Alex Wilkes admits his leadership style may be a bit out of the ordinary.
“I’m the most laid back, high strung, competitive person you’ll ever meet,” he says. “I’m very casual but when it’s go time, it’s go time.”
Wilkes is using that style as president of Americas for CooperVision Inc., a role he has held since June of 2022.
In his role, Wilkes, 45, is responsible for the executive leadership and driving the growth of the company’s largest region, determining the strategic direction for the United States, Canada and Latin America.
Wilkes succeeds Jerry Warner, who was promoted to president of CooperVision in February 2022.
Warner — who has known Wilkes for about eight years — had no doubt about Wilkes’ ability to take over the role.
“We knew Alex would be a fantastic leader for CooperVision because he is a proven transformational thinker,” Warner says.
CooperVision, a division of San Ramon, Calif.-based Cooper Cos., is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of contact lenses. The business employs some 12,000 people globally and more than 1,000 people in the Rochester region — which represents 80 percent of CooperVision’s U.S. operations.
Wilkes, who moved here from Ohio, is no stranger to the area, having visited several times in the past (keeping an eye on homes for sale in Pittsford where he now lives with his family) even before the opportunity presented itself at CooperVision.
“I had a good feeling about this place,” he says.
Wilkes — whose father worked for the U.S. Department of Defense — lived in Germany for most of his early life. The family moved to a suburb of Detroit, MI, when Wilkes was a teen.
He then attended the University of Iowa, receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics, with a minor in German, in 2002.
From there, Wilkes took a consulting job at Deloitte, focusing on strategy and retail.
He stayed in the consulting arena until 2010 when he took a job with Luxottica, a premium, luxury and sports eyewear company, when he was based in Cincinnati, Ohio.
During his time there, Wilkes held a few roles, including serving as senior vice president and general manager of Pearle Vision, leading the expansion of one of the largest franchises in the vision care industry.
Before that, he served as vice president of Vision Care for LensCrafters at Luxottica (now EssilorLuxottica), where he had responsibility for 3,000 eye care professionals, all clinical services and the company’s contact lens portfolio.
He was very familiar with CooperVision when the job opportunity became available, having worked with the company over the years.
The decision to take the job was an easy one, he says, adding he has long admired the company for its values and direction.
“This is my dream job,” he says.
Travel is a big part of Wilkes’ job. He estimates he spends 60 percent of his time on the road visiting customers, attending trade shows and traveling to various CooperVision sites.
He takes the helm at a time when CooperVision is undergoing a major local expansion that will have a far-reaching impact on the business.
“What the company is doing locally is a critical component of manufacturing and distribution globally,” Wilkes said. “The level of innovation here is second to none.”
Due to increasing global demand for its contact lenses and a growing product portfolio, CooperVision has undertaken a $62 million project that expands and renovates its manufacturing and distribution facilities in Scottsville and West Henrietta.
The facilities manufacture, process and ship nearly one billion contact lenses each year to customers in North American, Latin American, European, Middle Eastern, African and Asian-Pacific markets.
CooperVision expects the expansions to create more than 170 local jobs, including positions in manufacturing, engineering and technical packaging. The business has already seen a roughly 10 percent increase in local headcount over the past year.
In West Henrietta, the project adds 150,000 square feet, enhanced storage technology and packaging capabilities, automated robots and an updated warehouse management system.
At the facility in Scottsville, a 5,500-square-foot expansion to the facility’s automated manufacturing operations will enable increased contact lens output. Additional technology upgrades will allow the facility to accommodate current and future product manufacturing growth, resulting in a more robust customer service offering.
The West Henrietta project will be completed this summer, while the Scottsville project will be operational by the end of next year, Wilkes says.
Jobs are also being added at the company’s corporate offices on High Point Drive in Victor, including a director of digital marketing and a pricing expert.
“We are growing here, with great people and great innovations,” Wilkes says. “We’re a gem in the Rochester area.”
Wilkes says CooperVision’s employees and customers are the best parts of the job.
“We are in a mature business but get to operate with the energy of a start-up,” Wilkes says, noting that mindset is due to the employees and customers.
Wilkes also brings his retail-centric focus to the company.
The retail sector is fast paced, sometimes requiring decisions by the hour and, with slimmer profit margins than other industries, requires a deep understanding of the numbers, he explains.
Working in such an atmosphere requires one to be disciplined and Wilkes believes that discipline is an asset for employees in any sector.
He is also aware of upcoming changes in the industry and is working on ways to meet them.
An example is the unprecedented pace of the optometry industry, which is seeing its own changes, including an increased use of electronic devices and their impact on vision.
In response, the company recently introduced MiSight 1 day, which are child-friendly daily disposable contact lenses proven to slow the progression of nearsightedness in children ages 8- to 12-years-old.
For inspiration, Wilkes often returns to two pieces of advice he has received over the years:
One is that a company will take whatever you are willing to give it, so be unapologetic when protecting your personal life.
The other is that it’s all about attitude and effort.
Those who now work with Wilkes say he is the right person for the job.
Dan Cornmire, senior director of finance for Americas at CooperVision, says Wilkes demands a lot from his team in a positive way.
“He insists the team drive toward ambitious goals and has built a culture that requires collaboration and partnership to achieve success,” Cornmire says, adding that Wilkes has a naturally disruptive way of thinking. “He knows our future success isn’t following the business-as-usual model and pushes the team to craft high impact strategies to deliver breakthrough growth.”
Melissa Kiewe, vice president of marketing at CooperVision, says Wilkes brings support and inspiration to the company.
“Alex has brought a spirit of thinking big, moving beyond the status quo,” she says. “This is critical for staying true to CooperVision’s values and ensuring the success of the team.”
[email protected] / (585) 653-4021
Name: Alex Wilkes
Title: president, Americas at CooperVision Inc.
Education: BA in economics, with a minor in German, from the University of Iowa in 2002
Family: wife, Angie, daughters, Abbie, 13, and Allie, 10, and son, Theo, 6
Hobbies: Peloton rider, skier
Quote: What the company is doing locally is a critical component of manufacturing and distribution globally. The level of innovation here is second to none.e