Vision had a chat with Ilana Ten Krooden, Professional Affairs Manager of Alcon.
Ed – You worked for Ciba Vision which later became Alcon – what is the story behind that?
Ilana – Ciba Vision was a division of Novartis for many years. During 2011 we were told that Novartis had acquired a company called Alcon Laboratories. Alcon is one of the largest Eye Care companies globally and for this reason, Novartis decided that Ciba Vision would be absorbed into Alcon. This decision created a platform from which Alcon could produce a wide range of Vision Care & Surgical products. Ciba Vision staff very quickly integrated with Alcon. We are privileged to have so many talented people working together at Alcon.
Ed – You graduated from University of the Free State in 2005 as an optometrist, yet we find you in the corporate world today. What made you change career paths?
Ilana – After I graduated, I spent four years in practice. During this time, I developed a passion for Soft Contact lenses and knew in my heart that I wanted to make a positive impact on people’s lives. The corporate platform has given me the opportunity to make a difference to the lives of optometrists and front line staff all over South Africa. This in turn, enables all of us to enhance the lives of thousands of patients.
Ed – Who were the founders of Alcon?
Ilana – For Alcon, it started in 1945, when Robert Alexander and William Conner opened a small pharmacy in Fort Worth, Texas, and in a few years began manufacturing specialty pharmaceutical products. They called Alcon, “the impossible dream”. Seventy years later, we know that this was not an impossible dream, but a dream that has been brought to life through the dedication and perseverance of every person that has played a role in the organization.
Ed – When I read about the Alcon Ambassadors, it smacks of innovation: where did this innovation come from?
Ilana – Alcon created the role of Professional Affairs last year to offer additional value, in the form of continuous education for optometrist and staff on a higher level. South Africa still has a relatively low contact lens penetration, so it is important to educate the industry continuously.
The Alcon Ambassadors were an extension of this. The concept came from a conversation I had with our Business Unit Head, Wojciech Michalik. We agreed that Alcon needed to do something that had never been done before, and that we wanted to create an Ambassador Programme, where key opinion leaders are educating their peers. We hope that our programme will inspire people and that younger optometrists will aspire to become Ambassadors in the future.
Ed – What do the Ambassadors do for you?
Ilana – There are five Alcon Ambassadors representing their respective regions. Their purpose is to represent the Alcon brands and speak on various topics at our Alcon Academy events throughout the year.
Ed – What would you say is at the heart of the Alcon offering?
Ilana – Innovation. Alcon has 2000 people dedicated to R&D.
Over the years, Alcon® has remained true to its core values, namely, focused eye care; high quality, innovative products; collaborative relationships with eye care professionals and the community; and performance driven by science. At the very heart of Alcon, is the patient. We strive to deliver the best technology and care to all our patients in over 140 countries around the world.
Ed – Do you have any events on this year’s calendar?
Ilana – Our Alcon Academy of Excellence and Alcon Front Line Academy are running all over the country. Our next stop is Durban – 19 July and PE – 17 October. We are also planning to extend our Alcon Academy and host a Business Academy in September. This event will further develop the Optometrist’s Business Acumen. Alcon knows that this is much needed in a changing business environment.
Ed- What do you look for in an Alcon representative?
Ilana – In our mission of helping people see better in South Africa, what we expect from our Medical Sales Representative,s is a combination of both strong technical and soft skills. First of all, we look for representatives that have a high level of technical knowledge, which we will continuously develop throughout their careers, through dedicated training and coaching. Secondly, as Alcon Ambassadors, we expect them to live our company’s core values, which define our culture and also what makes us successful. Last but not least, we take pride in operating with high ethical standards, so integrity is a non-negotiable requirement for any Alcon associate.
Ed- Are there any particular product launches in the offing.
Ilana – Absolutely! However, I don’t want to spoil the surprise, so my lips are sealed as to when.
Ed- I noticed you have Frontline Academy – what is it all about?
Ilana – Alcon Front Line Academy stemmed from my years in practice where I realised the need to upskill and empower the front line staff. There is so much movement in this industry and front line staff often don’t stay in one practice for long nor do optometrists always have the time to train front line staff. Alcon does not base this training on our products only, but also on practice management and etiquette. We have had so much success with this event and we encourage optometrists to send their staff.
Ed- What is your outlook for the optometric business calendar year? Are you bullish about business prospects?
Ilana – Recent stats show that contact lens penetration is about 0.6% in South Africa. This shows us that there is massive potential for new contact lens wearers to enter the market. I am very positive that with continuous education of optometrists, their staff, as well as consumer education, the future is bright for contact lenses in South Africa.
Ed- A final word to optometrists in South Africa
Ilana – We tend to lose sight of what is important. Look at the bigger picture and never forget why you do what you do. Successful patient outcomes are our main purposes as optometrists. Do not let the challenges and long retail hours make you forget what you have been called to do.