Building a Marketing Department

In the middle of 1988 Michel Gillet retired and the end of my mission In Paris , December 1988, came nearer. To my big surprise William Lenne told me that he would also leave Essilor at the beginning of 1989  and  that he would be replaced by a Marketing manager being responsible for the DVO and for the communication department. This new person would report directly to Gerard Cottet and I should be responsible for the DVO in charge of the product marketing. After a discussion with my wife we decided to stay at Paris . With my knowledge and experience it was more natural to continue at the head office than to return to the subsidiary. I had built very good relations to the R&D, Logistics and sales departments and we worked efficiently together and it was a very attractive challenge to take marketing responsibility for the totality of Essilor products. Paris was a dream for Bärbel and her passion to discover new countries and cultures and in the meantime she had also started to establish contacts with other German women living around Yerres.

The new marketing manager was Hubert Sagnieres , who held an economics degree and an MBA of the business school INSEAD at Fontainebleau. He was distinctly younger than I was, but had already had several years’ experience in leading positions in the industry. The Essilor Marketing culture was only in the start up phase and when I had agreed to take over the DVO management  my condition was that the manpower of the department would be increased. It was decided to wait until the new Marketing manager had arrived. Sagnieres was a very dynamic person and only a few weeks after his arrival we started our search for a couple of new product managers. At the end of 1989  the DVO counted 6 product managers, not enough in the long term to take care  of the complete range of lens substrates and coatings, but enough to start to develop and to implement  a marketing culture within Essilor. 

In the past Essilor’s product ideas were mainly R&D driven. Varilux and the plastic substrate ORMA were two outstanding examples, but also Alpha, the progressive lens for the emmetropic presbyope and Datacomfort  the special lens for the work in front of computer screens were the results of ample research work on different progressive lens designs.

The main task of the new Marketing department was to define new marketing opportunities for Essilor, a change in the way the company had been working in the past.  At the beginning there was a certain lack of confidence of the R&D teams regarding the competence of the new Product Marketing department, consisting mostly of unexperienced product managers with a physicist as leader. Each product development caused a big investment of money and manpower. Even as the successful VMD launch had helped us to gain some trust, they asked us to present a new product strategy in order to plan and establish simultaneously their R&D policy. We had some tedious but eventually fruitful discussions. The result was a three tier range structured by the lens performance and price. This scheme allowed the R&D teams for instance to define their projects to optimize the new high index substrates and sophisticated surface coatings. These first years of the cooperation R&D and Marketing were characterized by a continuous challenge of the product plan by a very critical R&D team, which regularly referred to the problems caused by limited resources.  So the New Product plans at that time consisted of a rather restricted number of about thirty products, but with  a clear and detailed description where the product had its place in the product range structure , completed by figures for volumes and price positioning.

 Comparing this pioneer period at the beginning of the 1990’s with the situation around 2000 until 2005, when I was responsible for the Quality organization and participated in meetings between Marketing and Development, Production and Logistics departments the situation had fundamentally changed. These meetings were now dominated by our Marketing department putting a permanent pressure on the resources departments referring to the competitive situation on the market.