Enabling more Filipinos to see better
“We continue to ensure that everything we do improves lives and contributes to a better society.”
This optometrist came out of the ranks of Essilor and sees Filipinos living a better life if they have better vision.
Dr. Emelita Roleda, Managing Director, Essilor Philippines
Not all employees last more than three decades working for the same company. Optometrist Emelita Roleda is an exception, having worked at Essilor Philippines, a leading manufacturer of prescription lenses, for 34 years now.
Roleda continues to enjoy each day at the office as if she were new to the job. She shows up at the office five days a week, sometimes even extending her working day to 10 a.m. or even covering weekends.
She started as a business consultant in 1988. “It was a one-person office back then,” she recalls. “There was an employee who had to leave because she was emigrating to the United States. Then I applied.”
At that time, Roleda was working in a retail optical store when she heard about the opening of Essilor’s first office in the Philippines.
She has since become general manager, having assumed the role in 2001. “I just go with the flow,” she said of her job. “Usually an optometrist will just stay in the optical store and do the practice in the usual way.”
“Since Essilor opened the lab in 1989 for local distribution in the Philippines, to sell the lenses, we’ve had to hire more people,” Roleda noted. “Before, Essilor worked through a distributor to sell in the local market. When Essilor decided to sell the glass directly to customers, it became consistent from there.”
Emelita Roleda Leads Essilor Philippines “Eye Can Succeed” Event in Samar 2019 for High School Students
From 20 employees
Essilor Philippines started with around 20 employees working in customer service, warehouse, operations and accounting. “At that time, my boss was based in Hong Kong, Essilor’s office in Southeast Asia,” Roleda said, with her “in charge of operations in the Philippines, introducing Essilor to optical stores.”
Their first office was in Quiapo, Manila. Today, Essilor Philippines has seven across the country, with a workforce that has increased tenfold. “We sell wholesale and we have seven locations – two in Metro Manila (Sheridan in Mandaluyong and Santa Manila), Angeles (Pampanga), Dagupan (Pangasinan), Cebu, Davao and Iloilo,” Roleda said.
Before the pandemic, Roleda visited their provincial branches every two months. “I go around,” she recalls. “If I visit Cebu, I will also visit our customers. At least twice a year.”
She would also travel to Essilor’s regional office in Singapore, although the last time she visited was in 2019. Essilor also organizes regional meetings in host countries, the latest in South Korea.
Roleda initially found her work as a woman both interesting and challenging. “It wasn’t boring,” she said, “and Essilor is an international company, so the work looked promising. Every country has Essilor optical stores.”
Customer service and teamwork
As a leading, world-class prescription brand, Essilor faces competition and Roleda is well aware of this. “Personally, for me, it’s sincerity and honesty with customers,” she said. “The product is the product. Anyone can have a similar product at any time. Customer service, reliability and consistency in what we do to them is important.”
Meanwhile, learning from its staff over the years, Roleda relies on teamwork to make the business work. “Everyone needs everyone else. I learned hard work from them,” she noted.
When the pandemic hit, she ensured that all Essilor staff were safe, requiring them to follow health protocols and measures. “If they’re not there, we can’t operate,” she said. “We must take all measures to ensure that they are safe if we need them.”
“We had to get a [condominium] unit so they stay close to the office so they can come to work. Even without work, it was necessary to ensure that the personnel were planned. They receive a certain salary for the employees.”
During the first confinement in 2020, Essilor had to close shop and stop its activities. As an “essential” business, however, it reopened immediately once the lockdown was released.
Essilor Philippines General Manager Emelita Roleda (front) at the 2019 Asia-Pacific Optometry Congress held at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City in June 2019.
“We do [Covid-19] testing among staff every week,” Roleda said. “We don’t allow them to commute, so far. They stay in condominiums near our offices. In addition, we are hosting virtual meetings.”
Become an optometrist
Working at Essilor Philippines has become Roleda’s pride, professionally and even personally. “[O]Our product helps people see better, so they live better if they see well,” she said. [for] young people who are still in school, Essilor will change their lives for the better if they see well.”
“Imagine if a student has very bad eyesight, his grades are often bad because he cannot see what is written on the board correctly. This is an important thing for him.”
Essilor supplies lenses and didn’t focus on frames until two years ago when it merged with EssilorLuxotica. “Here in the Philippines, things will change with the entry of EssilorLuxotica,” Roleda noted. “Eventually, we will have frames. At the moment, frames always go through a distributor.”
Locally, Essilor has not yet officially marketed frames. “We work a lot with ophthalmologists since we don’t do retail,” Roleda said. “We only do wholesale. We sell to optical stores and eye centers.”
To promote its products, Essilor does not rely on advertising on television, radio, newspapers or billboards. “We communicate our products to our consumers through social media, Facebook,” Roleda said. “The presence of our visuals and the instructions that we provide in optical stores is also important.”
The eye clinic also does not rely heavily on endorsers, although a national entertainer, well-known journalist, and inspirational speaker use the brand.
Surprisingly enough, Roleda’s initial ambition was not to become a doctor. “I had nothing in mind of what I wanted to become when I went to school,” she said.
In college, she enrolled in an accounting course at the University of Santo Tomas (UST). “Then my classmate from high school said to me, ‘Let’s enroll in optometry. After only four years, we will already become doctors.’ So she was able to convince me.”
“So I took my files out to UST. Someone from the administration even warned me: ‘If you take this out, you can’t come back. I just nodded.”
She enrolled at Centro Escolar University (CEU) and eventually became a certified optometrist. “In our family, there is no optometrist,” said Roleda, the youngest of nine children. “I have a sister who is a dentist. One brother is a lawyer, one is in fine arts, another is in interior design and accounting.”
Roleda keeps Sunday as a day off. “I’m enjoying my day off,” she said. “Maybe my job is my passion, so late hours don’t bother me.”
She can, however, relax, with time for shopping, watching movies, eating out, and shopping. When she can travel again, she will want to go to Japan or Switzerland and visit cities that are not must-visit destinations in those countries.
The optometrist is an avowed member of BTS ARMY although she has yet to watch the popular South Korean boy group. Once this pandemic subsides, Roleda will surely find time to see BTS perform live on stage.
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