The Dad Factor

By

Andrew Karp
I’m a writer and magazine editor, as VMAIL Weekend regulars know. My father, Marvin Karp, was a writer and magazine editor, too. Yet I’ve never thought of myself as being “a chip off the old block” or “following in his footsteps.” Those outdated phrases don’t capture the essence of our relationship as writers. We had different interests, and took very different paths in our careers.

My father started out in the early ‘50s as a staff writer for the Howdy Doody Show. Here’s a caricature of him that they used for the show’s credits. Note the two typewriters, one for each hand.
He moved from television to become an executive editor at Magazine Management, a publishing house that produced men’s adventure magazines with titles like Stag, Sportsman and Male. Later in his career, he become a producer of educational media and wrote travel books, including one about America that has a foreword by President Gerald Ford. It’s a world away from writing about the optical industry.

 
Yet if it hadn’t been for Dad, I might not have considered trying to make a living slinging words on a page, or screen. When I was 16, he convinced me to walk into the local newspaper and ask the editor if I could write a column from a teenager’s point of view. Amazingly, the man agreed, and I soon found myself facing my first deadline. I had no idea what to write about, but Dad helped me out by suggesting some topics and then editing my copy. Actually, I think he ended up writing a good chunk of that first column himself.

I soon became a more skillful wordsmith. I wrote for other newspapers, and spent time working in the ad business. But that early writing experience and the satisfaction I got from seeing my words in print influenced my eventual career choice. After all these years, I’m still at it.

With Father’s Day coming up next week, the Weekend team thought it would be interesting to ask some fathers and sons who work in optical, as well as some fathers and daughters, to tell us about their experiences working together. Here’s what we learned.




Bill Heffner, Jr.
Co-Owner
FEA Industries
Morton, Pa.



(L) Bill Heffner, Jr., with Bill Heffner, Sr.
It's very easy to get drawn into the optical business. I've met plenty of people that started in it as a temporary “summer job,” and the next thing they knew they'd been in the industry 20 years. For family members, it's even worse than that, especially in the lab side of the business. The all-consuming thing that is an optical lab works its way into every facet of your life, as an owner.

As the son of an owner, it's hard to resist the inexorable current that pulls toward the lab. What began for me, as a summer job ended up a lifelong career. Growing up in it, of course, means you are given the more glamorous jobs to begin with, like deboxing or taping lenses for 10 to 12 hours a day. Most of those that I worked with at the time said that they had never seen anyone so glad to go back to school come September. As time wore on, more and more things about the optical lab began to make sense, and I was hooked.

I began to work at the lab 'for real' about 10 years ago. That being in a full time capacity, not just a summer job kind of way. This is where my father and I really began developing our own dynamic. Prior to that, it was a pretty standard "just a job" kind of mentality, whereas approaching it then it became more of a parity and understanding that we were working together to grow the lab.

My father and I are extremely opposite in many of our approaches to things. While this is a good balance to have, it can also be slightly volatile at times. Being able to approach things from our different perspectives helps give us a better insight into not only production and planning, but also our approach to the market as a whole. With the combination of his vast background of optical experience and my approach to marketing and technology, we've been able to approach the market in new and inventive ways, serving to differentiate ourselves from the more traditional approach used by other labs.


Beverly Suliteanu
VP of Product Development
WestGroupe


(L to R) Michael, Rodney and Beverly Suliteanu.
My Dad, Rodney Suliteanu started WestGroupe (originally known as Western Optical) in Montreal, Canada in 1961. Rodney is still involved in the business and except for the time he is wintering in Florida, comes to the office on a daily basis. He is also the person all of our customers, reps and distributors want to sit next to at our company dinners.

After graduating university I was on the fence about joining the family business. I wanted to make my own way in the world and felt that I needed to prove my worth without being the owner’s daughter. Three years later, after watching our family business evolve, and my father and brother’s relationship grow stronger, I realized that I was missing out on an amazing opportunity to build something special with my father and brother and the way to prove myself would be to work hard and add something tangible to our future success.

