Essilor’s AMERA Conference, held in the palatial halls of Atlantis in the modern oasis of Dubai, brought together 1,400 leading eye care practitioners from more than 30 countries. The setting was awe inspiring and the speakers both motivational and challenging, with many good practical take home messages on how to ‘Navigate through Change’.
The AMERA region, comprising Africa, the Middle East, Russia and Asia Pacific, looks after the eyes of more than five billion people. Last year the conference host, Essilor, provided more than 365 million spectacles to people around the world.
Impressive stats, one would think, but not enough according to Essilor Chairman and CEO Hubert Sagnieres, who urged both his company, and conference delegates, to do more, noting that “2.5 billion people in the world still can’t see well”.
“Poor vision is the first handicap in the world,” he said, before outlining Essilor’s investment in research and development, which he said was focussed on three main areas: correction, protection and prevention.
What we have done in the past enables us to make and adjust to change now. We can steer ourselves in whatever direction we choose
Mr. Sagnier’s address, which drew on the convention’s theme, ‘Navigate through Change’, was one of the highlights of a strong conference program.
Referencing Essilor’s recent acquisition of Coastal Contacts, Mr. Sagniers said the growth of online channels was one of the major challenges that needed to be navigated by the industry working as a whole.
“It’s a fact. It’s not a threat. It’s a train you have to catch and it’s a train we want you to be in.
“A few weeks ago we announced that Essilor took over Coastal Contacts. A few months ago… it was our biggest threat… the optical industry is yours. It’s each of you. It’s all of you. It’s us. It’s our family and we have to protect it.
“I think together we can leverage the internet and make it great and good for all of us as professionals and for the consumers. But, as an industry we need to be together as a family and make sure that there will not be anyone attacking our industry and destroying the value that we have built over the past five to 15 years.
“At Essilor we want to work together on it with you and for you to ensure that all this stays in the optical industry.”
Shifting Sands of the Desert
Against the spectacular backdrop of the desert oasis of Dubai, Essilor AMERA CEO Patrick Cherrier set the scene on the opening night of the convention, saying the presence of the 1,400 delegates – from Africa, the Middle East, Russia, Asia Pacific as well as Australia and New Zealand – was “a big reward and motivation to us. It encourages us to strive harder every day, to provide even better quality and better services so that you can provide the best solutions to your patients”.
The company’s COO for AMERA, Eric Bernard, explained that the convention theme ‘Navigate through Change’ was tied to the business landscape like “the constantly moving sand dunes of the desert”.
The three pillars of the convention: ‘Shift, Adapt and Engage’ were constantly reinforced in key messages and workshops, highlighting the possibilities that change presents.
Through these three pillars, Mr. Bernard said the aim of the organisers was to:
- Provide insight into how technology is changing and how it is shifting the optical industry;
- Highlight the new segments of the market where innovation creates value and where adaptation is required; and
- Focus on all aspects of service that will engage the consumer.These aims were examined by a number of interesting and challenging speakers.
Next Generation Business
Mike Walsh is the CEO of the research lab: Tomorrow (great business name for that of a futurist). Renowned worldwide as a speaker on future trends, he is a clear thinker who cuts through the digital clutter, providing business owners with new tools they can confidently integrate into their business model.
Mr. Walsh encouraged delegates to shift their thinking to what is coming next. Who will be the next generation of customers? How should we meet the challenges of their very different needs?
Customers, he said, have taken control of the retail environment. To win their hearts and minds, practitioners needed to have a new mindset, new understandings and new tools.
“Your next generation of customers is going to have a radically different approach to making purchasing decisions, empowered by mobile devices and shaped by a childhood of disruptive technology,” he said.
“How can you reinvent your customer experience? How might technology allow us to create a better customer experience?”
“What part of your business can you put on automatic so you can focus on your customers? I guarantee almost 100 per cent of the backend of your business: all of the accounting, all of the transactions and the supply chain are all now cloud based systems.
