OPTICAL LAB LEADERS-MENTOR: NEIL TORGERSEN

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Neil Torgersen, National Manager AR Coating Operations
Walman Optical
Minneapolis, MN

BACKGROUND: Like most kids, Neil Torgersen wanted a summer job in high school. His father suggested he work at Walman Optical, where he got a job and continued to work during summers and school breaks, learning the ins-and-outs of surfacing.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in biology (“Very relevant to the optical industry!” he joked), and a brief stint working in the outdoor retail industry, summers spent at Walman led Torgersen to full-time employment there in 2004, supervising the ZEISS AR coating department.

“It was trial-by-fire because I had zero experience managing production,” he said. “I was a jack-of-all trades.” By 2006, he moved over to supervising the Crizal department, his first experience managing an around-the-clock operation.

Today, Torgersen oversees Walman’s entire AR coating operation and sits on both ANSI Z80 and Z87 committees.

THE LAB: Torgersen was instrumental in helping to open Walman’s Optical Service Center in Brooklyn Park, MN, which was planned and designed to accommodate 10 years of growth without having to do any major renovations. It opened in 2011, combining both ZEISS and Crizal coating departments, and Torgersen took over both. Everything in the lab is currently run on digital generators, and about 65% of jobs go through AR. The AR lab currently utilizes a collection of equipment from Satisloh, Buhler, SCL and others, while the surfacing lab operates using a mix of equipment from Satisloh and Schneider Optical Machines, plus OptoTech and Practical Systems, Inc. and a lab management system from DVI, Inc.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Torgersen said when the Optical Service Center opened about 2,500 jobs per day were processed through surfacing and AR. Today, the lab is doing about 6,200 jobs each day.

“On a professional level, being able to design and build this facility is one of my biggest accomplishments,” Torgersen said. “I was still managing the day-to-day operations in Crizal, and then the ZEISS manager left so I had to run both departments…It was almost a year from concept to completion.”

TEACHABLE MISTAKE: A self-described “control freak,” Torgersen has learned to “let things go” and delegate.

“The biggest mistake is trying to do everything yourself, which became apparent to me in going through the process of building the Optical Service Center,” he said. “I was trying to take care of admin and maintenance and sometimes running production, working 60- to 70-hour weeks for several weeks.”

Torgersen also said delegating shows employees you have confidence they can get the job done.

“It allows my supervisors to grow professionally,” he added. “It empowers them, and sometimes they come up with better ideas than me.”

ADVICE: “I’m a data-driven person, so I’m not someone who shoots from the hip,” he said. “I try to dig down and get to the root cause of a problem. You can always put on a band-aid, but only in understanding the real issue can you make a true, lasting change.”

BEST INVESTMENTS: Without hesitation, Torgersen said his employees are his best investment.

“It’s important for me to have a cohesive team and a positive working environment,” he said. “It’s up to the people who do the hiring to find those who not only will be dependable but also who will get along with their co-workers. Happy workers are productive workers.”

Cross-training employees is also wise, he added, enabling them to tackle other tasks and fill in for others when needed.

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