Q&A: Michele Andrews, OD-Senior director, North America, Professional and Academic Affairs, Cooper Vision

November 17, 2017

If optometry could adapt a bit more readily and not be so fearful of change, we could continue to be an amazing profession, evolve with customer demand, and serve our customers in the way they want.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up near Rochester in Greece, NY, which sits right on Lake Ontario. My father worked in a kitchen cabinet manufacturing company, and my mom was a nurse. Neither of my parents graduated from college, so the message to me and my two siblings was, “We don’t care what you do, just go to college.” I was the only daughter, and my mom said, “Don’t be a nurse or a teacher because they’re the only two choices I had.” I would have been a great teacher, and I gravitate to teaching moments in every role I’ve had.

How did you go from communications/journalism to optometry?

I was in undergrad studying communications. In my sophomore year, I couldn’t see the board in biology class. I had never had an eye exam. So, I got my first eye exam and fell in love with the process. I asked my biology teacher if she knew anything about optometry. It turns out she was the school’s pre-professional adviser. So, I shifted gears from that eye exam in my sophomore year of school.

What drew you to industry instead of a private practice?

When I finished optometry school and my residency, I did go into private practice. I worked with a number of ophthalmology groups and built my practice within theirs. The journey to industry was a long one-I didn’t have my eye set on industry or had that target. You find yourself in different places across your career, and the opportunity presented itself. It was a great opportunity at the right time to see if I could bring my knowledge of the profession and my knowledge of practice to a manufacturing company. It’s been a great fit.

Related: Q&A: Chris Lievens, OD, MS, FAAO-Chief of Internal Clinics at The Eye Center, Southern College of Optometry

What’s something your colleagues don’t know about you?

When I retire, I would love to open a cheese shop. Cheese is my favorite food. I think that would be fun. Many years ago, I traveled with my husband to the UK, and we visited an amazing cheese shop in a little town in the countryside. It stuck with me. I decided then that when my career in eye care was finished, that would be something I would love to do. The other thing they don’t know about me is that I’m fascinated with home remodeling. With all the HGTV shows that I’ve watched and all of the different homes and apartments that I’ve lived in, I think I’ve got one more build in me.

What’s the best thing about working at Cooper Vision?

Definitely the people and the culture. To be able to work in an environment with people who are so supportive and focused on the right things-getting the best product to our customers, treating our customers right-the people I work with invest a lot in doing what we can to do it right. Being affiliated with a group that has that first and foremost has been extremely rewarding.

How does working remotely from corporate HQ affect staying looped and productive?

It has worked out extremely well. In the first year I was with Cooper, I spent time on the road at corporate offices in Victor, NY, and Pleasanton, CA, as well as meeting with customers and groups, getting to know people and what they liked about Cooper, and what they were looking for Cooper to do for them. Once you establish those relationships, it’s easier to continue the conversation remotely. You do miss things at the water cooler. But you have a responsibility to get caught up and make sure you’re connected to those conversations however you can. The worst thing you can do is take those things personally. The stronger the relationship you have with the folks who you work with, the more likely they’ll draw you in and make sure you have that information.

 

What are an optometry practice’s best practices?

They have an identity that they feel very strongly about, and they are not going to deviate from who they are. They seek to get better, expand, and incorporate things that will make their identity richer and their practices better. They also embrace, value, and invest in their staff. In CooperVision’s Best Practices Initiative, we give groups the opportunity to talk about different subject areas; each year the topics were different with the exception of staff. Both groups wanted to talk about staff: what are you doing, how do you make it work, what investments do you make. We went to present their awards, and every practice had its entire staff there. The staff was part of it, and every owner said, “I wouldn’t be here without my team.” The final thing they all have in common is that they have a can-do attitude. No matter what comes their way, these doctors say, “That’s interesting. What can I learn from that?” It seems they’re inspired by those things rather than demotivated.

How do you integrate your private and your professional lives?

[Laughs] I have two children, I’m married, and we have an active life. It’s very messy, maybe it’s a controlled chaos, but I don’t try to balance it. I have an amazing family. We communicate frequently about our choices and what we all have to do to make those things happen. Some days we do it really well, and some days we don’t. Some weeks, my investment in work is much more than my investment in home and vice versa. When we have one of those weeks where the wheels come off, we’ll sit down and talk about it and ask if we need to make a change. Ultimately, the group seems to say no, we’re OK. We acknowledge that it’s messy sometimes.

Do you have any regrets?

I regret not meeting my husband sooner. I think we would have had more children. I think we would have had the opportunity to do things that we didn’t because of where we were in our lives when we met. Everything else I picked, so I’m good with the path.

Related: Q&A: Craig Thomas, OD: Optometrist Dallas, TX

What’s one thing about optometry that you would change?

If optometry could adapt a bit more readily and not be so fearful of change, we could continue to be an amazing profession, evolve with customer demand, and serve our customers in the way they want. We tend to be slow to change and a bit fearful. If we can figure out how to love every idea for 15 minutes, see how it might work, and how it might grow the profession, we can get a lot further faster and people might be more energized and excited about the journey.

What’s your guilty pleasure food?

Anything with a chip and dip. I make a layered Mexican dip with refried beans, cheese, avocados, sour cream, and ground beef. It’s one of my favorite things to eat in the fall because I also love football. It’s the perfect thing to make while you’re watching games. I’ll send you the recipe.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?

I took my kids whitewater rafting this summer. We took an easier course with class 1 to class 3 rapids. My daughter sat in front, and we hit the first rapid. The nose of your boat has to go in straight or you’re going to quickly get turned sideways and be in the water. We go into the rapids straight, and immediately the boat gets turned 90 degrees, my daughter’s oar goes flying, she’s screaming, and we are being pushed through the rapids sideways. I grabbed onto my daughter’s lifejacket because I was sure we’re both going in. Next thing you know, we’ve come through. The water’s perfectly calm. Her oar is floating in the water. I thought, “She’s going to be in this boat for the rest of the day scared.” She reaches into the water, pulls out her oar, turns around to say, “That was awesome!”

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