Lens Materials and Strategic Decisions

It was planned, that I should take over the management of  Central Marketing during the second half 1995  . About that time I learned to my surprise that Serge Pinon would take his retirement, so he was not very active regarding this organizational change and  I had to push the communication of my new responsibility a little. Through my long experience in the Marketing department I had a very clear idea how to  structure the organization. The  manager of the Competition and Market Analysis Group, a talented young man, seemed to be the ideal candidate to lead the group of product managers. Some people of senior management however thought it better to add external Marketing experience and so we hired a young woman who had been Marketing Director in a company for household appliances. To manage a group of lens market experts after such an experience needed a certain start-up time and at the beginning, even with my strong involvement, the Marketing Reporting  meetings  were not really a success.

With the retirement of Serge Pinon the position of vice-president of R&D would be  vacant and a successor had to be nominated.  As successor, Jean Carrier, a highly qualified man with a combined education in general engineering and general management, had been particularly prepared in the R&D department. As already mentioned Essilor’s number one competitor was Sola and Sola was probably superior in some respects. They had a simple but creative product portfolio, an aggressive Marketing policy and an excellent profitability. For Xavier Fontanet Sola was a model  to learn from.

 At the beginning of his activity at Essilor Xavier Fontanet concentrated also on a strategy of new, future lens materials and the economy of their production. He had initiated the purchase of a big Polycarbonate manufacturer in the States. The remarkable caracteristic  of Polycarbonate is its big shock resistance being very advantageous for goggles for work and  sports as well as for kids eyeglasses. For a market leader this purchase was logical as in the USA, according to The Food & Drug regulations, also for spectacles for normal use  very high protection is required. The goal was now to make Polycarbonate also a high value brand for the rest of the world. But there was an obstacle to overcome. Compared to traditional lens materials the chromatic aberration of PC was greater, which reduced the peripheral optical quality of PC lenses.  There were intense discussions about this issue and I remember a meeting where a slide was shown, which compared the poor success to promote the PC brand in Europe with Salieri’s trial to eliminate Mozart and the slide was framed with small daggers dripping with  blood.

One strong product in Sola’s portfolio was a lens substrate Spectralite which represented a very clever material compromise for the USA market because it was high index, had good optical quality and was shock resistant corresponding to FDA requirement. The equivalent substrate sold by Essilor in Europe was not yet complying with the FDA standard, but still in development. Essilor’s senior management was concerned that Sola would win the strategically important fight on the  battleground of materials. Sola’s R&D director was a chemist and the future VP for the Essilor R&D had an education in General Engineering, highly qualified, but was not a chemist.

In the second half of 1996 Xavier Fontanet invited me to a lunch, where he told me that he would need me to better observe and influence the evolution of international standards. Recently the European standardization organization CEN (in cooperation with ISO)  had decided, obliged by a  European Directive, to create a new mechanical resistance standard  for lenses sold in Europe. This standard was  less severe than the FDA drop ball test in the USA. Nevertheless the center thickness of a part of the lens range sold on the market had to be increased .  As the situation was the same for all competitors this represented no competitive drawback and also the following years proved that this norm had no influence on the market. The objective of the European Directive was to protect the health of  spectacle lens wearers.

 Xavier Fontanet had the feeling that competition was going to manipulate Essilor. My response was that it was no problem to include the ISO standards work into the activities of Central Marketing. Fontanet was of the opinion that this responsibility was a responsibility in  itself fitting in the activities of the Quality Department and he proposed that I should take the leadership of the Quality department.  Concerning  Central Marketing, I learned, that Jean Carrier should be my successor. Xavier Fontanet emphasized to support in future particularly the newly created function and after some tenacious discussions, also with the new head of Human Resources,  I accepted.

One year later the new head of Human Resources had left the company. In the following years the Essilor ISO Team together with the other ISO –members built a simple and efficient  standardization strategy for the spectacle lens market. During this period I took regularly the initiative to inform the top management meeting in the Comex about the recent progress of ISO standards.