“You need to rethink your operating model in the future.”
He said retail is moving more into cyberspace, with the keyboard taking over from the cash register. Many businesses, he said, have no fixed retail location and no well-trained staff. Instead they use open computer portals and provide rapid supply.
“You will recognise the optical retailer of the future; not by its design or its business model but by the (software) platforms that run it,” he said.
Seeing Change through a Different Lens
Best-selling author and speaker Ariane de Bonvoisin, regarded as an expert on navigating change, discussed the quality of leaders and businesses that succeed during changing times.
She said most people have never learnt how to be good at change and so their only tactic was to resist it.
“Getting good at change is the most important business and life skill,” she said, adding that one of the keys to successful change is being able to bring people with you through the process. Ms. De Bonvoisin went on to outline several principles of change, noting that people who successfully navigate change “know they are resilient, strong and capable of getting through anything… they accept change and they take action”.
However, she said the “number one thing” was taking care of your own health.
“It’s the number one thing that goes out the door when you’re going through change. The energy you bring into your work only starts when you are in a good and healthy place.”
Ms. De Bonvoisin referred to the “SEED of change: Sleep well, Eat better, Exercise more and Drink water.”
Drawing on Disney
Internationally acclaimed speaker, author and former head of Disney University, Doug Lipp, presented simple but poignant lessons from his time at the Disney Corporation.
Dispelling childhood myth, he told delegates there “is no magic in Disney… It’s about doing ordinary things in an extraordinary way”.
“Most people are resistant to change because they don’t want to look foolish: ‘I’m a doctor. I’m not in sales. It’s beneath me…’ Oh, give me a break… we’re all in sales,” he said.
“How many of your employees are engaging customers? You have control over that. That’s not high tech, it is low tech personal interaction. Snow White never has a bad day and the rides don’t break down.”
“And if Snow White ever had a bad day, the audience would never know, because it was of the imperative to always put on a good show.
“It’s about innovation allowing risk. (Walt) Disney wouldn’t accept a ‘No’ response. He only accepted a ‘Yes, we can do it if…’ It’s an innovative culture. Walt didn’t call people ‘customers’. He called them ‘guests’.”
The best teams, Mr. Lipp said, were comprised of dreamers and doers.
“If you don’t have both in place you will have problems. You need to have a dreamer and a doer and a succession plan. Where are you on that continuum? Do you like to think of new ideas or are you more an operations person? If you don’t have both in place your days are numbered. With both you’ll dominate, with one you’re done.
“We must be willing to change or willing to perish. Often because of ego some companies are willing to perish.
“Whilst Walt Disney always had one foot in the past, and one foot in the future… few people have this gift so you need to use your team.
“Who on your team looks at your legacy and leverages that? Who on your team looks to the future and breaks new barriers so you can navigate through change?
“It’s important to have dreamers and doers on our team so we can keep improving our products and service. We need to keep ‘plussing’ the show as Disney would say. It’s always important, even when you have no budget to plus the show.”
Mindset Impacts Business and Success
Andrew Bryant is a successful leadership speaker who works on increasing the bottom line by building personal and team engagement. He has studied neuro-semantics, positive psychology, hypnosis and organisational behaviour.
Mr. Bryant said self-leadership is about the ability to influence yourself to achieve your objectives. “To do that you need to influence your own mindset. You need to influence your own actions towards those objectives. You’re going to have to do your own self change.
“Change can happen from the outside. We can be forced to change but most sustainable change happens from the inside out. We need to change ourselves if we want to influence others.”
Mr. Bryant asked us to share a 90 second story with two other people about a significant turning point… a shift. A little while later with the same group we were asked to tell a story about a successful change in our lives.
Being made to do this on the spot was brilliant – we just had to dredge something up. We learnt that we all have stories to tell… we just need to get better at telling the bits of the story that are important. And telling those stories demonstrated the possibilities for change.
