Rank: #13 (Last year: #11)
$8.53 Billion ($18.5B total)
Prior Fiscal: $8.46 Billion
Percentage Change: +0.8%
No. of Employees: 150,000 (total)
Global Headquarters: Charenton-le-Pont, France
Leonardo Del Vecchio, Executive Chairman
Hubert Sagnières, Executive Vice Chairman, Essilor Chairman and CEO, Essilor International SAS CEO
Hilary Halper and Stefano Grassi, Co-Chief Financial Officers
Sometimes the simple fixes are—well, not so simple.
Take poor vision, for example. At first glance, the solution seems fairly straightforward (and obvious): eyeglasses.
But there are far more challenges with this remedy than meets the eye.
Spectacles have been around for centuries (millennia, if history proves correct), allowing for a practical, economical, relatively harmless treatment to visual impairment. Yet a third of the world’s population (2.5 billion) lives with poor vision due to a lack of basic eyeglasses; and 624 million of those folks are considered blind or visually impaired without corrective lenses, according to a 2016 World Economic Forum (WEF) report.
Such numbers should hypothetically shrink, if not disappear altogether, with the widespread dissemination of eyeglasses.
It should. And it would—if indeed the solution was as simple as it seems.
But there are numerous complexities involved in a mass eyeglass distribution/access project. Cost is perhaps the greatest challenge, as 80 percent of people with bad eyesight live in less developed countries, where few can afford glasses. Poor access is another barrier—eyeglasses in developing nations are primarily available in high-priced urban optical shops; for the rural indigent, traveling to these stores can be an expensive and prohibitive proposition (it often requires a day-long trip each way to a nearby city).
Limited screening efforts, cultural biases, and misconceptions also complicate vision correction initiatives. In some areas of China, for instance, school administrators and doctors believe glasses weaken vision. Also, an East Timor study found vanity and embarrassment keep residents from wearing spectacles.
Other hurdles to better vision correction access include the lack of trained optometrists in developing countries (there are roughly 100 in Kenya serving 50 million people), and the prevalence of more serious diseases (AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, etc.).
Poor eyesight may not be much of a health threat but it’s become quite an economic menace over the years, costing the global economy $227 billion annually in lost productivity among the vision impaired, according to WEF data. That loss can be easily be recouped, though: The agency estimates that productivity could rise as much as 34 percent through better access to reading glasses for presbyopes.
“Illiteracy costs the global economy $1.19 trillion each year; in fact, research reveals that 74 percent of illiterate adults failed one or more parts of a vision screening,” the WEF states in its report, “Eyeglasses for Global Development: Bridging the Visual Divide.” “Secondary benefits of correcting vision in adults include safer drivers and safer roads, as well as increased participation in the digital economy.
“Solving this problem is within society’s grasp, but it needs to seize the opportunity to harness market forces for accomplishing the task. Although eyeglasses have existed for hundreds of years, scalable distribution models have [only] now emerged...” the report notes. “Equitable access to eyeglasses is in the best interest of governments and businesses...shouldn’t this achievable and highly impactful goal be added to the global development agenda?”
Essilor Group certainly thinks so. The company, now operating as “EssilorLuxottica” upon finalizing its 2017 merger with Luxottica Group SA last fall, is doing its part to improve access to eyewear. In 2018, the company partnered with an integrated global energy firm as well as several Asia-Pacific governments to create a vision care infrastructure for underserved communities in Bhutan and India.
Essilor’s alliance with Total Group (a supplier of oil, natural gas, and low-carbon electricity) created a pilot vision care program for drivers in Kenya, where an estimated 650,000 people are blind or visually impaired. The program enables professional and non-professional drivers to receive eye checkups at Nairobi truck stops and Total service stations.
Over in Asia, Essilor rolled out its Eye Mitra initiative in Bangladesh, Odisha (India), and Bhutan. Launched in 2013, Eye Mitra—meaning friend of the eyes in Sanskrit—trains young under-employed residents of rural and semi-urban areas to become primary vision care providers. The program teaches participants to conduct basic vision tests and helps them start a prescription eyewear business in their communities. Essilor provides ongoing entrepreneurship, logistics, and marketing support to help Eye Mitras grow their businesses, employ additional staff, and run outreach screening events to expand vision care to outlying rural areas.
“Poor vision affects every aspect of a person’s life, impacting their ability to learn, to work, to live independently, and to realize their full potential,” Essilor Chairman Hubert Sagnières said in announcing the Eye Mitra rollout in Bhutan last December. “We are proud to be collaborating with the Bhutanese government to develop a strategy and actions which will see poor vision eradicated from the country. This will bring further prosperity and happiness to its people and Essilor one important step closer to its ambition of eradicating poor vision worldwide within one generation.”
Considerably sound finances enabled Essilor to take such a paramount step last year: Annual revenue rose 4.6 percent on a “like-for-like” basis to 7.45 billion euros (5.1 percent excluding currency volatility), with fourth-quarter proceeds swelling 5.7 percent. The company boosted its 2018 sales in all product and geographic reporting segments thanks largely to robust demand throughout most of the world for its Varilux progressive opticals and Transitions photochromic lenses.
Both lenses helped Essilor regain its footing in Brazil last year after a disappointing 2017 performance, though Transitions were particularly popular in Columbia. Solid overall sales in all Spanish-speaking countries partly contributed to a 7.7 percent increase in Latin American revenue (down 3.5 percent reported to 468 million euros).
