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March 2013 : Marge Axelrad, 14th Annual Pleiades Award Winner

By Christie Walker
Marge Axelrad

Before Marge Axelrad discovered the optical industry and the industry discovered her, she was a business-to-business reporter in the men's apparel, department store, and home furnishings fields. A psychology major with a minor in literature, Axelrad always thought she'd end up in law school.

"But as a woman in the mid-70s, if you didn't have perfect law board scores, you weren't going to get into law school. The competition was fierce," said Axelrad.

Since her law boards were "mediocre," she decided to work in New York City for a year before retaking her boards. Her first job was with Fairchild Publications — the publisher of WWD and other trade magazines — as an admin assistant in sales. She hated it. Then one day, the assistant to the Editor-in-Chief quit and she was asked if she was interested in moving to the editorial side of the business. After being an editorial assistant, they eventually gave Axelrad her own "beat" — boy's clothing and men's socks!

"I was in heaven," remembers Axelrad. "I learned a lot about business journalism and as I learned more about the retail business, the editor gave me more and bigger stories."

Her life really changed when a headhunter tried recruiting Axelrad for an editorial position in the eyewear industry. She really wasn't interested in changing jobs but her Dad always told her, "Never dismiss potential opportunities." So she went on the interview as a lark. During the interview, Axelrad met Bob A. Amato, Jobson's former owner/president. Amato told her, "Kid, come over here. We just started this newspaper called Vision Monday and we really need you."

Axelrad was so scared to leave her current job that it took her an "agonizing" week to make the decision to take the job offer. In May of 1988, she joined Jobson and has been there ever since. Bob A. Amato became a good friend and mentor to Axelrad. "Bob was a champion. He gave me so much opportunity and guided me a great deal. He really drove us all to do better and to keep up!" said Axelrad. When Marc Ferrara became her boss, Axelrad found a new mentor who taught her how to listen, come up with solutions, and how to keep a sense of calm. "He is the master of calm under pressure," said Axelrad.

In the early days of the optical industry there weren't too many women in management roles, and some older, male executives had a hard time taking Axelrad seriously. However, things were changing. "I felt the best approach to take was to ensure that people knew they could trust me; that they could trust me with confidences about their companies, their challenges, and their businesses. That turned out to be the best way to gain credibility. It did, though, take me a while to have patience and learn the best and most productive ways to communicate — with both men and women," said Axelrad. "Just because you think it, doesn't mean you always have to say it!"

Today Axelrad is the senior vice president/editorial director for Vision Monday and 20/20, though the majority of her time is spent on VM and its related businesses like VMail, VisionMonday print, and, as well as e-newsletters and live events like the VM Global Leadership Summit.

"I represent Jobson and VM to the companies and decision-makers in the industry and have been fortunate to meet and interact with many, many incredible people," said Axelrad.

It was Axelrad's connections and her networking abilities that were instrumental in reaching out to the industry in the early days of the OWA. As a founding board member, and part of the OWA Program Committee, Axelrad helped create programs such as the Pleiades award events, networking events, and workshops. Using her journalism expertise, Axelrad helped the fledgling organization with its marketing and communication efforts, later joining the OWA's Professional Development Fund and Nominating committees. Axelrad served as co-president for a term and sat on the board for many years. She is still on three OWA committees including the program, nominating, and professional development committees. Besides her involvement with the OWA, Axelrad is on the board of Prevent Blindness America, and also takes part in the UJA-Federation of NY, trying to (re)build the eyewear industry's involvement with that group.

Axelrad's unwavering commitment to the OWA over the past 15 years makes her the perfect recipient of the 14th annual Pleiades award.

"I'm clearly convinced that what the OWA has accomplished is not something I've done, but it represents the work of all of the amazing individual women who have taken part in OWA since it started," said Axelrad. "That it is now a firmly established professional development group in the optical business — one that is attracting participation from women of all sectors, from newcomers to the business to experienced executives — is the best!"

Back to: March 2013 : March 2013 Newsletter

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