Ed: What motivated you to become involved in the optical industry.
E: I was born into optics. I am the 4th generation involved in the optical industry. My family has been involved in optics for one hundred and ten years. As a child at school, the human eye always fascinated me, making me wonder how easily we can see the world and unfortunately, many cannot. In business, I learnt, with a mere addition of a lens we can create wonders and make it possible for most to see clearly.
Ed: When did it start for you?
E: Even while we were still studying, my dad used to train us by making us spend time in the family business. We would listen to customers speaking about their grievances on how they find it difficult to see. We would see how the optometrist would test their eyes and what the equipment was used for. It would always interest me to see how happy the customers were, once they received their spectacles.
Ed: Who are the shareholders in Optic Trade Links?
E: The Sulaiman Family
Ed: Tell us about your management structure – who are the people involved?
E: We are very active in our business on a day to day basis. I strongly believe in taking part in all levels of management where I inspire them to achieve new heights. Our structure relies on trusted managers who are industry experts and are not afraid to take immediate decisions. We advocate a management style we call “management by walking around”, where our managers are good listeners and have a hands-on approach.
I am the Chairman of the Group, Ghazanfar Ali is our Chief Operating Officer and Fahad Momin is the laboratory manager, but also manages Opti Pro Optical Equipment. My wife Farah is our General Manager.
Ed: You are a Cape Town based company – do you have any branches?
E: Our head office is in Cape Town and we have offices in Johannesburg and Durban, as well as offices in Dubai, London and China.
Ed: Do you manufacture any of your products?
E: We are a manufacturing company and almost all our products are manufactured by us.
Ed: You have four divisions to your business – what are they?
E: Spectacle Frames and Accessories, Contact Lenses, Opti Pro Optical Equipment & Lens Laboratory for Surfacing and Edging lenses.
Ed: You have an online shopping facility on your website – how is that working for you?
E: The world has gone on-line; even for groceries. Businesses have to be on-line or lose market share. We are committed to make life easy for our customers. The on-line shopping works very well for us and has made our business grow in leaps and bounds. It also constantly gets us new customers from around the world.
Ed: There are very few optical companies in South Africa who export their products. I believe you do that.
E: Yes, we do.
Ed: Do you have any plans to expand your product range in the future?
E: More than two decades ago we started in Cape Town with a four-page catalogue displaying very limited products. Our new catalogue consists of one-hundred and sixty-five pages, displaying all our divisions and our products, delivering turn-key solutions to our customers. We really have come a long way.
We are always on the look-out for new products and ideas that would work in the markets we deal with. We introduce many new products annually and it makes a tremendous difference to our portfolio. We bring the world to South Africa.
Ed: On a personal level what does Elias do when he is not at work?
E: I never stop working. I don’t know what it’s like to not do business. It carries on throughout the day and night. I travel the world. Go on holidays. Meet relatives. But I don’t know how to relax and not work. That never stops. The word relax is not in my dictionary. If I’m not at work here; I’m busy creating my global business presence. I also take special interest in empowering the ones whose lives I touch.