Paddy McDermott, President of Transitions Optical, Inc., joined the company in 1993 and spearheaded the start-up of the Ireland facility. Paddy has held key worldwide positions throughout the company including director of operations and customer service for Europe, global supply chain director, and information technology leader globally. Last year, he became president as part of Essilor of America, Inc.’s completed ownership of Transitions. Under his leadership, Transitions Optical is continuing to build on its 25-plus years of technology innovation. Here, Paddy talks about the new Essilor-led environment and plans to evolve the product portfolio.
ED De GENNARO: How has Essilor’s 100% ownership of Transitions Optical changed the company?
PADDY MCDERMOTT: It really hasn’t changed as significantly as you might think. Since Essilor was previously a 49% partner, the company was already heavily involved and it is still committed to an open business model. We’re selling to all the customers we have had in the past, so it’s been a pretty seamless evolution. There have been some personnel changes, but the leaders running the business now are all people, except one or two, who have come up through the Transitions organization.
ED: What do you mean by “open business model”?
PADDY: Our approach to the market has always been through lenscasters and we’ve always sold to any caster prepared to distribute our products. The change in ownership has not altered that whatsoever. The lenscasters sell through labs to ECPs and they sell to consumers. We continue to market to consumers as we’ve always done.
ED: What do you envision for the company now that you are the worldwide president?
PADDY: I think it’s a pretty exciting time for the business because while we have a very strong position and penetration in certain markets, countries like China and India are evolving very quickly, so there are lots of opportunities. Nearly one in five lenses in the U.S. is a Transitions lens. There’s no reason that ratio can’t be the same across the globe. Interestingly, countries like South Africa and New Zealand have penetration rates even higher than the U.S.
ED: What will be PPG’s role with Transitions from this point on and what happens to all the intellectual property created by it?
PADDY: PPG owned 51% of the joint venture with Essilor and was responsible for dye technology and some other technical aspects of our products. In the joint venture agreement, Transitions Optical retained all the products and patents created under the partnership, so as part of the sale, that property was transferred to Essilor. We still work with PPG from a dye-supply perspective.
ED: Now that you have a portfolio of indoor and outdoor lenses, what’s the next big innovation?
PADDY: We will continue to evolve the portfolio. At the end of the day, there’s a danger in proliferating too much. We have three strong areas for which we’re providing key product lines in our family of brands. For example, Transitions‘ XTRActive‘ lenses seriously grew last year with very little commercial activity, so we’re going to promote it this year to maximize its growth. We see a further evolution of the Transitions Vantage™ lens because it’s an exciting product.
ED: Let’s talk about the Transitions Signature™ VII lenses and the sun products.
PADDY: We discovered that our best eyecare professional customers are very excited by some of our sun lens products. We don’t talk about those much because our focus is generally on the lens business, but we have associations with a lot of the sporting companies like Marchon Eyewear’s Nike and Dragon, ImageWear’s Callaway, and Oakley, Inc. In association with Younger Optics this year, we have Transitions Signature polycarbonate bifocal lenses coming out soon, which fill a previous gap in our product availability.
ED: Why do you think there’s such a variation in product acceptance?
PADDY: I think in terms of getting the message across, it gets down to whether people really understand photochromics in a specific market. For example, the U.K. built a big awareness of photochromics many years ago and both ECPs and buyers were ready for it. We continue to work closely with all of our lenscaster partners to build that awareness through education in all our markets.
ED: What are your thoughts on Mitsui acquiring the SunSensors patents and offering photochromics in their lens materials?
PADDY: We’ve seen the potential for photochromics across the world and there’s no reason why photochromics can’t grow to be a much bigger part of the lens business. If it takes many people competing to do that, we’re happy to compete.
ED: Where do you see Transitions’ best opportunity for growth over the next five years?
PADDY: In developing markets. China, India, and Russia will be huge for us. Technology is enabling consumers to become more engaged in the lens-purchasing process while their buying habits are greatly influenced by social and digital media. With our strength in our brand and technology, we are confident our products will thrive in this environment.