olympics. A small group of optometrists from all over North America met to understand the needs of the Special Olympics and persons with intellectual disabilities. We learned the history of the Special Olympics and heard directly from some athletes how they would like to be addressed and treated (just like any of us would). We also learned what it takes to run a clinic side by side with a sporting event!

Then we spent a day assisting in a clinic, setting up stations, doing exams and then cleaning up the clinic. It was a lot of work. But at the end of the day, when you interact with these amazing athletes and work with other tireless volunteers, there is an amazing sense of accomplishment and gratitude that you gain from the entire event. You discover that you gain so much more than you can give!

Another one of my favorite conferences was the Heart of America Eye Care Congress, which was held at an intimate venue where about 1,500 optometrists and staff met to discuss various topics in eyecare. As a student at the University of Missouri—St. Louis College of Optometry, I worked in the background helping out at the event. As a graduate living now on the West Coast, I have traveled back there to meet classmates and enjoy the learning, interaction and camaraderie that is the general feeling of the event.

Darren Horndasch
Wisconsin Vision, Heartland Vision, Eye Boutique

Over my last 18 years I have had the privilege of attending many meetings and events in our industry. However, I have always enjoyed the Vision Monday’s annual Global Leadership Summit, held in advance of Vision Expo East.

The networking opportunities at the Summit are fantastic. I have had the chance to meet many optical industry leaders and to forge relationships that are meaningful to our business. The lineup of speakers year after year are high quality and generally revolve around a specific theme. This year’s telemedicine conversation is not our future: it is already here.

Over the many years I have attended the Summit there were two speakers that stand out for me: Andrea Guerra, former Luxottica CEO and Neil Blumenthal, co-founder and co-CEO of Warby Parker. Mr. Guerra was interesting simply because he was the CEO of the largest vertically integrated optical company in the world! He was seemingly very open and humble in his presentation regarding Luxottica’s approach to the industry and the future it was pursuing.

Mr. Blumenthal because the back story to Warby Parker is fascinating, starting in an apartment (that they get kicked out of because their customers kept breaking the elevator) to a bus to the internet to now brick and mortar. His presentation was the first to the optical industry, from a group of founders with no real optical background when they launched Warby Parker. I guess it can be said that it is never too late to be innovative!

Ron Krefman, OD, FAAO
Data Scientist and Advisor
focalCenter, an Ophthalmic Market Research Consultancy

Two meetings come to mind as favorites, for different reasons. The content at NAVCP Vision Health Summit (April 2017 in San Diego) was both relevant and thought provoking. The panel discussion, led by Marge Axelrad of Vision Monday and Frank Giammanco formerly of First Vision Media Group, on the ophthalmic impact of health care trends was timely and I was honored to participate.

The Vision Council Executive Summit of January 2018, also in San Diego, was a favorite for its inspiring speakers like Frances Cole Jones and the valuable and numerous networking opportunities. That stimulation fueled a post-meeting buzz for weeks.

Obviously, it’s hard not to like sunny San Diego for a meeting venue.