My father is very progressive when it comes to frame design. From the beginning, he always pushed me to take chances on styling as he always said, “You cannot move forward by doing the same old same old.” When he first introduced me to frame buying, his favorite term was “avant-garde.”

I think our work styles are actually pretty similar. We both like to get in there and do the day-to-day tasks which I think is code for hard to give up control. With that said, I think Michael and I both got our strong work ethic as well as our relaxed, informal management style from our father. Our offices all have an open door policy and we encourage all of our employees to feel comfortable to come talk to us directly if need be.


Michael Suliteanu
CEO
WestGroupe


Growing up, I always knew I had the opportunity to enter into the family business. I originally wanted to try something on my own, but the company drew me in as a sales representative, and I fell in love with the industry. My Dad leads our company with honesty and integrity. I believe this is the cornerstone of our culture. We strive every day to make sure we meet those standards.

Rodney is the type of person who rolls up his sleeve to get the job done. A perfect example of this was just two weeks ago during the COVID-19 closure. Our office was closed but we had a few people in the warehouse to ship orders. We were busier than anticipated and the shipping department was backed up. My 84-year-old father rolled up his sleeves and started packing boxes (wearing a face mask) where I would be trying to identify the problem and then permanently fix the problem.


Mark E. Schaeffer, OD
Clinical Field Manager
MyEyeDr.


(L to R) Dr. Brooke Schaeffer Kaplan, Dr. Mark Schaeffer, Dr. Jack Schaeffer and Dr. David Schaeffer.
Once I graduated from optometry school and finished residency, it was a foregone conclusion that I would be working in Birmingham with [my father] alongside my sister, who had finished optometry school at the same time. The private practice in our family was practicing at the highest level of our scope in optometry. It provided full service eyecare and that’s how I wanted to see patients daily.

My “interview” was an ongoing conversation at dinners, phone calls, and other professional gatherings that lasted all four years of optometry school and even into residency.

Being a part of a family in the eyecare industry, we push each other to provide the best care for our patients, our industry, and our community. We each have different passions within these groups that allow us to influence new ideas and outreach.

In terms of our different work styles, [they are] about as different as you can imagine. The biggest similarity we have though is the importance of the relationship in accomplishing great things, rarely is it done alone.


David Schaeffer, OD

Unfortunately, by the time I graduated optometry school and completed my residency, I was not able to work directly with my Dad in the office. However, it was through his support and my time in his clinic as a kid that I found my way into optometry.

He certainly influences me by the example he has set as a leader and very active member in the optometric community. He is always willing to share his clinical and optometric management knowledge with me.
[In practice, my father] definitely subscribes to a fully hands-on managerial style. He needs to know every little detail, no matter how small. I have more of a dreamer mentality.


Jamie Shyer
Co-CEO/COO
Zyloware Eyewear



Jamie and Henry Shyer.
I am fortunate to have grown up in the optical industry. Zyloware was founded in 1923 by my grandfather, Joseph Shyer. My father, Henry, and his brother, Bob, joined the company in the mid to late 1950s. My first memories at Zyloware were sitting on my grandfather’s lap at four years old in our Queens, N.Y. eyeglass frame factory where he showed me how to assemble frames. At eight years old, my father brought me on my first business trip. We spent a week traveling Texas making sales calls and seeing customers. It was a trip I will never forget!

After I graduated college, it was inevitable I would end up working with my father at Zyloware. Prior to officially joining the company, I spent two years at Balester Optical in Wilkes Barre, Pa. learning the lens and laboratory side of the industry. In June of 1993 I finally began my career at Zyloware working alongside my father. I learned about the industry and, probably most formatively, gained an understanding of the Zyloware DNA and core values instilled by my father and uncle. I continued going on memorable business trips with Dad.

Dad was the quintessential salesman and road warrior—probably one of the greatest ever! He influenced me by teaching me that our business and selling is about the people, not just the product. He taught me that in order to be successful, we need to see our customers in person, get to know who they are, understand their business needs thoroughly, and be a true partner and friend to them.

