Alcon to get to next level with new chief executive officer

When Kevin Buehler takes the reins as chief executive officer of Alcon Inc. after the March 31 retirement of Cary Rayment, one of his goals will be to increase the pace of innovation at the company, to drive growth, he tells Ophthalmology Times in an exclusive interview.

Key Points

Fort Worth, TX-The new leader of Alcon Inc., Kevin Buehler, 51, said he will continue the company's growth strategy by investing heavily in its own research and development to create innovative products to save patients' eyesight.

Although some companies grow through acquisition, Alcon has focused instead on aggressively developing and selling its own products.

"One of the goals I have is to increase the pace of our innovation to drive growth, but I see us focused on those three areas and then driving the performance by leveraging our commercial operation globally and, very simply, capturing market share at a faster rate than our competitors."

Tradition of growth

When Buehler joined Alcon from Gillette in 1984, the eye-care company was a small, U.S.-centric firm with about $400 million in annual sales. Today, Alcon has exploded into the world's largest eye-care company, with more than $6 billion in annual sales in nearly every part of the world.

"You never come with the dream that you would be the CEO," Buehler said. "It's a huge honor to me to have this opportunity. You also feel a sense of responsibility to keep this tradition going."

It is likely that tradition will continue to grow outside of the United States. Even before the economic downturn began, Alcon had noticed its sales accelerating in international markets, and not just in China, Russia, and India. Smaller countries, such as Poland and Turkey, also are becoming prime growth areas, Buehler said. As the number of surgical procedures grows, doctors begin to accept and adopt new technology in pharmaceutical areas as well, and consumers grow more comfortable with over-the-counter products such as contact lens solutions.

Although the challenging economy is resulting in a decrease in the number of LASIK and other elective procedures being performed, Buehler said, Alcon's future is secure because patients need its products; patient adherence to therapy always is an issue with glaucoma medication, for instance, but ultimately patients will lose their vision if they don't take their medication.

"So while there might be interruptions in usage, over the long term, people have to use these products to maintain their sight," he said. "That doesn't mean we're immune from these issues, because these are clearly not normal times, but it makes us more diligent in creating new products in our research and development effort and in our commercial activities to grow market share so we can still perform in a good way during difficult times, and when the good times come back again, we're in a much stronger position."

Rayment, who served as CEO for more than 4 years, said the timing was right for him to step down but that he intends to stay active in the ophthalmic community as a board member. He said he is looking forward to more international leisure travel with his wife, particularly to areas such as Istanbul, Turkey, and Hanoi, Vietnam.

"I'm very pleased Alcon has continued to grow from a sales and profit standpoint but also, more importantly, to develop innovative products that we believe have advanced eye care," said Rayment, adding that Buehler is well-suited to the role of CEO. "My goal was to develop our global infrastructure and make sure we were serving patients and eye-care specialists around the world."