Category Archives: Corporate

On Top of the (Sailing) World

Mike Martin, left, congratulates his partner after their world-championship victory. (Photo courtesy Mike Martin/Rich Roberts)

(The following profile of one of Alcon’s employees – an engineer who, in his spare time, is a world-champion sailor – appeared in the 3Q 2009 issue of Alcon’s quarterly global magazine, Alcon World News.)

The Pacific Ocean lies only nine miles away from Alcon’s Irvine Technology Center (ITC) in Southern California, down winding Laguna Canyon Road.

For many of the facility’s 600-plus employees, this proximity to the water may not even occur to them as they go about their work on the INFINITI and Constellation Vision Systems. But for Mike Martin, a Principal Engineer in charge of retina accessory development, the sea is never far from his thoughts.

For the past three decades, Martin has been pursuing another passion: small boat sailing. In late August, this love of squeezing every ounce of speed out of a puff of breeze resulted in a singular honor when he became the first sailor in his chosen category – the two man, 505 class dinghy – to win a championship as both a helmsman (who steers the craft from the rear) and crew (who mans the front of the boat). The two honors came ten years apart, during which time he also managed to pick up a pair of world championships in another category, the 18-foot skiff class.

While remarkable, this level of achievement is nothing new for Martin. Since he began sailing as a child in Alexandria, Virginia, in fact, he has put together an impressive resume of achievements on the water to go along with his four world championships, including: nine North American championships in two classes, a collegiate championship and ten national and European championships. Add to that his 1999 induction into the Old Dominion University Sports Hall of Fame, where he was a three-time All American sailor in the 1980s, and you begin to see the formation of a pattern: developing sight-saving technologies for the world’s largest eye care company isn’t the only thing he loves.

“Succeeding at anything in life requires the same sort of preparation and dedication,” he said. “Some of the places we sail can have very harsh conditions, so preparing yourself and the boat in meticulous detail is the same as in developing products: you have to anticipate what the demands will be and prepare your products to meet those demands.”

In the sailing world, as in the surgical products industry, research and development are key. Boats in the 505 class – so named because the craft can be no longer than 5.05 meters in length, or 16.5 feet – are the sports cars of the yachting world. Under the right conditions, with the proper rigging and control of a seasoned skipper, they can reach speeds topping 25 knots. “The 505 is a very exciting, fast boat. They have very quick acceleration,” Martin said. “It’s like racing a Porsche.” As a result, proper preparation can mean the difference between a victory and bobbing in the waves alongside your upturned craft, waiting for help to arrive.

While the dimensions of the dinghy are strictly controlled by the sport’s governing body, just about everything else – including the hull’s composition, sail configuration and other rigging arrangements – is left up to the crew. As an engineer, this need to endlessly analyze, tinker with and perfect his boat’s set-up is one of the many aspects of sailing that appeal to Martin.

At his first world championship victory – the 1999 regatta in Quiberon, France – the boats of the top three finishers featured equipment designed by Martin. Likewise, several of the 100 craft from nine countries present at his latest world championship, held in August at the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco, also featured a few of his innovative designs.

“Sailing is nothing but a big engineering or physics problem,” he said. “And, in this class, you’re pretty much the driver, the pit crew and everything else, so it’s very hands-on, which I enjoy.”

60 Years of Growth, Discovery

(As the editor of Alcon World News, I often penned an “Editor’s Note” to add a little perspective to the magazine’s contents. This is one such note, taken from an issue published in 2006 Alcon’s 60th year since incorporation.)

To fully appreciate how far Alcon has come in the 60 years since its incorporation, simply pick up a world map, or spin the nearest globe. (Or for even quicker reference, consult the map shown below, which was taken from the “Locations” page of the newly redesigned Alcon.com.)

Alcon is everywhere. Its products are used in nearly every country in the world, while company offices – with Sales, Manufacturing, Research and Development, or all three types of facilities – now exist in more than 75 nations, from Lima, Peru, to Minsk, Belarus, and many points in between. Over the course of six decades, Alcon has grown into a truly global company with more than 13,500 employees and annual sales that are expected to top $5 billion in 2007.

Not bad for a drive-through pharmacy launched with an initial investment of $6,000 back in the 1940s.

