Challenges in Ophthalmology with April Steinert

Mazzo explains challenge of formulating one team with one successful global message

Listening without interrupting, adapting to different cultures and understanding how a company works can help shape the vision for an organization.
April Steinert

James “Jim” Mazzo, global president ophthalmic devices for Carl Zeiss Meditec, graciously agreed to sit for my first “Challenges in Ophthalmology” interview. I have been fortunate to call Jim a dear friend for many years, and I also have a deep respect for his work ethic and opinion on all matters ophthalmology.

After combing through Jim’s CV, it is tough not to notice that he has run several multinational corporations and has lived abroad in several countries. I asked Jim about his time overseas, and it was not long before we got into the meat of the interview; lo and behold, that is what Jim brought up as his most significant business challenge.

“When your company is across the globe, there are many regional and cultural differences. There are market-specific challenges. Trying to assimilate all of those differences into one cohesive customer-focused entity can be a challenge,” he explained. You need to understand the challenges and the differences, but first and foremost, you need to listen to the customer, to focus the organization on the customer, the doctor, on what they need for their practice and for their patients. In doing this, you shape the vision for the organization and the team — why you are doing what you are doing. To achieve this unified goal, the team needs to buy into this vision and translate a consistent message across cultures and continents.

There are several approaches Jim has employed throughout his career that have helped him with this challenge.

The first is his philosophy of “two ears, one mouth” — in short, passive vs. active listening. This is the difficult task of listening without interrupting, which proves increasingly tricky the more senior and experienced one becomes. It is human nature to begin formulating a response to a speaker, and while doing so, you do not hear the unique aspects of their experience. You are grafting yours onto theirs. Listening is key to understanding.

Jim’s time living overseas has also given him a window in which to see and gain respect for the unique customs and cultures inherent in every country. Through this window, he has learned that it is not helpful to force a culture to adapt to his style. When entering a new environment, Jim starts from the bottom up. He reaches out to the sales reps and their customers first. Jim listens. He asks what is important — what is needed for the doctor and what is needed for their patients. He shares ideas and examples. He asks the team how best to successfully “fit” those ideas into their region and structure. He listens to all concerns while working his way to the top. You have to “get the team to work with you to support the vision for the organization” if you want the company to thrive.

James Mazzo

In Jim’s 38 years in ophthalmology and optometry, he has done almost every job: sales rep, marketing, manufacturing, managing districts and R&D. This understanding of the nuts and bolts of an ophthalmic company’s operations gives him an advantage most do not have.

At the conclusion of our interview, I asked Jim, when thinking back on his accomplished career, would he have done anything differently. He was quiet for a moment and responded that when he became chairman and CEO of Advanced Medical Optics during its spinoff from Allergan, he should have taken time early on to “prioritize one critical message across the globe” rather than “forcing too many messages.” His advice is, “Don’t let time be your pressure because all you’re doing is wasting time.”

Jim’s advice brings us right back to his biggest challenge, the genesis of our interview: the challenge of formulating one team with one vision, with a consistent message that will successfully span the globe.

Here is a human problem and not just a business problem. Perhaps if our leaders, and we as individuals, could practice more passive listening rather than active listening, we would find more positivity and contentment in our lives.

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences.” – Audre Lorde

Disclosure: Mazzo reports he is global president ophthalmic devices for Carl Zeiss Meditec. Steinert reports no relevant financial disclosures.

April Steinert

James “Jim” Mazzo, global president ophthalmic devices for Carl Zeiss Meditec, graciously agreed to sit for my first “Challenges in Ophthalmology” interview. I have been fortunate to call Jim a dear friend for many years, and I also have a deep respect for his work ethic and opinion on all matters ophthalmology.

After combing through Jim’s CV, it is tough not to notice that he has run several multinational corporations and has lived abroad in several countries. I asked Jim about his time overseas, and it was not long before we got into the meat of the interview; lo and behold, that is what Jim brought up as his most significant business challenge.

“When your company is across the globe, there are many regional and cultural differences. There are market-specific challenges. Trying to assimilate all of those differences into one cohesive customer-focused entity can be a challenge,” he explained. You need to understand the challenges and the differences, but first and foremost, you need to listen to the customer, to focus the organization on the customer, the doctor, on what they need for their practice and for their patients. In doing this, you shape the vision for the organization and the team — why you are doing what you are doing. To achieve this unified goal, the team needs to buy into this vision and translate a consistent message across cultures and continents.

There are several approaches Jim has employed throughout his career that have helped him with this challenge.

The first is his philosophy of “two ears, one mouth” — in short, passive vs. active listening. This is the difficult task of listening without interrupting, which proves increasingly tricky the more senior and experienced one becomes. It is human nature to begin formulating a response to a speaker, and while doing so, you do not hear the unique aspects of their experience. You are grafting yours onto theirs. Listening is key to understanding.

Jim’s time living overseas has also given him a window in which to see and gain respect for the unique customs and cultures inherent in every country. Through this window, he has learned that it is not helpful to force a culture to adapt to his style. When entering a new environment, Jim starts from the bottom up. He reaches out to the sales reps and their customers first. Jim listens. He asks what is important — what is needed for the doctor and what is needed for their patients. He shares ideas and examples. He asks the team how best to successfully “fit” those ideas into their region and structure. He listens to all concerns while working his way to the top. You have to “get the team to work with you to support the vision for the organization” if you want the company to thrive.

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James Mazzo

In Jim’s 38 years in ophthalmology and optometry, he has done almost every job: sales rep, marketing, manufacturing, managing districts and R&D. This understanding of the nuts and bolts of an ophthalmic company’s operations gives him an advantage most do not have.

At the conclusion of our interview, I asked Jim, when thinking back on his accomplished career, would he have done anything differently. He was quiet for a moment and responded that when he became chairman and CEO of Advanced Medical Optics during its spinoff from Allergan, he should have taken time early on to “prioritize one critical message across the globe” rather than “forcing too many messages.” His advice is, “Don’t let time be your pressure because all you’re doing is wasting time.”

Jim’s advice brings us right back to his biggest challenge, the genesis of our interview: the challenge of formulating one team with one vision, with a consistent message that will successfully span the globe.

Here is a human problem and not just a business problem. Perhaps if our leaders, and we as individuals, could practice more passive listening rather than active listening, we would find more positivity and contentment in our lives.

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences.” – Audre Lorde

Disclosure: Mazzo reports he is global president ophthalmic devices for Carl Zeiss Meditec. Steinert reports no relevant financial disclosures.