French-born Carrier moved here from Florida when Essilor made Dallas its headquarters in 2001. His company, the largest unit of Paris-based Essilor International, is the leading manufacturer and wholesale distributor of optical lenses in the United States.
1. How’s the optical-lens business these days?
It’s better than most businesses. As we’ve seen in previous recessions, people [still] need eyeglasses, since 80 percent of what we perceive is through our eyes. You can certainly postpone a little bit the purchase, but in the end when you need glasses, you need glasses. We’ve seen a bit of a slowdown, but our business has been growing at a fast pace—typically 15 percent to 20 percent annually for the past 10 years—and we’re still growing.
2. Why is that?
Here and in Western Europe, we benefit from the aging of the population and some other factors. We’re also seeing strong growth in emerging markets: China, India, South America and Eastern Europe, and that continues even during the recession.
3. You have about 1,300 people working in Dallas now. How did Essilor of America come to be based here?
We had been headquartered in Florida, but in 1996 we acquired a company called Omega Optical, a large network of optical laboratories, that had its headquarters here. We soon realized that Dallas was a great place to do business. It’s very centrally located and has good transportation services. We also discovered that Dallas has very diverse industries and businesses, and therefore we found a very diversified, adaptable work force—great people with great knowledge.
We like to attract talent from other industries, and it’s easy to attract talent to Dallas.
4. Your foundation, the Essilor Vision Foundation, has launched an initiative called Kids Vision for Life, which provides free eye exams and glasses to certain children in the Dallas Independent School District. How did that come about?
In elementary schools—specifically in the first through third grades—we’re finding typically that one out of four children may have vision problems that are undiagnosed or undetected. When children don’t see well, very often they don’t know any better; they think blurry vision must be the same for everybody. Or, they may get misdiagnosed with ADD or something else.
5. Are you only doing the Kids Vision program locally?
Our idea is to start in Dallas, but then to expand to the largest cities in the U.S.; Houston may be next. But we want to really execute this well in Dallas first. We are looking for business partners and other nonprofit partners for that effort, because we’re seeing that the changes on society can be profound. It’s very common to talk about literacy, for example. But I think it’s going to be very difficult to do things with literacy when people cannot see well!