I believe I influenced my father by taking his teachings to the next level, utilizing technology and the expertise of the team we built to continue the success of Zyloware. I demonstrated how we can build systems to work more efficiently, and to better serve our customers. Altogether, we built an incredible team of experts at Zyloware based upon the core values Dad instilled in me and the company at large.

If you know Henry Shyer, you love Henry Shyer. He is brash, to the point, someone who never takes no for an answer, and a big teddy bear. I am a bit tamer than my father. Times are different than when Dad was on the road working full time, so as times change, people need to change too. I feel my work style comes from the best teachings and characteristics of my father, however admittedly, I am fortunate to have a team to help us achieve our company objectives—something Dad did not always have.

Where Dad would have to fully depend on himself and his skills for much of his earlier career, I utilize the amazing team I have around me. Overall, each of our work styles may have been different, however, both found the same result—a successful continuation of Zyloware’s legacy in our industry.


Peter Friedfeld
ClearVision Optical



David Friedfeld (l) and Peter Friedfeld (r) with their Dad Fred.

Our Dad is still very much part of legacy of ClearVision, as has made a huge imprint on our entire organization. The stories of ‘Fred’ are part of our corporate culture that we share with each and every new employee. Though he has been gone for seven years, he still remains very much alive and part of ClearVision, the company he founded and was so passionate about.

I grew up working at ClearVision—working as a boy after school and at weekends.

Our family dinner conversations usually involved the optical business as both my Mom and Dad worked side by side. With all that, we were never expected to join the family business. In college, I majored in advertising and marketing, and began to work after college. In January 1981 I worked at ClearVision while I looked for a job. Within three months, I realized my home was at ClearVision and was I able to utilize many of the ideas I learned in school—and I was able affect things early on. When it came time for my official graduation ceremony which coincided with the Mido show in Italy, my Dad offered to take me to Milan instead—and I was hooked!

Growing up in the family, each one of us had our ‘roles’ to play—Dad, older brother, middle child. And when I think back on it, of course we brought those learned behaviors—how we fit together as a family unit—into our work lives. Over the years working together, we all shifted to accommodate to our new working relationships—and saw each other in a different perspective. But one of our greatest strengths in developing a great working relationship is that we all shared the same values, the same family values that we grew up with. And I know it was those values that had the greatest influence on each of us.

As related to our Dad, we have very different work styles. My Dad was one of the fastest decision makers—he worked fast, efficiently and was very effective. He was not a long-term planner, but he could see things before they happened, spotting major trends in the business cycles well in advance and making those changes accordingly. He had a great gut instinct and in his heart he was a salesman—he loved his customers and they loved him.

While Dave and I are very different—I believe the way in which we work is more similar then my Dad’s style, due to the fact that we needed to work in a more structured organization, which was more complex. My Dad never really had those constraints, which enabled him to react and move much more quickly than us. When we need to get the point quickly today, we ask ourselves, what would Fred do?


David Friedfeld
ClearVision Optical


Our Dad worked with his father and his father-in-law for many years. Fred started the CVO company in 1949, and he did have the opportunity to work with his father Samuel for a number of years in the 50s. Sam was semi retired and helped Fred on a day-to-day basis with the business. Our grandfather Daniel, changed careers late in life and opened the small eyewear distribution business related to CVO. Our father helped Dan very much and our grandfather worked as an independent eyewear distributor for the last 20 years of his life, side-by-side with our father.

Additionally, Peter and I have had the opportunity to work with each of my four children at ClearVision (his nieces and nephews), though none of them at the current time have elected to pursue ClearVision as a long-term career.

I had worked for ClearVision Optical after college for a little bit, attending law school. I practiced law locally for a little bit in the early 80s, and then asked my family if I could join them in what was then a smaller family business. Peter had already been working there for a number of years. My brother and I worked with our parents to expand the business nationally.

Our father believed in developing multiple entrepreneurial skills in each of us, and we did take turns learning different parts of the business. Over the years, we developed our own skill sets, however, generally we share the same responsibilities in running the day-to-day business and establishing a long term vision for the organization. Like most partners, each of us has a particular point of you. Working together over many years we have learned to value the other partner’s point of view and we use the strength of the other to help propel ClearVision forward together.

