Conformer shells are now available for purchase please click here
It is my dream of mine to produce high quality conformer shells. A few years ago I set out to make it happen. This project is described here in a recent interview I did for university study into innovation.
The study investigates how people have found ways to express their values and ethical commitments through developing innovative business initiatives.
Jenny and I thought you would be interested in hearing about the project so here it is.
My name is Paul Geelen and I am an ocularist. My sister Jenny and I manage and operate a small business called “ Artificial Eye Services”. We custom manufacture and fit artificial eyes.
This is a family business. My mother founded it in 1981 and I started my traineeship with her in 1989.
The work we do is personally satisfying as we feel we are making a beneficial difference in people’s self image and confidence. It gives me great pleasure to fit an eye and watch the reaction when people look at themselves with their prosthesis for the first time.
Q Why did you get involved in starting this venture?
I have initiated a small business venture to manufacture components for artificial eyes in the Philippines. In our clinic in Perth we found that the conformer shells fitted in the eye socket after eye removal surgery were of a very poor standard.
The flaws in the conformer shells were causing discomfort in the eye socket with excessive discharge and extended healing time. We decided to create a new conformer shell which is polished to a clinical standard. This is a labour intensive process which requires time and patience and care but does not require a lot of training.
(To get a better understanding of the operation and the purpose of the conformer shell please have a look at the page “The Operation”)
Q What values were fundamental to this project being started?
My inspiration for this venture was my wife Luz who is from the Philippines. Luz is supporting her family in Manilla and has become the main provider for her family there. I started this project to provide meaningful employment for her family and provide a sustainable income source.
Q What other reasons were important for you in setting out on this project?
My objective was to create a sustainable, financially self supporting venture which would provide employment for people in the Philippines while producing a world class product which would assist ophthalmologists to achieve a better outcome with enucleation surgery.
The long term goal of this venture is to train the people in the Philippines to manufacture and fit artificial eyes in a clinic in the Philippines. The manufacture of the conformer shells provides experience for much of the process of making an eye prosthesis such as polishing an eye and casting moulds.
Q What negative responses did you encounter?
People have been mostly supportive. The real challenges I had were language and distance problems. In order to communicate with staff in the Philippines I had to explain things to my wife who would pass the information on to them. My wife is very much involved in the day to day drama of family life in the Philippines and much of what I was trying to communicate was lost in translation.
Q What reservations did you have about the project?
My main reservation about setting up the venture was mixing family and business. The people I am working with are laid back, easy to get along with people. In order for this venture to work they would have to change their mindset. It was a big job to achieve the professional standard that was required.
Q What did you say to overcome problems?
The problems were overcome with time and patience. There were many conversations about quotas and quality. While the process took a lot longer than anticipated there was no urgency to start distribution and we were able to wait until the conformer shells were being produced at a professional standard.
Q Can you give me a general example of the conversations we had with people who were opposed?
There were no opposition to the project as such. There were challenges along the way.
One of the problems I have is time management. I do most of the training while I am in the Philippines on vacation. A conversation I have had with my father is why I don’t take a proper vacation and enjoy my time off as I work hard during the year and should have a proper holiday.
My response to this is if you have ever spent time in the Philippines you can see that the problems there are just too big to fix. If I can do something to improve the lives of just a few people then it is worthwhile. It would be hard to just enjoy the holiday when so many people are finding it so hard to exist day to day.
Q Did you debate the issues with yourself? How did these self-debates tend to run?
I regularly debate the issues and challenges of this project with myself. I am probably my own biggest critic. Now that I have started on this venture I have four staff and their families dependant on the income they derive from the business. The venture is not self supporting and I am tied by family responsibility to retain their employment.
Q How did you find the courage to respond, to keep on going with your plans?
My motivation to continue with the venture is my belief that the business model is sound and the social benefits are proven. I have also gone past the point of no return and this venture has to work in order to maintain the benefits it is providing.
Q What skills were important in overcoming negative views?
Patience and optimism are beneficial to overcome negative views. Good communication is also required. The work they are doing in the Philippines is repetitive and uninspiring. It would be easy to become complacent especially considering it is unsupervised work. It is important for the staff to recognize why the work they are doing is important. I will often see clients in the Philippines. Many of these are charity cases. This is to show the staff the end product and to remind them how important their work is.
Q What was the most important source of support for you in all this?
My most important source of support for this venture is my sister and business partner Jenny. We have invested tens of thousands of dollars into this venture through our business with no prospect of any financial return in the near future. She has also allowed me to invest my time in the venture by looking after the business in Perth in my absence.
Q What have you learned from this experience?
The venture is evolving and I am learning from it every day. I have learned that to take a vision and turn it into a reality is a lot of hard work. You need to communicate the concept to people and make it real in their minds. When I started employing and training staff I do not believe they were confident that they had job security or that the venture would work. They now have pride in their work and job satisfaction. This took more than a year to create this belief in them.
Q What has been the outcome of this experience for you, the organization and others?
I am looking forward to the day the venture becomes self sustaining. It has not achieved the outcomes I am looking for yet but I am quietly confident it will happen soon.
For clients who were suffering with poor quality conformer shells unfortunately we have not got to the stage of distribution yet and clients are still suffering with all the problems that led us off on this venture in the first place.
For the staff in the Philippines this venture has already provided them with financial independence and given them a job that they can have pride in. They still have much to learn and with that education they will move closer to a rewarding career.