Executive Suite

By
 





 


Dori Carlson, OD


President
American Optometric Association
Heartland Eye Care
Park River, N.D.

Chosen Because...“She was elected this year as the AOA’s first female president. She works hard to promote optometry both inside and outside the profession and puts special focus on encouraging optometry students.”

 
In the spotlight for her election at this year’s Optometry’s Meeting as the first woman president of the American Optometric Association, Dori Carlson, OD, hopes to make an impact for more than just her gender.

A graduate of Pacific University College of Optometry, Carlson practices in North Dakota with her husband, Mark Helgeson, OD, when she’s not traveling for the AOA. A special interest is working with optometry students: Carlson is nearly halfway through a “20/20 Tour” she initiated, visiting 20 optometry schools in the U.S. in 20 months to answer questions and cheer the students on for their choice of profession.

When talking with students and with established practitioners, Carlson urges them to “do something outside your comfort zone,” believing an eyecare professional will grow more as a person and as a clinician by taking some chances. She also encourages women in particular to become more active in optometry, declaring, “With the rise in numbers [of women ODs], there is also a call to action.”

SHE SAYS…“My personal philosophy is to leave optometry a little better than the way I found it. If all of us left life, and specifically optometry, a little better than we found it, we would continue to do great things for our profession and our patients.”

Maureen Cavanagh

President
Nassau Vision Group
Northvale, N.J.

Chosen Because...“As head of Nassau Vision Group, Maureen has led her team to improved performance, top and bottom line, over the last 18 months. She has also been instrumental in growing talent within the organization and building a strong team around her.”

 
A lifelong athlete who once ran the New York and Boston Marathons the same year, Maureen Cavanagh now channels her competitive drive for Nassau Vision Group, one of Essilor of America’s most important business units. She oversees all business activities for lab services, stock lenses, contact lenses, the Shore Lens division and Oregon Optometric Group practice.

A 19-year industry veteran, Cavanagh worked for Johnson & Johnson’s Vistakon and Spectacle Lens divisions before joining Essilor in 2005. Since then, she has held various executive leadership positions before becoming president of Nassau Vision Group in December 2009. Cavanagh is a member of the Essilor of America Executive Committee which includes the senior officers of the Essilor of America organization. Being part of this team, Cavanagh is able to effectively influence the strategy and direction of the overall organization. She is also an active participant in the Essilor Global Women’s Network which focuses on developing women’s leadership within Essilor.


Cavanagh’s advice to the women she mentors: “Don’t try to act like a man! Be proud of being a woman and strive for individual authenticity.”


SHE SAYS…“Gaining confidence, creating momentum, and having contagious enthusiasm is critical to being successful.”

Yvonne Cooney

Vice President/CFO
Midwest Vision Centers
Sauk Rapids, Minn.

Chosen Because...“For over 20 years, Yvonne has helped guide Midwest Vision Centers. Many female staff members went on to higher positions because of her mentoring and she continues her work with the female businesswomen’s group in the area.”

 
Yvonne Cooney works for the same company that hired her 30 years ago. Though there was a 10-year break in between, Cooney said she was happy to come back to MVC because, upon returning to work with Myrel Neumann and Larry Pearson, she was able to transition “into a position that had not previously existed and gain the trust of the employees who were there from the beginning,” one where she influences everything from cash management and forecasting to assisting the CEO in decision-making.

But for Cooney, seniority is not the final word. “I meet people who have been around for a very long time and they’re reluctant to accept how the business has changed. We have to, if not change, at least be aware of and address new issues.”

She added, “We need to have all our employees behind us, understanding why we make decisions in order for us to be successful.”

SHE SAYS…“Whatever level, you have to have goals. Where do you want to be five years from now? People get caught up in day-to-day tasks, but if you don’t keep your eye on those long-term goals, time goes by very quickly and you’re no closer to accomplishing anything.”

Paula Dank

Vice President, Underwriting
Davis Vision
Plainview, N.Y.

Chosen Because...“Paula is a true inspiration. She is respected for her ability to mentor, motivate, foster teamwork and act as a strategic agent of change. Her team members appreciate her strong work ethic, commitment to quality and visionary approach.”


 
Paula Dank left a job in Manhattan because she wanted to work closer to home. But that hasn’t stopped her from finding success. While the change allowed her to watch her children grow up, she also credits the move for her “new and challenging career.”

