First formed three years ago by The Vision Council because it recognized a need for young leadership within the organization, the Emerging Optical Leaders (EOL) committee (initially called the Young Optical Leaders Organization, or YOLO) is gaining in numbers with more than 40 members. To join, members must be age 35 or younger, be employed by a member company of The Vision Council and be nominated by a senior executive from the member company. The EOL group meets three times per year at The Vision Council’s Executive Summit, Vision Expo East in New York City and Vision Expo West in Las Vegas.
OLP recently spoke with members of the EOL Steering Committee: Chairman Ryan Kirkpatrick, CEO of Shwood Eyewear; Vice Chair Sebastian Huelswitt, project manager at Carl Zeiss Vision; Advocacy Chair Lisa Hanson, director of quality at VISION EASE; Development Chair Kristen Reynolds, manager, philanthropic programs at National Vision; and Membership Chair Jaclyn Frumkin, vice president, business development at Eye Q Eyewear, to get their take on the group, why they joined and why others should, too.
OLP: What are the goals of the EOL?
Kirkpatrick: We have three main goals: to establish professional development for young executives, to increase networking opportunities for young leaders and to provide insights on the future of the optical industry to The Vision Council.
OLP: How did you first learn of the EOL?
Huelswitt: My former manager at ZEISS is heavily involved in The Vision Council and heard about the opportunity during its early forming stages. She thought it was an opportunity for me to get involved with The Vision Council.
Hanson: I’m a member of The Vision Council and received information regarding the start of the Young Optical Leaders Organization from an email blast when the group first started back in 2016.
Reynolds: I used to work on the team at The Vision Council that facilitated the first meeting when the EOL was a new idea. In my new role at National Vision, I read about an opportunity to join EOL, and my boss and I decided it would be a committee worth being a part of.
OLP: Why did you join?
Frumkin: I joined EOL for many of the same reasons the program was instituted. We needed a ‘next generation’ of optical leaders in The Vision Council to mentor and lead — the way so many industry veterans have done for us. I use EOL as both a networking and learning tool through mentorship and membership development. I look forward to sharing my knowledge with others in this forum.
Hanson: Helping people see clearly brings meaning to my work every day, and I saw the Emerging Optical Leaders group as an opportunity to become involved in something bigger.
Reynolds: I thought it would be a great way to connect with people who are also up-and-comers who are still learning about the industry and finding their niche. The Vision Council has made it a priority to invest in this committee to provide members with amazing networking opportunities and resources that will help us develop skills to become leaders in our companies and in the eyecare industry.
OLP: What programs have you taken part in?
Reynolds: I have participated in the mentorship program for two years as a mentee. As I’m always up for a challenge, when the opportunity to apply for a position on the steering committee arose, I applied.
Huelswitt: I’ve taken part in mentorship programs. This year’s program is a more structured approach with the aim of setting measurable goals that will help expand the capability of the mentee. From my perspective, it’s a great program as it creates an environment and system where I have actively considered my current way of doing things.
OLP: Is there a program or initiative you would like the EOL to implement?
Hanson: I want the team to become more actively involved and make us a more cohesive group. We are still in the early stages of development and this is to be expected, but one of the things I am working on as Advocacy Chair is continually providing opportunities to the members on how to become actively involved in task forces, steering teams, committees or other activities that are going on through The Vision Council.
Frumkin: We are always looking to grow and diversify our program offerings to make sure our members are learning and developing into strong industry leaders.
OLP: What have you personally and professionally gained from membership?
Kirkpatrick: Getting to talk to optical people about challenges in the business has been a great asset for me. I’ve been able to network with the best in the business, so for me personally, my network has grown significantly. Plus, I’ve gotten optical-specific professional development as a result.
Reynolds: It has been nice to connect with the up-and-comers in the industry with whom I am on a more level playing field as far as years of experience. We are hard workers who want to succeed and can work together to make a positive impact on the future of our businesses and industry. On the flip side, being able to connect and create relationships with people who have been in the industry for years and have amazing experience and advice to share has also been an opportunity that I’ve cherished. The EOL committee has provided me the opportunity to connect with people who I can grow up with throughout our careers as we support each other through pitfalls and cheer each other on as we experience successes.
Huelswitt: Professionally, it has definitely increased the networking ability within the industry and has given me a much better appreciation of this rather unique industry. The access to mentors and experienced executives has definitely increased my conscious thought of leadership qualities and my role within the organization. Personally, it has opened the door to work with some of the smartest people I’ve met across a range of different companies, many of whom I consider friends and always look forward to meeting for a beer at one of the expos or shows.
Frumkin: EOL has helped me to grow and develop professionally, specifically in leadership and communication. Socially, I have made great connections and long-lasting friendships with people in the industry that I may not have met otherwise.
Hanson: The first year when I joined we heard [author]Jim Collins speak, and he is one of my favorite thought leaders. He spent time specifically with the EOL members, and I gathered valuable leadership lessons that I could apply in my current role. In addition, becoming involved in the EOL was my first real exposure to the vision industry as a whole. Since joining, I have had the opportunity to meet people across the industry and develop both personal and work relationships as well as gain knowledge from experienced leaders.
OLP: Why should others join?
Frumkin: EOL gives the rising generation a chance to grow and develop outside of their individual companies. It is a safe place for idea sharing, mentoring and networking.
Hanson: The EOL is a great way to start getting involved with The Vision Council. The membership consists of diverse individuals with varying roles in the industry as well as backgrounds We face similar issues in leading teams and thinking strategically, but we all can rally around wanting to do more for the industry. It is a great opportunity to network and develop professional skills.
Heulswitt: Within the vision industry, I don’t believe there’s another group of young people as engaging or thought-provoking as this group. The mentorship program, various speed networking events and access to world-class speakers and leaders in this industry are all fantastic reasons to be involved.