Peter sees long-term and short-term opportunities quicker than I do and has a strong sense of current culture and consumerism. He also has a very good ability to see things from another point of view, and this is a very valuable skill in a partnership. I like to build, create and operate. Like any great partnership, neither of us would be wholly successful without the other. Both of us like people and we recognize that relationships are extremely important and the success of any business, including the relationships you developed internally, as well as externally.


Jennifer Chinn, OD
Stephen Chinn, OD
Dr. Chinn’s Vision Care
San Diego, Calif.


As an only child, I always had a feeling that I would eventually end up working alongside my father, Dr. Stephen Chinn. When I was young and helped out around the office as a technician and teaching people how to put contact lenses on, I used to hate it because it was work. But as I grew older, I realized that every moment I spent with my father in the office sparked lasting memories with him, and of the impact an optometrist has in the community. I also see how fulfilled my father is after nearly 40 years of changing people's lives, continuing to learn and evolve and wanting to provide the best care for his patients. It became extremely important for me to continue that legacy of caring for the community through providing eyecare.

My father's fascination with technology and the benefits it can provide our patients influences me to continue to learn. The way my father cares for his patients inspires me to continue to go above and beyond to make my patients feel comfortable, to educate them adequately and provide them with amazing eyecare.

As I have started to become more involved in the eyecare community, it seems I have influenced my father to get more involved too. He attends more local meetings, industry events like Vision Expo, and is having a great time reconnecting with colleagues. His presence speaks volumes because of his experience and time in the industry.

My father is definitely a free spirit, a laid back, caring doctor who loves seeing his patients. His main focus is to make sure the patients are well taken care of. He remembers the smallest details about people and builds lasting relationships with his patients easily. He frequently runs over time on his appointments because he is too busy chatting, laughing and making jokes. He also allows me and the rest of our team a lot of freedom.

My work style is definitely more structured than his. Besides patient care, I also like doing some office tasks like managing inventory and learning about eyewear brands. I like finding solutions to improving productivity and office flow. But, like my Dad, when I'm in the exam room, I always find it so fun and easy talking to my patients about any and everything.


Harvey Moscot, OD, CEO of Moscot
Zack Moscot, Chief Design Officer
New York, N.Y.


As a 105 year-old, five generational family business, each Moscot was always given the option to join the company as long as he or she was fully interested and committed. There is a clear understanding that eyewear has been and will always be our family legacy and each generation that has entered the business knows it is their responsibility to evolve the business into the next generation. Harvey worked the family’s retail shops during his youth selling eyewear and learning the values of customer service behind the counter with his Dad, grandfather, aunts and uncles, all licensed opticians. He officially entered the business in 1986 as the first doctor of optometry, advancing the eyecare side of the brand and spearheading various eyecare programs to give back to the very community where the business was born, NYC.

Harvey’s combined passion for eyecare/optics, retail, and eyewear fashion continues to drive him each day. Zack, on the other hand, always had a passion for design and entered the business as the trained industrial designer with sights on evolving the brand and its collections. Together, as father and son, we complement one another well with our different roles and expertise while always maintaining the bond and respect of a father and son relationship.

We contribute to the business from different perspectives. Harvey, as an optometrist for over 30 years provides the retail and optical know-how while Zack focuses on the design and digital side of the business. Together we collaborate and incorporate each other’s views and perspectives to create an omni-channel brand that crosses mediums and continents! Zack, as a millennial, provides a new approach to brand with fresh eyes while respecting the historical aspects while Harvey instills the practices and morals that have kept the company in business for generations. We all continue to learn from our predecessors and implement the values of our family tradition.

[Our work styles are] quite similar. Remember, we are father and son and spend a lot of time with one another, so we tend to have similar practices! We may approach scenarios with different tactics. For example, while Harvey as a strong communicator may call the team into the room to discuss a strategy, Zack may instead revert to a visual communication, laying out the process digitally. Together, we use our strengths as a team to convey our goals, our messages, and drive the brand into the future.