Reorganizing Marketing

Hubert Sagnieres was a man with clear ideas and it was easy to work with him. There were only two departments under his management and the other group next to the Product Marketing  DVO was the communication group, neatly smaller and less implicated in daily business. So with his challenge to implement an efficient Marketing function within Essilor it was quite natural that Hubert Sagnieres was very close to operational details of DVO projects which  led inevitably to some disagreements about how to organize work. Sometimes I felt restricted in my preferred  way to work with the product managers. Looking back today I think with a little more flexibility from my side this would not have been a serious problem. But as I also had the ambition to prove the performance of the new Product Marketing I acted not always as wisely as I would do today.

This situation was certainly one major reason for Gerard Cottet to launch a project with an external consultant to reorganize the Marketing department. The consultant in charge was the Boston Consulting Group, which from now on I would meet regularly during the following years when Essilor adjusted its structure. Generally, during a first phase, major organizational changes were prepared by a consultant, making an analysis and giving a recommendation, which served as basis for the decision of the senior management.

End of 1990 the BCG proposal was: first to split the former DVO  into three groups: single vision lenses, progressive lenses and lens materials & coatings , second to maintain the communications section and third to create two new responsibilities, for Medical Relations on one hand  and for the analysis of Distribution and Competition aspects on the other hand. This new structure was clear and offered sufficient space for the different executives to cooperate creatively and efficiently. Gerard Cottet asked me to take charge of the progressive lens section with the special objective to defend efficiently the leading position of Essilor on the market of progressive lenses, which was under fierce attack at that time. 

At that period the sales of progressive power lenses (PPL) represented distinctly more than 50% of Essilor’s profit. When in the late 1970s and in the 1980s  the competitors American Optical, Rodenstock and Zeiss launched their own PPL brands, the initial 100% Essilor market share necessarily decreased. At the end of the 1980s the US PPL market was becoming the  world’s biggest regional progressive lens market, so the US market was paramount for Essilor’s world leadership.  It was from 1984 on when the Essilor US number one position was seriously at risk when Sola launched its VIP. Sola was an Australian/US American company with a very aggressive and clever marketing strategy. Using comparative advertising, not prohibited in the US, they sent a message to the market that VIP was a more innovative and more reliable lens than Varilux. So in the beginning of the 1990s the competition’s progressive lens sales in the US were about 60 % of the market , of which Sola had the lion’s share. Sola’s organic turnover growth was nearly 15% with an excellent profitability. Sola was a real threat for Essilor’s leadership, particularly in the USA.