Varilux and Transitions opticals also worked their pecuniary magic in Europe, where proceeds jumped 2.5 percent (1.3 percent reported) to 1.99 billion euros. Supporting that gain were Crizal (anti-reflective) and Eyezen (blue light-blocking) lenses.
Varilux lenses proved futile in North America, though. Transitions Style Colors and Style Mirrors helped elevate sales there by 3.2 percent to 2.77 billion euros (down 0.4 percent reported). Other revenue determinants on the continent included the continued expansion of the Essilor Experts program, strong online sales of eyeglasses and contact lenses, and partnerships with Alliance members, key accounts, and managed vision care organizations.
Varilux made up for its North American futility in Asia/Pacific/Middle East/Africa, where it teamed with Eyezen lenses to raise revenue 2.3 percent (reported) to 1.19 billion euros. Growth was strong in mainland China both for higher-end and mid-range products; progressive and photochromic lenses, as well as major brands drove significant gains in Turkey, southeast Asia, South Korea, and to a lesser, extent, Japan. Trends, however, were mixed in the Middle East and India.
Essilor’s solid like-for-like gains throughout its geographic reporting divisions in 2018 helped boost Lenses and Opticals Instruments revenue 0.4 percent (reported) to 6.43 billion euros. The Lenses and Opticals segment’s Instruments division delivered like-for-like 6 percent growth on the year, fueled by solid refraction and diagnostic device sales, along with new innovations in edging-mounting (Mr. Blue Sun & Sport) and aberrometers (an instrument that customizes optical equipment).
The company’s Mr. Blue edger allows eyecare professionals to produce Chemistrie clips as custom-made sunwear and achieve Half Jacket frame coverage for endurance and extreme sports. “With Mr. Blue Sun & Sport, eyecare professionals have the opportunity to generate additional revenues by targeting eyewear needs for outdoor activities,” said Samy Lauriette, senior vice president, Essilor Instruments Americas.
The Wave Analyzer Medica 700+ (automatic) aberrometer provides seven measurements in 90 seconds. Based on wave-front and Shack-Hartmann technology, the machine uses wireless technology to facilitate data transfers and allow eyecare professionals to share results with patients.
Surfacing machines were popular with customers, too. The latest generations of Essilor’s VFT-Orbit 2 digital generator, the Multi-FLEX polisher, and the ART (Alloy Replacement Technology) lens blocking machine—which holds lenses in place during their manufacturing—raised Equipment sales 0.8 percent (reported) to 227 million euros in 2018. Asian and U.S. machine sales surged during the fourth quarter, and Latin American sales benefitted from small prescription laboratories’ switch to digital surfacing technology throughout the year.
Essilor’s Sunglasses & Readers segment posted the highest (reported) sales increase in 2018: Proceeds climbed 4.1 percent to 798 million euros due mainly to higher FGX International revenue, Costa’s expansion in the western United States, and solid demand in China for sunwear and optical frames.
The streak continues.
For the eighth consecutive year, Essilor earned a spot on Forbes magazine’s “100 Most Innovative Companies” list. The firm jumped from 68th in the 2017 compilation to 52 last year (ahead of Luxottica, which placed 61st on the list). First debuting in 2010, the list demonstrates creative disruption and the means in which organizations both innovate and garner investor attention. Cloud computing firm ServiceNow topped Forbes’ 2018 ranking.
“Innovation is as hard to define as it is to do successfully but we’ve figured out how to determine who’s winning at it by calculating an ‘Innovator’s Premium’ that gauges which companies are best able to capitalize on investors’ confidence in their creativity and inventiveness,” Fred Allen, Forbes senior editor, leadership, wrote upon releasing the list in late May.
The World’s Most Innovative Companies are firms that investors believe are most likely to produce the “next big innovation,” as determined by a special formula developed by Professors Jeff Dyer of Brigham Young University and Hal Gregersen of MIT. Companies are ranked by their innovation premium—i.e., the difference between their market capitalization and the net present value of cash flows from existing businesses (based on a proprietary algorithm from Credit Suisse HOLT). The difference between them is the bonus given by equity investors on the educated hunch the company will continue to generate profitable new growth. To be included on the list, firms need seven years of financial data and $10 billion in market cap.
Forbes, however, was not the sole source of acclaim for Essilor’s innovative abilities last year. Six months after landing on Forbes’ Most Innovative Companies list, Time named ACUVUE OASYS with Transitions Light Intelligent technology one of the “Best Inventions of 2018.” Developed through a strategic partnership with Johnson & Johnson Vision and Transition Optical (a company Essilor acquired in 2014), the photochromic vision-correcting contact lenses automatically adjust to changing light conditions. The contacts received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval in April 2018.
“Imagine never having to shield your eyes from blinding sunlight, or feel the strain of eight-plus hours under fluorescent bulbs,” Time stated in its summary of the technology. “That’s the allure of ACUVUE’s forthcoming line of light-sensitive, vision-correcting contact lenses. Each contains a filter that senses the amount of light entering [the] eye and automatically darkens or lightens to maximize comfort.”
“This innovation will revolutionize contact lenses and photochromics by introducing the benefits of light adaptation to more patients,” Chrystel Barranger, president of Essilor Photochromics and Transitions Optical, said after Time paid homage to the technology in November. “Addressing the unmet needs of contact lens wearers, this innovation contributes to achieving our mission to bring good vision to each person on the planet.”