Making the leap from optometry to retail, IT, supply chain and all the way up to President of Optical Retail Australia & New Zealand, Luxottica’s local chief Anthea Muir has an eye for growth opportunities — and more than thirty pairs of glasses to show for it.
In fact, during her seventeen years with the company, Anthea has held eleven different positions, from New Zealand through to Australia, and even a period in China, playing a key role in the company’s expansion there. First entering the eyewear market as a qualified optometrist in New Zealand, Anthea spent the first few years of her career in an examination room testing patients’ eyesight.
“My career change really started in terms of management when I took on the opportunity to actually manage a store for OPSM in New Zealand. It was a small beginning, but managing people for the first time was a big learning experience,” she says. Enjoying her first taste of applying her optometry knowledge to the retail sector, she decided to make the move to Sydney in 1997 to take up a position as an eye-care manager, looking after professional services and optometry licensees with OPSM.
Entering the corporate environment
“That was a big career change for me, entering into a big corporate environment. Before long I moved into the product department where I first learned about margins and negotiations of contracts and I stayed there from 2000 to 2007 doing various jobs in buying and supply chain roles.”
In 2005, the Italian-based Luxottica Group purchased all OPSM shares and effectively took control of all operations of its 400 stores in Australia and New Zealand. Anthea then took on her first executive role with Luxottica Retail in 2007, as the Vice President of Product Manufacturing and Supply Chain. Being appointed in this role was a great highlight in Anthea’s career, as she recalls being promoted onto the executive team while she was still on maternity leave following the birth of her second child.
“That was a great thing for me, for the organisation to show that they thought my abilities were still there while I was away from the workplace, in the middle of bringing up my family. In 2009, I took an interesting career diversion and became responsible for IT — I was effectively the CIO for Luxottica Australia for two years. I learned a lot about leading people in that role. Another major career highlight for me came in 2009 in the midst of the global financial crisis, when I was still responsible for product and supply chain.”
One of those ‘wow' moments
Anthea and her team were asked by the parent organisation to reduce its inventory holdings, so she developed a project to completely re-engineer the way the local division managed inventory at stores to ensure a more centralised method of buying and distribution. “We shaved a significant amount off our inventory costs in a nine-month period, which was a 40 per cent reduction in our overall inventory holdings,” she says. “That was really one of those big ‘wow — I did that’ moments.” Then in 2013, Anthea moved to China for her first CEO-like role for Luxottica. In Shanghai, Anthea was officially known as President of Optical Business in China and Hong Kong for LensCrafters (another Luxottica subsidiary), which operated 350 stores across the region.
“Surviving China and seeing my plans for the expansion come to fruition was really great. It was a real highlight to be able to go into a country where I didn’t speak the language and had never been involved with before, and still being able to set a strategy and execute it,” says Anthea. Intending to remain in China for at least four years, Anthea instead returned back to Australia after only eighteen months when, in mid 2015, she was invited to take on her current role as President of Optical Retail, Australia and New Zealand.
Luxottica’s international expansion has led its wholesale distribution network to cover more than 150 countries and 7,200 stores. In addition to its presence in Australia and New Zealand, headed up by Anthea, it also runs LensCrafters and Pearle Vision in North America, OPSM and LensCrafters in Asia–Pacific, GMO in Latin America and Sunglass Hut worldwide. Anthea was able to mix and match her experience and build a successful long-term career with the various organisations thanks to the Group’s vertically integrated business model, which has grown to cover the entire value chain from design, product development and manufacturing, to logistics and distribution.
“I always say, ‘if you don’t like your job then get a new one’, because you have got to have something to get you out of bed in the morning. I really believe in what we do, and I love It.” – Anthea Muir
“When I first got accepted into the role I saw a huge responsibility to continue the legacy of OPSM in Australia and New Zealand. It is an 84-year-old company, one of the oldest retailers in Australia, so there is the opportunity to keep that going, and to leverage off the history of the organisation,” she explains. “I have been considering how to reignite the brand and push it back to being the leader in the market — we are currently number two. So that was really the big opportunity for me, to take this Australian institution back to where it belongs.”
With this long-term goal, Luxottica is looking for opportunities to open new stores, and has already seen moderate store growth across the region. This is blended with its other growth priority that will see Luxottica raising the bar in terms of in-store eye testing. “With the addition of new technologies, closer collaboration with the medical industry and more digitised components in the stores, it will allow better service and a more streamlined customer experience,” says Anthea.