Since joining Davis Vision in 1998, Dank has worked on a wide variety of projects that allowed her to not only grow HVHC/DV’s customer base but also its internal talent. “My goal as a manager is to provide people with the tools to problem-solve and find solutions to the questions at hand so we achieve the best results for our customers and ourselves,” Dank explained.

Describing herself as an enthusiastic person, Dank said she is constantly challenged by coworkers to constantly look for ways to change the processes or do something better. “I see us continuing to improve and getting even better at delivering benefits. We are definitely working toward excellence all the time.”


SHE SAYS…“There’s no question that there are women in top executive positions in managed vision care organizations. The glass ceilings of the past are being broken on holding high level positions. I hope that is true for salaries as well.”

Sue Ann Healey

President
MyEyeDr.
Vienna, Va.

Chosen Because...“Watching her success makes one think dreams can come true. She wanted to start her own retail chain, and in the last 10 years MyEyeDr. has grown to nearly 40 locations.”

 
As president and co-founder of MyEyeDr., Healey runs the day-to-day operations, overseeing every facet of the company’s 37 retail offices and managing a staff of 350. Healey describes the operation as “a group of eyecare offices brought together by a business management company.”

Before joining MyEyeDr. in 2001, she was director of managed vision care for Hour Eyes and Eye Care Centers of America. Her career in optical spans some 25 years and she considers herself “fortunate to have learned a lot with ECCA— it gave me the insight to do things the right way at MyEyeDr.”

Healey, along with CEO and long-time co-worker Dr. Robert Samit, never loses sight of the fact that “our most valuable resource is our great employees.” To that end, she spends one day a week visiting the company’s various locations throughout the Virginia, D.C. and Maryland area “keeping a finger on the pulse of the company along with an eye on the horizon to figure out where we need to be. Continuing to thrive in this unpredictable economy means focusing on the details and managing our growth.”


SHE SAYS…“A company’s character is known by the people it keeps.”— John Ruskin “This very succinctly conveys my total commitment to customer service as well as my leadership goals to treat all our employees with respect and dignity, giving them the tools they need to succeed.”

Janet L. Johnson

Director of Acuitas Product (U.S., Canada)
Ocuco
El Paso, Texas

Chosen Because...“She has trained, taught and guided thousands of people in the use of computer software in the optical field. She has helped develop systems to ease the transition from paper offices to computerized optical outlets, and is a real visionary in the field.”

 
Although she is known as an optical software specialist, Johnson started out as an optician in the mid-’80s, working at Vogue Optical, a retail chain in her native Canada. When the company decided to purchase point-of-sale software from C.C. Systems, Johnson managed the implementation.

Her knowledge of retail operations and her insights into the needs of customers led to a succession of jobs in the software business, including retail software manager at C.C. Systems, product manager at Eyefinity/OfficeMate and product manager at EMRlogic Systems.

Last year, she was recruited by Ocuco to manage the functional specifications for U.S. and Canadian users of Acuitas, a POS/EMR software product for retail, front office and refracting. “When a client takes on your software, there’s a big learning curve for them, so I become a very close partner with clients. I like to troubleshoot and resolve problems, and I have good intuition and determination. It’s fun.”

Johnson’s husband, Gordon Bishop, is also in the optical business, and she credits him as being her “sounding board.”

SHE SAYS…“I want the software to be working for the client, not the client working for the software.”


Caroline MacIsaac

Former Registrar and CEO
College of Opticians
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Chosen Because...“Caroline MacIsaac is one of those rare leaders that can inspire individuals to believe in themselves and achieve what they once thought was impossible. She has had greater impact on educational and professional standards for opticians in North America than any one person in recent history.”

 
Caroline MacIsaac’s mom was a sales rep in the Canadian optical industry for 30 years. “I grew up at optical conventions,” MacIsaac said. Her mother encouraged her to go to school and become an optician. “My mother was completely supportive then and now of the work I do,” said MacIsaac.

Until last month, MacIsaac was the Registrar and CEO of the College of Opticians of Ontario, the regulatory body for opticians in Ontario, Canada. Her responsibilities included strategic planning, regulation, collaborative and cross-jurisdictional project management.

MacIsaac is the current past president of the Council on Licensure, Enforcement and Regulation (CLEAR), after serving in the executive office for two previous years as president-elect and president. An active participant in national opticianry issues, MacIsaac works closely with the Opticians Council of Canada (OCC) in the development of national best practices, the building and fostering of partnerships with key stakeholder groups, a national branding and public awareness campaign and the identification of emerging trends in vision care globally.


