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Lead With Your Authentic Self

Over the years, Dr. Carla Mack has capitalized on her experiences and been intentional with building relationships to bring her to a leadership position at Alcon

Dr. Mack in blue jeans and a blazer, talking about leading with her authentic selfCarla Mack, OD, MBA, FAAO, FBCLA, has found herself evaluating options at several key points in her career. Some of that was based on timing, but much of that was by recognizing the opportunities for new experiences that presented themselves and acting on them.

For example, she spent about 14 years at The Ohio State University with a dual role of clinical faculty and clinic director. During that time, she developed skills on budgeting, managing a large team, understanding research and presenting new ideas, and it put her in a position to interact with leaders from industry. “I found that I was interested in seeing how companies function, bring products to market and how they’re organized. So there came a point where I felt like I had accomplished what I wanted in academia and was ready to try something new.”

She made a conscious decision to earn an executive MBA and spent about five years helping with the strategy for Contact Lens Spectrum, including a year as chief editor, which offered another opportunity to interact with industry professionals and leaders.

Her first foray into industry with Bausch + Lomb, she was intentional about finding a global role starting in medical affairs and strategically make a move to the commercial side of the business in professional marketing. For the past nearly 10 years, she’s been with Alcon, and in March, she became Head, Global and U.S. Professional Education and Development at Alcon.


Dr. Mack says that the optometric profession, and most businesses for that matter, have seen a slow rise in women reaching higher levels of leadership.  As more women do rise to these levels, it may speed up the trend. “When you see people who are representative of you in positions like this, it helps you to say, ‘I can do that, too.’ Within Alcon, there have been wonderful mentors,” she says.

She counts Kristen Brotherson, vice president, U.S. Vision Care Sale, Jeannette Bankes, president and GM Global Surgical Franchise, Sue-Jean Lin, who leads Information Technology Transformation initiatives within Alcon. “They are bold, speak their mind and in roles traditionally held by men.”


Dr. Mack, too, is happy to help others explore career paths in industry. Here is some of her advice.

Be intentional. If you’re not sure what you want to do, first do the research. Understand the differences in organization functions like research and development, sales and marketing to help you identify your niche.

Get out of your comfort zone. For Dr. Mack, that was earning her executive MBA because she felt like she needed more of the business skills. Steps like this “can be costly and time-consuming, but you have to build your knowledge base.”

You can step in slowly. There might be opportunities such as serving on an advisory board or becoming a speaker for the company where you’ll have a chance to see how the company operates and develop deeper connections with people who can help you.

Be guided by what interests you. If your passion is on specialty lenses, then approach specialty lens companies. If it’s with a certain disease state, explore the pharmaceutical or technology companies that are focused on that.

Relationships take time. Establish relationships with industry leaders, reach out on LinkedIn and invite them to meet you for coffee at a conference, and ask who else you might talk to. The more focused your direction is, the more readily those referrals to other possible connections may come.


Dr. Mack adds that the more time she spent in leadership positions, the more comfortable she became in that role. “Early in my career, when I’d show up at a meeting as a key opinion leader or consultant, I showed up one-dimensionally. I felt I needed to look and sound like the others in the room – primarily men. But even if they talked about their lives outside of work, I didn’t share that I was a single mom as it could be perceived as a weakness,” she says.

Over time, however, she began to present her true self. “What I thought were potential weaknesses – such as a different way of looking at something or the ability to juggle many priorities – were strengths. I began to dress as myself, not as what I imagined a KOL had to look like and share more about my life outside of work. Now the Carla you see at work is the same Carla you will see in my private life,” she says.

She picked up the best advice from an executive coach. “Life happens ‘by’ you, not ‘to’ you. That’s an important distinction. If your attitude is that you don’t get opportunities or you don’t have a say in a situation, you’re letting things happen to you. You make more calculated decisions when you feel that you have some control.”

The shift was “liberating. I hope for other people, that shift occurs earlier in their career.”

The tips she provides for exploring an industry role in fact apply to exploring your own career and leadership goals. “Build on your strengths. Get out of your comfort zone. Develop deeper relationships with colleagues and stakeholders. Be curious and ask questions.”


An important element is also to be able to recognize when it’s time to say no. “As ODs, we tend to be nice. We want to help. But sometimes, keeping your focus on doing less means you can do it better.” In her new role, she is establishing a new function in Alcon, professional education and development, her team is focused on building relationships with eye care professionals, bringing their insights in to help drive the business and providing multi-media peer to peer education. “We need to listen and learn from them to determine what the drivers of success are in so many different modes of practices and among eye care professionals with different goals. And, we need to develop the best education to drive better understanding of our products so more patients have the opportunity to see brilliantly.”

She is taking the same drive, determination and confidence that have led her to this point to help foster an even better relationship between Alcon and the eye care professionals who connect patients to its products.


© 2023 Alcon Inc.     US-VC-PRA-2300010


Read other stories on WO from Alcon here.

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