The company also features a large number of long-term workers that bring with them a wealth of technical know-how. In fact many of Luxottica’s employees have been working in the stores for the duration of their whole careers until retirement, Anthea explains. With a long history of service and employee retention setting the standard for competitors in the industry, Luxottica has been working hard to keep working conditions top shelf, with a number of ongoing cultural initiatives in place.
“Culture is everything. Culture is a part of your brand proposition to your customers; it flows through everything that you do. With OPSM and Luxottica we have a very deep and engrained culture about caring for the customer,” she says. “We are currently doing a very big piece of work around our internal culture and making sure there are strong alliances where we want there to be, while making sure Luxottica is a place that people want to work at and stay with long term. We have done employee interviews and run workshops for over 2,000 of our staff in the region to understand where we are and where we want to be, and involving them in the creation of new programs. Having the right culture is the only way to deliver on our purpose.”
To have employees that love their jobs makes a world of difference to someone’s commitment, enthusiasm and retention, and Anthea strives to achieve the same passion in her team that she experiences firsthand every day. “I always say, ‘if you don’t like your job then get a new one’, because you have got to have something to get you out of bed in the morning. I really believe in what we do, and I love it. You get to make a difference to people’s lives. We save people’s sight every day, we improve the quality of life for them.”
From providing glasses for people to help them see better, to switching glasses for contact lenses to allow someone to play sports or feel more confident, to even alerting customers to potential health concerns such as an eye disease or even a brain tumour, Anthea says being able to improve people’s quality of life through Luxottica’s products and services is an incredible drive for her. But for the one in seven people across the globe that can’t get an eye exam or afford a pair of glasses, she works with Luxottica’s global charity, OneSight, to provide free eye exams and quality eyewear for those in need.
“One Sight is another big reason I love my job — our mission is that everyone in the world should be able to see, and here in Australia and New Zealand we run clinics in remote indigenous communities, school screenings in rural communities, as well as at homeless centres in big cities,” she says. “I get to actively donate my time to something that relates to my business by testing eyes in a remote community, by fundraising and providing glasses to school children to improve their reading and learning. It’s not just writing a cheque either, we actually do it — we all individually donate our time, about 850 of our staff have willingly donated their personal time to this project.”
Through their ongoing volunteer work, the staff and executive team at Luxottica know that charity begins at home, by fostering a sense of goodwill and generosity with their strategic partnerships. “I can think of many times where we have had to ring suppliers to ask them, ‘Can you please do this favour for us?’ Or they ring us and say ‘Hey, can you do this for us?’ We always work flexibly with our partners because it makes all the difference to the relationship, and our overall success,” says Anthea. “Tough times lurk for each organisation and sector, and it really helps you to get through them when you can lean upon each other, and this is critical to long-term growth.”
In her years of experience across different roles, particularly during her time in product development and supply chain, Anthea says she learned very quickly that everything must be a win–win scenario for all partners if you want to develop a sustainable business. “Short-termism and pressuring suppliers over a short-term gaindoes not give you the long-term sustainability that you need, so we partner heavily,” she says. “We share our strategic plans with our key suppliers. We run workshops. We have planning days, and of course we sometimes have fun together.” While having added support from partners is crucial for ongoing success, at the end of the day two heads are also simply better than one, Anthea adds.
A bit of just guts and determination will get you there, but you’ve got to enjoy it. It has made me really happy.
“Sometimes our suppliers may have just a really great idea, or by seeing someone operating somewhere else in the world, it might trigger an opportunity for us. The more people that are thinking about your business, the better off you are.” While crediting partners in suppliers, fellow executives, and “a very supportive husband”, Anthea also knows to look inward for the reasons behind her success.
“On a personal note for me, a highlight was successfully transitioning from a very medical role into being in a management capacity, and then to even take on the CIO role — learning about IT, myself and that I could lead people. My success there wasn’t because of what I technically knew, but how hard
I worked. I would say that was my greatest achievement,” she says. “To be able to have such great success in effectively one organisation and at the same time move from a medical career to a management career, getting married, having children, and keeping it all going somehow — a bit of just guts and determination will get you there, but you’ve got to enjoy it. It has made me really happy.”