Much more will be made of Alcon’s 60-year milestone in the months to follow, with special events, commemorative items and other bits of nostalgia, so this issue of Alcon World News is simply intended to serve as a “teaser” of things to come as the company reflects on its past and looks forward to the future.

On the subject of “the future,” this issue also contains coverage of the recent Alcon Research Institute Symposium, which honored six of the world’s leading scientists for their efforts aimed at finding the drugs and devices that will be used to treat tomorrow’s eye diseases. As recipients of the coveted Alcon Prize, the researchers join an exclusive club of international scientists who have dedicated their careers to ophthalmic discovery.

In our “An Eye On” section dedicated to exploring diseases and conditions of the eye – and what Alcon is doing to address them – we take a closer look at ocular allergies and the recent launch of Pataday™ ophthalmic solution, the world’s first once-daily ocular allergy medication. Eye allergies affect an estimated 20 percent of the world’s industrialized population, representing an immense health care issue and an even larger opportunity for Alcon as company researchers work to pinpoint new, more effective treatments.

Finally, as you flip through this issue, one thing you may notice is the abundance of photographs that fill its pages. As we work to transform our company magazine into a more useful, appealing publication – and one that embodies our new branding guidelines – we will be looking for more images of our employees at work and at play. Beginning with this issue, in fact, we also will be showcasing some of the best images on the back cover of Alcon World News. For more information on submission guidelines, please take a look at the back of this publication. Then, send us your images!

From the Mountain State to the Emerald Isle: The Huntington-Cork Connection

(This article appeared in the 1Q 2008 issue of Alcon’s quarterly global magazine, Alcon World News.)

While growth – both in sales and manufacturing output – can certainly be good for a company’s bottom line, it also can pose some daunting challenges: Do you have the space to build new facilities at your existing plant? Can you find enough qualified people to staff your enlarged operation? Do you have a supplementary manufacturing facility that can serve as a back-up in the event of production shortfalls or a crisis?

With these questions in mind, Alcon management decided in 2003 to transform the company’s Cork, Ireland, refractive laser plant into an IOL manufacturing location to supplement Alcon Huntington’s output. The change required a substantial reorganization involving not only the transfer of the refractive business to the Orlando Technology Center, but also extensive work with Alcon Huntington to facilitate the hand-off of the AcrySof® single-piece IOL manufacturing process to Cork.

This unique partnership between the two facilities, which are separated by five time zones, 3,000 miles of ocean and – judging by the very different dialects – a common language, involved a number of hurdles. Perhaps the most significant challenge was the need to transform Cork’s traditional production facility into the highly controlled cleanroom environment required for IOL manufacturing.

According to Bill Richardson, Vice President, Manufacturing – Surgical Operations, to say this massive undertaking required mere “cooperation” is an understatement. “It’s been a very big project. A lot of people have spent quite a bit of time travelling back and forth between the two locations and working together to implement this. Outside of Manufacturing, employees from all levels and from many different teams throughout the company have had a hand in it, including Corporate Engineering; IT; Corporate Safety, Security and Environmental Affairs; and a host of other departments in Ireland and the United States.”

By mid-2004, after countless phone calls, e-mails and trans-oceanic visits aimed at exchanging knowledge and training, the transformation of the Cork facility was complete. On June 24 of that year, the Cork team made its first shipment of IOLs (made partly in Ireland and partly in Huntington) to Alcon’s Central Stores in Puurs, Belgium. The facility’s first shipment of IOLs made entirely in Ireland occurred in March 2006.

Huntington Vice President and General Manager Jim Baden said the complex process has helped unite the two plants and improve both operations. “As we’ve gone through the steps of transferring processes and technology, the Cork employees have asked a lot of great questions,” he said. “They have been really eager to learn something new, which has helped all of us learn. We really think of them as our sister operation. When I travel over there, it’s amazing how much I feel like I’m still in Huntington.”

Although differences between the regulatory environments in the United States and the European Union play a role in the types of lenses that Cork is currently able to produce, the close partnership between the two plants is starting to yield results. “In the last year, it’s really started to pay off,” said Ben Wilson, Huntington’s Senior Director, Engineering. “Cork produced just over 1 million IOLs in 2007, which allowed us to greatly limit the amount of work we had to do on Saturdays. Now, we’re able to run a five-day operation, when that wasn’t previously the case.”