SHE SAYS…“I believe that finding the right people—those who have the skills, knowledge, judgment and integrity to get the job done, and done well—is critical. When people are encouraged, motivated, passionate, and having fun, the product of that positive energy is incredible.”
 

Nanette Michaels

Vice President
Henry Ford OptimEyes
Madison Heights, Mich.

Chosen Because...“Nanette has been the driving force in the remarkable success of OptimEyes that has grown substantially in the face of difficult economic times in metro Detroit. She refuses to participate in the recession.”

 
It’s not every day one meets an employer like Nanette Michaels, a woman entirely focused on making sure her employees are satisfied, engaged and fulfilled. “I can identify strengths in other people and provide them with the opportunity to be the best that they can be,” Michaels said, adding that she doesn’t need credit. “I just want to get it done.”

Entering the optical field in 1981 after a career with Gap, Michaels credits her success to surrounding herself with people who excel where she doesn’t. She explained, “It’s very important to me that the individuals who join Henry Ford OptimEyes have a real career. I look for people who can fit into our culture and who can help build our culture.”

That culture today includes a staff that, according to last year’s Gallup survey, has a 25 to 1 rate of engagement—Michaels’ proudest achievement. “I’m so wildly proud that we’ve been able to build a team of highly engaged employees who really do drive this organization,” she said.

SHE SAYS…“We’re the ones they talk about at dinner. Our teammates absolutely depend on us to guide them, make them feel influential, empowered, valued. We want our staff to feel that they make a difference and help guide the direction of this company.”

Audrey Reed

Executive Director
Essilor Vision Foundation
Dallas, Texas

Chosen Because...“We in the optical community are fortunate to have benefited from the dedication Audrey Reed has given to her business and charitable efforts. As the first Executive Director of the Essilor Vision Foundation (EVF) the world is a better place due to her tireless efforts to provide vision care for those most in need.”

 
Audrey Reed has never been afraid to try something new. Starting out as an ER nurse in the Air Force in the ’60s, she began her optical career in 1970 during her last two years of active duty. She worked for the next 28 years in retail operations for four different major optical companies and then joined Essilor 14 years ago.

Throughout her 42-year career she has worn many hats, but it was her business, operations and marketing acumen that prepared Reed to take on one of her most valuable roles four years ago as director of the EVF where she handles the day-to-day operations and financial affairs of the nonprofit. “As we continue to expand, I will be moving more into a field operations role to help grow our Adopt-A-School program. To date, our team has screened over 50,000 children and provided eyeglasses to over 10,000 who otherwise would have not been able to afford them.”

Reed, a founding board member and secretary/treasurer for the OWA for five years, was a regional finalist for the Ernest & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award last year.


SHE SAYS…“I hope I serve as a mentor to help other women understand the importance of volunteering. Have a passion for life, stay true to yourself, trust your instinct and don’t let anyone tell you that it can’t be done.”


Tina M. Schott

President
Schott Management Group, LLC
Herndon, Va.

Chosen Because...“Tina Schott has 20 plus years experience in the optical industry and she currently owns her own consulting business facilitating COPE approvals for opticians. She’s always willing to help individuals and organizations and with her knowledge of the ophthalmic industry, she is our answer-girl!”

 
Tina Schott was always interested in a career in health care because she liked the idea of helping people achieve better health. She answered an ad for the Opticians Association of America (OAA) and the rest, as they say, is history. She spent 14 years with the Association, working her way up to assistant executive director. She left the OAA to open her own management company to serve the optical industry and prides herself on being “keenly aware of the difference between opticians, optometrists and ophthalmologists and respect each discipline’s scope of practice.”

Schott Management Group was launched with the Contact Lens Society of America (CLSA) and its educational foundation on board as clients and today Schott continues to strengthen that tie as executive director for CLSA. Some of her other corporate clients in the optical industry include Alcon Laboratories, CIBA Vision and Wal-Mart Stores.

In addition to being a member of the Optical Women’s Association, she has served on numerous committees throughout her career including the Contact Lens Institute’s Marketing Committee and is currently part of the Development Committee for the Foundation for Eye Health Awareness.

