From PPG to Transitions Optical and now back at PPG, Dave Cole worked in the optical industry for more than 25 years, and although he is now VP of architectural coatings at PPG, focusing on paint, he has made his way back in the industry as the recipient of the Lab Division’s Directors’ Choice Award. Here, he spoke to OLP about his optical career and how he helped make Transitions a global brand.
Q: How did your career in the optical industry begin?
A: My career with PPG began in the chemical industry when I accepted a role in the late ‘80s to support sales and product development within the optical monomers group. I was building relationships with lens manufacturers by marketing and selling PPG’s CR-39 monomer, as well as other higher index materials. Through my support of further product development with the lens manufacturers, I also had the opportunity to work with our business development group on monomer innovation for PPG’s photochromic research project.
Q: In 1990 you joined Transitions Optical, eventually becoming COO in 2011 and then president. What was your role there when you first joined the company?
A: I joined Transitions Optical in 1990 at the outset of the joint venture as sales and marketing director. My initial role was to build partnerships with the leading lens manufacturers globally while supporting downstream sales, distribution support and market demand for Transitions lenses.
Q: Transitions is a unique product that is an add-on technology to a wide range of lens brands. What was it like working across the board like that with so many competitors?
A: Trusted relationships with the world’s leading lens manufacturers led to the strength of the Transitions lens offering. The industry and consumers all want choice. Developing products and distribution in partnership with these companies allowed labs, eyecare professionals and consumers the opportunity to have their preferred lens design and material but with a new and innovative added feature. It was critical early on that we established trust with each of our partners by allowing them to succeed through utilization of their own strengths, supporting them fairly and maintaining absolute confidentiality. Over time, we established amazing partnerships with these manufacturers and accomplished great things together.
Q: You had a major undertaking turning Transitions into a well-known brand. How did you attack that, and to what do you attribute your success?
A: We established Transitions Optical with a vision of building a strong, unique brand. First and foremost, it was extremely important that the product offering and industry support matched the brand promise for the consumer. We worked very hard early on to develop improved technologies and the educational support necessary to understand the performance characteristics and benefits of Transitions lenses. We then tested and launched comprehensive advertising campaigns that truly resonated with consumers. We were very proud to have raised the profile and importance of eyeglass lenses as a total solution to patient vision comfort and protection. Fortunately, we had very cohesive industry support and were able to build a strong brand while also promoting healthy sight around the world.
Q: Can you describe the business model you created for Transitions to establish partnerships with lens manufacturers?
A: The partnerships we developed with leading lens manufacturers were a critical factor to our success. At its premise, the basis of our partnerships was to allow our partners to develop and distribute a preferred product offering using their proprietary designs, materials and brands. Transitions only had direct supply relationships with lens manufacturers. We first developed a standard product lineup of both single vision and bifocal lenses that they included in their offering. Beyond that, the manufacturers worked very closely with us to develop and introduce a broad portfolio of progressive, multifocal and single vision designs in CR-39-based, high index, polycarbonate and Trivex lens materials. This allowed each of them to grow and compete on their own strengths. Of course, this value-add approach involved significant technical expertise and business collaboration, which enabled a broad portfolio of product offerings.
Q: You also developed Transitions Academy. How did you get the idea for a company to host an event for its customers and partner labs? What was the goal of Transitions Academy in its early years?
A: While Transitions Academy started with very humble beginnings in 1996, it has undergone a tremendous evolution to become the leading industry educational event that it is known as today. One of the most recognized and unique educational events in the optical industry, Transitions Academy hosts hundreds of highly talented professionals from across North America – and around the world – each year. During the event, attendees participate in professional development and product technology workshops, hear from experts on marketing and industry trends and learn alongside peers at panel discussions.
The inaugural Transitions Academy was attended by 60 sales representatives from wholesale laboratories in the U.S. at Transitions Optical’s headquarters in Pinellas Park, FL. We clearly recognized the tremendous impact these laboratories had in educating and influencing eyecare professionals – as owners of the direct, day-to-day relationship with eyecare professionals and the most trusted connection for product recommendations, quality assurance and education. We had a vision of supporting them with best-in-class education and marketing support that extended beyond our product and building the skills appropriate for growing their businesses. The initial feedback was very positive, with peer-to-peer word of mouth quickly spreading to drive substantial interest in the event. We soon outgrew our headquarters and moved the event to Orlando in order to accommodate more than 1,000 participants from across the industry. Through the development of this initiative, the core values of Transitions Academy remain the same — to provide unmatched opportunity for skill development and have fun along the way.
Q: You are this year’s recipient of the Lab Division’s Directors’ Choice Award. What does this mean to you professionally and personally, especially now that you aren’t working directly in the optical industry?
A: I have to admit, I was taken aback when I was notified that I’d be receiving the Directors’ Choice Award. Being remembered and recognized in such an honorable way is extremely gratifying. Even though my name will be on the award, I truly acknowledge this as recognition of the tremendous work, dedication and impact Transitions Optical employees have made on the industry. We had such a great group of professionals who were fully engaged and committed to the optical industry’s growth, and that has made all the difference. I could never name everyone individually, but together, we truly made a positive impact of which we all should be very proud.
Q: You are now back at PPG, currently as VP of architectural coatings. How do you expect to feel reconnecting with former colleagues at the Hall of Fame Banquet?
A: I can’t wait to reconnect with former colleagues and true friends in the industry. Unfortunately, I had very little opportunity to connect with many colleagues as I quickly transitioned to the coatings industry. I’m enjoying my challenges in the paint industry but will always have fond memories of the optical industry and the great people leading it.
Q: You currently serve on the board of Angels’ Place, a non-profit that supports single parents. Why this organization?
A: I am a strong advocate of the importance of family and the balance between life and career aspirations. Unfortunately, there are many individuals who have to trade their career goals in order to manage their responsibilities as parents. Located near PPG’s global headquarters in Pittsburgh, Angels’ Place helps to minimize this reality by providing quality education, care and support services for single parents and their children, enabling parents to complete their formal education as opposed to dropping out of school.
I love the mission. The number of single parents who cannot afford proper childcare services is astounding. Angels’ Place aims to break this cycle of poverty, also providing organized parental development courses to complement the aforementioned care. It’s a great cause that has had measurable impact on those fortunate enough to be in the program.
Q: What are your personal interests/hobbies?
A: I enjoy spending time with my family, as well as playing hockey and golf. I also have a private pilot’s license. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to put it to good use again.