Since that first shipment of Irish-made IOLs rolled off the line two years ago, Alcon has moved to expand the scope of the Cork plant from a back-up facility to a second manufacturing location with double the originally planned capacity. To achieve this, the company has embarked on a major expansion in close proximity to Cork’s existing manufacturing building.

Begun last year, the expansion is occurring in two phases over a two-year period: the construction of a 70,000-square-foot, three-story building on an adjacent property during 2007, followed by an expansion of approximately 40,000 square feet to the existing manufacturing building in 2008.

When both of Alcon’s IOL plants complete their expansion projects in 2011, Richardson says, the company should have ample capacity for IOL production through the year 2017. At that point – providing the product demand meets current projections – the process of expansion will begin anew.

Hurricane Ike Puts Alcon’s Emergency Response Plans to the Test

(The following article appeared in the 4Q 2008 issue of Alcon’s quarterly global magazine, Alcon World News. It examines the company’s response to Hurricane Ike.)

In early September – only three years after Alcon Houston dealt with the affects of the most active and destructive Atlantic storm season in recorded history, including the devastating hurricanes Rita and Katrina – the facility was once again called on to implement its emergency plan as another major storm worked its way toward the Gulf Coast city.

Dubbed Hurricane Ike, the approaching storm quickly became one of the largest and most powerful hurricanes on record. At its peak on September 5, it stretched more than 500 miles from edge to edge, and featured winds in excess of 145 miles per hour. Worst of all, the storm was forecasted to reach land just a few miles east of Alcon’s 354,000-square-foot plant near the downtown area, where the company manufactures Custom-Pak® Surgical Packs and consumable products.

After reaching land, Ike’s destructive winds, rain and accompanying surge of water along coastal areas caused widespread flooding and property damage, and cut electrical power to as many as 3 million of the area’s residents and businesses – including Alcon’s Houston plant. Thanks to lessons learned in 2005, however, the response by both area officials and Alcon employees in Houston and Fort Worth served as a striking example of the importance of planning and communication.

Timeline of a Storm

To help illustrate the breadth of Alcon’s preparations and response to this crisis, several key events have been listed in chronological order below:

Early September: Company managers in Houston and Fort Worth begin discussing their options as the storm’s projected route and landfall date (Sept. 13) take shape.

Thursday, Sept. 11: Alcon activates its Corporate Crisis Action Team (CCAT), consisting of representatives from all of the company’s essential business functions. The team holds the first of many conference calls to discuss potential concerns and responses.

  • Based on the size, strength and direction of the storm, the decision is made to close the Houston plant from Friday, Sept. 12 through Sunday, Sept. 14 to allow employees – many of whom are facing mandatory evacuation orders from the local government – to prepare their homes and families.
  • A team of employees from Fort Worth is assembled in case they are needed to travel to Houston in the wake of the storm with generators, water, food and other supplies to help local employees and assist with clean-up.
  • An Around Alcon announcement is distributed company-wide to inform all employees of the situation.

Friday, Sept. 12: Hurricane Ike, with winds at 105 miles per hour, draws closer to the Texas coast, with landfall predicted for late night or early morning the following day.

  • Alcon Houston is secured, and all critical equipment is covered in plastic to help prevent water damage. Computer servers are shut down and also covered.
  • A toll-free telephone number is established, providing employees the ability to call in and report their status. Also, employee contact information is entered into Corporate Security’s mass notification system to enable instant messaging to local employees.
  • The Customer Service team in Fort Worth is enlisted to receive calls from Houston employees during the day, while the Corporate Security team covers calls during nighttime hours.

Saturday, Sept. 13: Hurricane Ike makes landfall approximately 50 miles from the Alcon Houston facility, causing widespread flooding and power outages in the area.

  • The only damage reported at the plant is slight water leakage into the Manufacturing and Distribution areas, and minor wind damage to some roof-mounted equipment and perimeter fencing.
  • A generator at the plant provides emergency lighting, but all other power remains cut off.

Sunday, Sept. 14: Approximately 2 million local power customers remain without electricity, including the Houston plant. The city imposes a curfew on area residents to keep them off the streets from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.

  • No employees have reported any injuries or other serious issues, although many roads remain flooded.
  • CCAT prepares for the possibility of a major disruption to the plant’s manufacturing capabilities, even though Houston has a seven-week inventory of Custom-Pak® Surgical Packs and a six-week inventory of consumable items.

