By Heather Blahnik (Madison '96, US '98, AI '99)
Ray-Ban. Oakley. LensCrafters. Sunglass Hut. Pearle Vision. You know these names and a big reason why is AIESEC alumnus Eric Anderson. He is currently the President and General Manager of LensCrafters for Luxottica, the world’s largest eyewear company. In his 16 year career at the company, Eric has overseen almost all of the brands under Luxottica’s umbrella and helped to make them world-famous.
Eric’s AIESEC career began while attending the University of Illinois. He joined and was then elected to be one of two delegates to attend the 1983 AIESEC European Motivational Seminar at Siofolk on Lake Balatan – outside Budapest, Hungary. It was there he caught the “big picture” of AIESEC.
“Stephanie Ryan (AIESEC-Trinity) and I were the only two Americans in attendance at that conference. It was amazing for me to meet so many young, like-minded individuals hungry to learn more about Western business – despite living in the shadow of the USSR. It was a great experience. I remember cutting my hand on the side view mirror of a passing car while playing frisbee with some of my new friends. I ended up getting stitches from an intimidating doctor – with no anesthetic. I also remember singing a duet with a young French girl from AIESEC-Pau (France).”
Eric returned to Illinois determined to take on bigger roles within AIESEC, and for the next few years he did. He was Local Committee President, Student Director of the South and then served on the AIESEC US National Staff, where he fundraised an office for himself in Chicago while working between there and New York City. By the time he landed at Luxottica in 1998, he had worked in China and England on AIESEC traineeships, lived in New York, and acquired his MBA at the University of Michigan.
At Luxottica, Eric started out as Director of Marketing for LensCrafter. He then moved on to an international role as Senior Director for Ray-Ban Global Marketing after Luxottica acquired the brand in 1999. There he was responsible for developing the brand positioning of Ray-Ban as “Genuine Since 1937” and for engineering product placement of Ray Ban sunglasses in films such as “Men in Black 2” and “Pearl Harbor.”
“The best part about placing classic Ray-Ban Aviators on actors in the movie Pearl Harbor was being able to attend the premier on the deck of an aircraft carrier in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. For Men in Black 2, we co-designed the Ray-Ban "Predator J" with Will Smith, which was interesting but also really difficult. The final design was so bad that we ended up with a lot of inventory that didn't sell.”
After Ray-Ban, Eric went on to work with Sunglass Hut in 2001 and then Pearle Vision in 2004. Eric did so well in these roles that he was then given the challenge of turning around the 330-store Target Optical business in 2008, where he served as Store Operations Leader and General Manager with full P&L responsibility.
“We completely reinvented the store experience (product, pricing, store design, associate profile) to be seamless with the Target host. The business responded by delivering double digit positive sales each of the last 6 years and has become the most productive department in the entire store. This has helped us gain additional locations from Target.”
True to his AIESEC roots, Eric went abroad to Chile to serve as Chief Executive and General Manager of GMO Opticas, the Latin American Optical Retail Division of Luxottica Group. With 500 stores and with 2000 employees, in Chile, Peru, Ecuador, and Columbia, Eric was responsible for growing the business and increasing profitability. Eric was successful there and two years after he moved to Chile, he was asked to return to the US to become President and General Manager of LensCrafters and its billion dollar operation.
When asked what the biggest benefit of his AIESEC days was, Eric replied:
“AIESEC exposed me to the “business of running a business.” Unlike school where you learn theories, AIESEC helps you put it into practice. Unconsciously, I learned how to work with people, widely diverse people. The business I am in is incredibly service oriented and requires flexibility. AIESEC played a key role in honing the skills necessary to be successful in that environment.”
Moving forward, Eric wants to give back to AIESEC by training others and passing on the lessons he has learned. He’s already taken time out of his busy schedule to address the students at Miami of Ohio and pass on his passion for AIESEC.
Long-time friend and fellow alumnus, Paul Hamill, has this to say about Eric:
“Eric always had a positive attitude, even when he had setbacks and personal challenges. That spirit has always been a tremendous strength that has served him well back when we were in AIESEC Miami together and roommates during our traineeships in Hong Kong. I have been helping AIESEC-Miami get re-established from Atlanta, and Eric drove to Oxford from Cincinnati a couple of weeks ago to give a speech to prospective members there after I put him in touch with Ryan and Jake, the students leading the "new" LC. They called me the next day and told me Eric's stories and leadership lessons had inspired them and that they were amazed that he had said that being active in AIESEC was probably even more valuable than taking two traineeships.”
Given his wealth of knowledge, experience, and success, others can learn a lot from him. Eric is a supporting member of AIESEC Life.