Essilor International ensure that the eyes have it

Kelly Dawson
May 8, 2018

There are more than 250 companies in our combined portfolios, and they are all making amazing advancements. From names you know, like Tesla, to those little gems you haven’t heard of yet, like Xylem, we want you to know all about what your holdings are up to. These ‘deep dives’ will help you understand what you’re invested into and how your dollars are making the world a better place.

Essilor International is part of our Healthy Living portfolio.

  • The World Health Organization estimates that more than 250 million people are affected globally by sight impairments of some kind
  • In 2016, Essilor International reported a revenue of more than $7 billion dollars and an irrefutable global presence
  • Essilor founded a foundation in 2007 that provides complimentary care to children who would otherwise not receive the services

It isn’t hard to express the almost innate importance of eyesight. Although it’s tough to say if it’s our most-used sense, we definitely depend on it. We use it before we taste or touch and as we hear or smell. We understand eyes as the windows into our souls and as the preferred tool of

the beholder. In other words, we feel that eyes are as much a physical entity as they are a spiritual one.

But at the same time, vision isn’t always reliable. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 250 million people are affected globally by impairments of some kind, which range from the ubiquitous nearsighted or farsighted strains to cataracts or blindness. In fact, from the four categories that make up the levels of sight — normal, moderate impairment, severe impairment, and blindness — all of us have at least a baseline understanding of them all. That is how important vision is: We all can grasp what it means to have it, and what it means to lose it.

That’s also why the work of Essilor International is easy to express, too. This is a French company that’s been working with eyes for generations, creating everything from corrective lenses to sunglasses and ophthalmic instruments to exams. It’s a world leader in optics, and one billion people benefit from its products. You saw that word correctly: billion.

It would seem that a business that’s been around close to 200 years and has that kind of customer base would be fine sticking to its status quo. But it hasn’t slowed down yet. In 2016, it reported a revenue of more than $7 billion dollars and an irrefutable global presence. But recently, an approved merger with Italian eyewear brand Luxottica puts the company’s market evaluation at $48 billion. Yes, once again you saw that word just fine: billion.

Essilor International is using that stature to further democratize eyesight as a necessity that is readily understood but not available to all. According to its standards, this is work that affects more than seven billion people who need to protect their vision, and it is slowly reaching everyone. After all, with history as deep and reach as strong as Essilor, it has the agency to do just that.

I can see clearly now

As it turns out, Essilor is actually an optical illusion. It’s a blend of two distinct brands, Essel and Silor, which were merged in a 50-50 split in 1972. But to see how those companies got to that point, we have to go back more than a century. In 1849, a group called the Societe des Lunetiers formed from a chain of small eyeglass assembly factories in Paris. This tight-knit network — the “S” and “L” at the beginning of each word formed its moniker, Essel — expanded in the decades leading to the turn of the century with a hub in Eastern France and a presence across the channel in London.

At the same time, Silor was making headways of it own. Under its original name Lissac, which was the namesake of its founder, the company opened the first eye-centric department store in Paris in 1931. Twenty years later, the manufacturing department behind Silor created the Orma 1000, which was a revolutionary lightweight and organic lens. It just so happened to be the same year that Essel unveiled the Varilux, a progressive lens to compensate for impairments like near-and-farsightedness.

Given that these two brands made two visionary tools in their time, pun intended, it’s no surprise that increasing growth eventually led to their merger. When it happened, Essilor became the third-largest global optics firm on the planet, with big plans to eventually become the leader. A series of acquisitions and openings into more international markets — including manufacturing plants in the United States and Philippines in the late 1970s and more plants in Brazil in Thailand in the 1980s — eventually made that plan a reality. And by the end of the 20th century, the company shed its framing production to focus solely on corrective lenses. This included coatings to prevent scratches, photochromic lenses that adjust to light, and polycarbonate lenses that are difficult to break.

Further partnerships and acquisitions leading from the millennium to the present day have allowed Essilor to blend its history for craftsmanship with its versatility for technology. These relationships include well-known brands like Nikon and Kodak, as well as lesser-known names who are keys to researching new advancements. In all, Essilor has about 64,000 employees in about 70 countries, as well as a few dozen production plants and 16 distribution centers. It has about 500 prescription labs, and holds the rights to more than 8,000 patents.

Through all that, Essilor has made it possible for 350,000 eye care professionals to prescribe a range of corrective lenses that are best for their patients — whether they’re simply to correct, to offer SPF protection, to shift in the sun, protect from breakage, or more.

Eye know you

Clearly, the past breakthroughs and current standouts of Essilor makes for impressive background. But aside from its company practices, it also founded a foundation in 2007 that provides complimentary care to children who would otherwise not receive the services. This includes creating clinics at schools and partnerships with eye care professionals, as well as working with like-minded charities and interested communities to push the importance of vision as an asset of education and social mobility. So far, the foundation has given more than a half-million glasses to children in need.

The foundation’s mission to reach the millions of children who require vision care speaks to the aforementioned 250 million people who live with impairments worldwide. The company is working to expand its influence into underserved markets, as well as investing in research and technology to makes medical equipment and everyday lenses affordable for poorer communities. Lastly, it is working to educate everyone about their eyes and the care they need, because the vast majority of vision impairment — 80 percent, according to the World Health Organization — can be prevented or reversed.

By advancing an ongoing three-tiered mission to reach the 2.5 billion people who need care with education, budding businesses, and philanthropic work, Essilor is hoping that vision will one day soon be an attainable sense for even more of the world’s population. Because we all know it as a sense that is as vital as it is revered, and Essilor understands that everyone deserves a right to experience that.

Kelly Dawson
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