Monday, Sept. 15: As electrical service slowly returns to the area, the plant’s maintenance team readies the site to be brought back online. The facility remains closed pending the restoration of power.

  • 82 employees, 45 contractors and four area Sales Representatives have checked in to report their status.
  • Repairs begin on the damaged perimeter fencing and rooftop equipment.
  • Another Around Alcon announcement is distributed, providing an update for employees on Houston’s condition.

Tuesday, Sept. 16: Some power is restored to Alcon Houston, although the plant remains closed until the power flow is uninterrupted. Computer servers and the building management system are slowly brought back online.

  • CCAT begins working on a method to notify Houston employees of the site’s re-opening, including the toll-free phone line and Corporate Security’s mass notification system.
  • To date, 256 employees, 118 contract employees and four Sales Reps have called in to report that they are safe.

Wednesday, Sept. 17: Four days after Hurricane Ike hits Houston, Alcon’s local facility re-opens for business at limited capacity with roughly 80 percent of its employees.

  • Although most flood waters have subsided, fuel in the area is scarce, making it difficult for employees to drive to work. CCAT begins exploring ways to provide either fuel or group transportation for employees.

Thursday, Sept. 18: Uninterrupted power is restored to the plant, although 1.8 million local residents are still without power – including two out of three of the facility’s employees.

  • The plant begins receiving deliveries, and is able to release outbound shipments of products.
  • Because of ongoing fuel shortages, Alcon purchases a 2,000 gallon fuel tank to provide gas for employees.

Friday, Sept. 19: Production at the plant hits 80 percent of normal capacity for Custom-Pak® Surgical Packs, with 70 percent production for consumables.

  • Alcon’s Corporate Giving department meets with Houston managers to determine relief efforts.
  • Bulk shipment of ice is ordered for employees and their families.

Monday, Sept. 22: CCAT holds final conference call as production returns to normal in Houston.

  • Fuel tank is delivered and filled the following day, allowing employees to acquire enough gas to commute to and from work. This remains in place for the next few weeks as area fuel supplies stabilize.

Lessons Learned

Whether in Houston, where local employees had to face Hurricane Ike head-on, or in Fort Worth, where managers were dealing with the logistics of the crisis from afar, preparation was the essential ingredient in Alcon’s successful approach.

“Being prepared, and having a structured crisis team in place and ready to react was imperative,” said Manager, Corporate Security Jeff Breeding, who serves as CCAT’s coordinator. “I think our successful response to this situation was due entirely to the preparedness of our employees across the board.”

Michael Speck, Alcon Houston’s General Manager, agreed, saying the value of a well-formed plan and fully informed employees cannot be overstated.

“The lessons we learned were almost all unique to the circumstances we faced after the hurricane, such as flooded roads, displaced employees and a lack of power and fuel,” he said. “There were no gaping holes in our plan or actions after the storm that prevented us from starting operations back up as soon as the power was back on. Given the mess we had to deal with, I’m very pleased with the way our team responded.”

Speck said the “preparation, planning, dedication and response by our employees” allowed Alcon to make the best of a situation that could have been much more damaging to the company.

“Many of our employees went above and beyond the call of duty to overcome numerous hardships to get back and continue to come to work each day,” he said. “I am extremely proud of the way we all worked together locally and with the CCAT team. We were never overwhelmed by the details and we always found ways to overcome every single obstacle we faced.”

Alcon’s Humanitarian Response

Although the Houston plant was spared from the worst of the devastation, the city and its infrastructure were severely damaged.

To help the charitable organizations that provided hot meals, comfort and shelter to those in need, The Alcon Foundation donated $50,000 to the Chisholm Trail chapter of the American Red Cross and $50,000 to The Salvation Army’s DFW Metroplex chapter. In all, the company’s relief effort surpassed $330,000.

Southwest Aims to Reinforce Brand Image With New Look, Feel at Airports

(This article was written for Southwest’s monthly employee magazine, LUVLines, detailing the airline’s revamping of its corporate brand.)

In the early 1970s – just as Southwest’s red-bellied aircraft were first taking to the skies – we found ourselves in the difficult position faced by many start-up ventures that set out to shake up their industries and challenge the status quo. We were long on enthusiasm and spirit, but a little short on cash.