Schott’s major career milestones include the creation of the CLSA University, an online learning center for contact lens education and continuing education certificates; being on the ground floor of the creation of the Contact Lens and EyeCare Symposium and the recent launch of an optical website for online learning known as optce.com.

SHE SAYS…“My advice for other women who are trying to have a career in the optical industry?
Be tough, stay unemotional, and be comfortable in your own skin.”



Diane Souza

CEO
United Healthcare Specialty Benefits
Minnetonka, Minn.

Chosen Because...“Diane has championed many vision products that have increased productivity, improved efficiencies, and increased sales. Diane is valued in the organization in that she inspires us with her leadership and her positive can-do attitude.”

 
Diane Souza has been in the insurance industry for the past 17 years, spending the last four years as the CEO and COO of Specialty Benefits for UnitedHealthcare. Souza oversees and directs the ancillary group and voluntary insurance business that serves over 75,000 employers and 23 million members. She previously held senior leadership positions in health care and financial services.

Her background includes operations, systems, finance, customer service, and mergers & acquisitions. “I believe to be successful as a leader you must create a united culture, characterized by a clear vision, understood by the organization, which engages a team, to deliver on those values, beliefs and behaviors,” said Souza. Her leadership style would be described as approachable and engaging. She spends over 40 weeks a year traveling across the country to meet with her team, brokers and key partners to build relationships. “I am inspired by the talented and innovative people that I have the privilege of working with each day.”


SHE SAYS…“I love my job because of the people I work with, the ability to make a difference in the lives of the people we serve, and the opportunities and challenges of growing a $2 billion business during a time of significant change in our industry.”


Vicky Sheppard

Contact Lens Manager
Kaiser Permanente of Southern California
Los Angeles, Calif.

Chosen Because...“Her winning way with people and vast knowledge of the industry makes her influential in the optical community.”

 
An acknowledged contact lens expert, Sheppard manages contact lens programs at Kaiser Permanente’s 28 clinics in southern California. She is also the current president of the Contact Lens Society of America and recently concluded a term as a member of the National Contact Lens Examiners (NCLE) board of directors.

Sheppard started her career 30 years ago, working as an optician at the Minneapolis-based retail chain Benson Optical where she became certified as a contact lens fitter. She then moved to Park Nicollete Medical Center where she became involved with pediatric ophthalmology, an area of practice she particularly enjoys. After relocating to California she worked for a pediatric ophthalmologist specializing in contact lenses before joining Kaiser Permanente eight years ago.

Although her role is administrative, she still does hands-on work, often troubleshooting hard to fit patients. “A lot has changed in the field,” she observed. “The average age of wearers was 18 when I started; now it’s eight to ten years old. My goal is to make it healthier and less costly for patients to wear contacts so they can be compliant.”


SHE SAYS…“I get excited about people wearing contact lenses. We get to help someone be able to see, or change their eye color or help someone with a scarred eye look normal. You see how their lives are changed. It’s a good feeling.”


Jackie Zelman

Executive Vice President
Revolution Eyewear
Simi Valley, Calif.

Chosen Because...“Jackie is part-owner of the company and oversees all non-sales aspects of the organization. She’s a diplomatic leader, able to handle sensitive situations, in the most professional way.”

 
Despite not starting her career in optical, Zelman always had a passion for eyewear. “Even before I met my husband Gary [Martin], I owned Laura Biagiotti, Gucci and Dior sunglasses. Plus, my husband’s enthusiasm for the optical industry was quite infectious.”

So infectious that in 1995 Zelman joined her husband and father at Revolution Eyewear, which the two of them had founded in Zelman’s father’s garage in 1993. She now controls the overall operations of the company and oversees all customer service departments.

Zelman works closely with all her employees to ensure that the environment at Revolution is one that fosters fun. “I really enjoy making the environment for my employees a very fun place to be. I feel if the environment is fun, employees want to stay.”

It is a philosophy that has paid off for the company. In 1999, they were awarded Small Business of the Year by the Bank of America and The L.A. Times. From 2001 to 2006, Cole National presented them with several awards from Pearle Vision, including Rookie Frame Vendor of the Year and Vendor of the Year, and in 2007, they were named one of the Top 25 Family Owned Businesses in the San Fernando Valley.


SHE SAYS…“I am a good leader. I think that being a good leader requires confident action, along with fast and clear decision making. Stay edgy if you do enter our industry and keep moving because everything goes really fast.”