4.2.1 SOLA’s roots and expansion

SOLA's history is laid down in the book written by the Australian historian Rob Linn “Breaking the mould”. So the photographs in the Sola chapter are by courtesy of Rob Linn.

SOLA’s history started in 1956 with a research team experimenting on the production of plastic lenses in Adelaide. In 1960 this group formed a company which was incorporated as Scientific Optical Laboratories of Australia. So, different from all its future big competitors SOLA was a very “young” company. In its homeland Australia its first plant for mass production was situated in Adelaide . From the middle of the 1960’s on it started its first overseas operations in Asia with Japan and Hong Kong (later followed by Taiwan). The first ventures in Europe were in Italy, UK and Germany. In 1975 SOLA US moved to Sunnyvale and in 1978 to Petaluma, California. Mass production facilities were developed for semifinished, moulds and stock lenses in Brazil, Italy, Singapore, Sunnyvale, California (later Petaluma, California), Ireland, Mexico and finally China in 1989. In 1988 SOLA’s corporate headquarters moved from Australia to Menlo Park, USA.

In 1979 SOLA was acquired by Chance Pilkington, an English company, which was the largest glassmaker in the world. At that time SOLA’s revenues were about $ US 40 million, about $ US 100 million in 1986 and $ US 250 million in 1992. In 1995 SOLA debuted on the New York stock exchange and announced in 1996 the acquisition of American Optical Corp. and Neolens, a producer of polycarbonate lenses .The first financial figures as a publicly traded company announced by SOLA for the year 1996 were sales of $388 million and an operating profit of nearly 16%. In 1998 the sales were up to almost $ 550 million. For SOLA this period until the late nineties was an era of exponential growth. Being at the bottom of the world’s top ten ranking of the lens manufacturers in 1980 they reached the number 2 position at the end of the 1990’s.

In spite of this fact in 1993 Chance Pilkington, strongly indebted, sold SOLA for $ US 315 million to the investment firm AEA.

In 2005 the German optical group Carl Zeiss and a Swedish private equity firm EQT acquired SOLA for a value of $ US 1.1 billion.