Our business plan was solid – revolutionary, even. But we needed to make a name for ourselves. We needed to stand out from the crowd. What we needed was a look, a feel – a style – that said “Southwest Airlines” whenever you saw it. Between our distinctive aircraft paint scheme, the stylish uniforms worn by our flight attendants and our humorous advertising, our employees developed that image by capitalizing on the independent, free-spirited nature of Southwest Airlines.

Called “branding” in the business world, this effort to develop a lasting, unique identity through the use of logos, consistent color schemes and slogans has remained a key part of our business strategy for more than three decades. Over the coming months, in fact, as many of our Stations are in the midst of long-scheduled (and much-needed) renovations or expansions, a team of dedicated Southwest employees will be working behind the scenes to ensure our airport locations are displaying the correct corporate logos, colors and other branding items.

In most cases, this will result in some eye-catching changes as we bring our facilities up to date with the new marketing and identity standards – such as our Canyon Blue and Saddle Tan coloring – that were unveiled in 2001 with our new aircraft paint schemes and interiors.

Rather than maintaining the teal coloring that adorns the walls behind many of our ticket counters, for example, our Properties and Facilities Department will be installing new Canyon Blue wall coverings highlighted with Saddle Tan borders. Polished steel lettering and logos (our familiar “heart with wings”) will complement the new colors and, in airports where our lease allows it, carpeting, countertops and lounge-area seating also will be upgraded to establish a brand consistency across the nation.

Specialist Airport/Inflight Merchandising Edie Myers, whose team within the Marketing Department is charged with developing and maintaining Southwest’s airport and inflight branding standards, says this consistency is what Southwest is working to achieve systemwide. “Our challenge is to provide a consistent look and feel for our customers, no matter which of our airports they’re flying to. Whether a customer walks up to a ticket counter in Seattle or Fort Lauderdale, we want them to take one look at our colors, our logos – our entire brand presence in that airport – and instantly recognize it as Southwest Airlines.”

While this recognition hopefully will evoke images of Southwest and our safe, reliable air transportation, the new “look and feel” of at our stations should bring to mind another trait that is uniquely Southwest: low-cost. Our mission to unify our image is being approached with the same eye-on-costs attitude that accompanies every move the airline makes.

Cost containment was a primary goal while determining which elements and materials would become standard. In some instances, we are simply purchasing different materials at the same cost as the old. And, in most cases, the new elements will be installed as part of larger expansion or renovation projects, which would require the replacement of these items anyway. Items that are subject to wear and tear – such as carpeting and countertops – will be replaced as needed with the more durable materials featuring our new colors and styles at little or no additional cost to the company.

From start to finish, it will take several years for all of our stations to be outfitted with the new look. As with our aircraft, therefore, we will have a mixed look of old and new materials in our stations as the program moves forward.

“This process will follow the natural flow of all of our projects,” said Manager Facilities Projects John Zuzu, who has been leading a team of Facilities employees at the center of the refurbishment effort. “With the extent of work already planned, we should see 23 of our ticket counter areas with the updated colors by the first quarter of 2003, and the remaining areas completed within three years.”

The first station to be outfitted in the new look last month was Dallas Love Field (DAL), where extensive renovations have been underway for some time to improve the airport’s parking, security screening and retail areas. The station als has received a number of our new self-service Rapid Check-in kiosks (which sport Canyon Blue and polished steel exteriors), making it a logical time and place to launch the branding effort.

Other areas at our airports, such as customer lounges, Baggage Service offices and Customer Service centers also will be updated as needed and where applicable across the system.

Equally as important as our efforts to keep costs low, Edie said, is our focus on making sure that our new materials and designs are of the highest quality and will endure the test of time – effectively saving us money in the long run. With our ticket counter back walls and podiums, for example, the use of higher quality, more durable laminate and stainless steel materials will offset the expense of refurbishment through longer product life.

“Just as our aircraft are going to slowly transition to our new look, so are our airports,” Edie said. “In representing Southwest Airlines – whether it’s with our marketing, our advertising or even with our logos – we have always aimed for images that evoke a sense of quality and simplicity. Those traits are timeless. We are not trying to change our brand, we are reinforcing it. And we’re doing that in a way that will be cost effective and in a way that will elevate our customers’ experiences and expectations at the airports we serve.”