“What we have done in the past enables us to make and adjust to change now. We can steer ourselves in whatever direction we choose,” said Mr. Bryant.
He went on to talk about the need to inspire rather than motivate our staff because, “when we become authentic we don’t need to be motivated. We have a reason why we do it”. Additionally, he spoke about communicating our strengths because he said, “if we don’t communicate our strengths to our colleagues and customers, they won’t know what they are”.
Lisa McInnes-Smith was very popular. A master speaker and trainer on peak performance and building relationships that last, she is the first person outside North America to be inducted into the International Speaker Hall of Fame and has shared the stage with two American Presidents.
While I didn’t get to hear Ms. McInnes-Smith I wish I had – the feedback was impressive. People said she was engaging from start to finish, relevant and relatable; speaking about what it takes for people to change – whether it is changing an attitude, changing direction, changing behaviour or changing outcomes.
Her take-home message was that it really is up to you to change – but you only need to do it in small incremental steps. She focused on how to attain personal performance, professional satisfaction and profitable progress in your optical business.
Closing the Execution Gap
Anyone who has been to conferences like this will recognise the problem of ‘Monday morning reality’… You get back to your office and the reality of your day-to-day work quickly drowns out any memories or thoughts of implementing change.
Two Australians that broke this mould and provided not just sage advice but practical tips on how to apply their learnings were Martin West and Mark Bragg. Their business is XGAP, an execution consulting group, and they claim many businesses under perform not because of poor planning but rather, because of poor execution of the plan. XGAP has a process for developing, implementing and monitoring execution plans that is applicable to any size or type of business. It’s a model they say can be taken away and implemented immediately.
And certainly, at the end of a content packed convention, it was a reassuring and inspiring model for delegates from the AMERA to take home.
Thank you to Essilor Australia who invited me to cover this event and funded my accommodation, airfares, dinners and day trips.
Eric Bernard’s Take Home Messages
Eric Bernard is COO for Amera, based out of the Singapore regional headquarters. In 2010 he was appointed President of Essilor China and in 2011 he became a member of Essilor’s Executive Committee.
Mr. Bernard reinforced the convention theme ‘Navigate through Change’, as he examined in fine detail the three pillars: Shift, Adapt and Engage.
“Just because the need still exists for some more traditional products doesn’t mean we do not need to push the boundaries, get out of our comfort zone and step up to the next level of solution we provide consumers with.
“Occupational extended focus lenses are expanding very fast as Generations X, Y and Z approach presbyopia with completely new needs.
“Crizal Prevencia and Crizal Forte UV have moved us together into an area where lenses can impact health outcomes for conditions such as macular degeneration, cataracts and skin cancer.
“We’re excited to announce that Essilor Australia has worked closely with the Cancer Council Australia to receive the endorsement for the Crizal UV product.
“This is really exciting news because Australians know what they’re talking about when it comes to skin cancer. This is something exciting to communicate to your patients,” said Mr. Bernard.
“Over the past 15 years we have trained 125,000 optometrists, optical dispensers and practice staff through the Varilux Academy and the Absolute Retail Programs. These two technic and business programs were combined into the Essilor Academy in 2011 but now we are proud to announce the first Essilor training centre in the AMERA region: the International Vision Academy. It will open in Singapore in September.
“The Academy will have state of the art facilities built across 1,000 square metres. From the 50-seat auditorium to the retail simulation area, no expense has been spared to make it the finest vision training centre in AMERA. We believe you deserve the best training facility and training content,” Mr. Bernard told delegates.
He said using devices such as Visioffice, VScope, etc., would help practitioners differentiate their practice and improve the customer experience through clear demonstration.
“Often as an industry we become lost in jargon instead of keeping things simple. We forget that everything we sell is invisible. To the consumer, one piece of clear plastic looks the same as the other, until we show them the difference.”
He also reminded delegates of the importance of social media in patient engagement. Essilor’s accumulated social media pages across the region had 1.2 million followers, with thousands of people reacting to each post, he said.