Former president of Optical Services International, Dana Reese Weeks is the third generation of her family to make a career in optical. OLP caught up with the recent Lab Division Hall of Fame inductee to talk about her family’s legacy, OSI and retirement.
Q: You were just inducted into the Lab Division Hall of Fame at Vision Expo West in September, not your first industry recognition. What was it like to come out of retirement, reconnect with former peers and be recognized by the Lab Division?
A: It was wonderful! I have not been to a Vision Expo in four years, so seeing long-time associates and friends was exhilarating. Being honored by the Lab Division was quite a humbling experience and something I did not expect. It was also very emotional. I miss this industry and being involved in it daily. We had such great lab members at Optical Services International and support from our many vendors and partners. They were far more than business acquaintances; but friends.
Q: You are the third generation of your family to make a career in the lab business. Did you always know you wanted to work in the industry?
A: No, I didn’t. My father had started OSI in 1984 and by 1988, he asked me to join him. We meshed perfectly. It was a natural fit. We were growing quickly, and I was able to put more emphasis on marketing and education than there had been previously. Oh, and we imported frames. That was a real education, in so many ways. What a tough business.
My first job in the industry was working in the lab while in middle school, washing completed jobs, boxing them and delivering to customers in downtown Mansfield. That did not leave a real hunger in my heart for the industry!
Q: Your family history is not unique to the laboratory business. Tell us about it.
A: My grandfather started Reese Optical in Mansfield, OH, back in the 1930s. My dad, Duane Reese, joined him in 1946 after the war and built it from one lab to nine locations in three states and three contact lens labs. In 1969, he sold Reese Optical to Bausch + Lomb, where he was vice president of the Laboratory Division. I have never attended a trade show where someone has not told me stories of my father bringing them into the industry or working for him and how it changed their lives. It is a wonderful legacy.
After he left B + L and a very short retirement, he acquired a lab in Atlanta: Vision Optics. He built that up, sold it and retired again—briefly! It was then that three old friends, Ray Art, Ed Schmidt and Fritz Balester, who had worked for him and owned labs, asked about forming a group for independent laboratories. That was the birth of OSI, which eventually grew to 39 member labs in the U.S. and Canada.
We were a powerful group that did all we could to support one another and grow each lab’s business. We were the largest independent laboratory group in both members and sales. When OSI started, the lab business consisted of small, independent companies across the U.S. The OLA [Optical Lab Association] played a major role for these labs but did not meet their everyday needs. OSI filled that gap to a large degree. Our members benefitted through our contacts and major buying power, the training we provided for sales people and business training for both principals and lab management. OSI became a valuable asset to our member labs.
Q: How long did you manage OSI?
A: I started at OSI in 1988 and was made president five years later. I was there for 28 years before closing the business due to industry consolidation. We represented independent labs, and there simply were not too many left. I am so happy to see new independent labs opening again and giving the ECPs real choices again.
Q: What was it like to work with your father?
A: I am one of the lucky ones! I have heard of so many difficult family situations while working for family. My experience was terrific, and I am so thankful that I was able to work with my dad for so many years. It was so fulfilling seeing him not as ‘Dad’ but on a professional level. And, those traits he displayed as ‘Dad’ carried over into the industry: honesty, integrity and fairness. All areas I strive for in my life.
Q: You’ve also been a member of The Vision Council, The OLA and a board member of the OWA (Optical Women’s Association), which honored you with its Pleiades Award in 2004. Why is the OWA significant in the industry?
A: Everyone needs mentors in their lives. As women in a traditionally male-dominated industry, women need the help, advice and encouragement from other women. Education and mentoring are keys as is networking and exposure in the industry. The OWA does so much to promote women in leadership positions in all aspects of the industry.
Q: What do you enjoy now that you have retired?
A: I have heard so many people say, ‘How did I get everything done when I was working?’ and it is the truth. I play golf, I travel and work in my garden. I spend a lot of time as a caregiver and of course love the role as mom and grandma. I am blessed with a wonderful network of friends who keep me busy in one project after another. I have served as president of the Women’s Golf Association and on the Executive Board at my golf club. But, I still miss optical!