Carl Zeiss’s Jim Mazzo Talks About Failing Fast, the Reply All Button and Reaching the Customer

Ophthalmology veteran Jim Mazzo has led companies of every size. Hear how those experiences are guiding him in his new post at Zeiss.

Podcast Guest:

Jim Mazzo

James V. Mazzo is Global President for Carl Zeiss Meditec’s Strategic Business Unit Ophthalmic Devices, which includes Ophthalmic Diagnostics, Surgical Ophthalmology and Refractive Lasers. He also heads the company’s U.S. Sales and Service Center.

View Full Profile


Tom Salemi: Hey, everybody, Tom Salemi here. Thanks for joining us on the OIS Podcast. Very happy to have you here. We’re still digesting the bolus of content coming from OIS@AAO. We’re beginning to send it out. So take a look at your inbox. Do sign up for the Eye on Innovation Newsletter if you haven’t already. You will get much of the content that way, and also our own original reporting and these great Podcasts and video from the conference, etc., etc. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be signed up. It’s free and it’s very, very informative. So just go to, provide your email and we’ll send you the Eye On Innovation Newsletter. Today we’re going to revisit with our old friend Jim Mazzo. We met up with Jim at OIS@AAO. A few months ago, we talked to him when he first took over at Carl Zeiss. At OIS@AAO, we had the chance to visit again and talk to him about the changes he’s made. When we talked to him initially, we thought he needed a little more time, or he thought he needed a little more time to sort of comment more completely as to what he would like to see happen at Zeiss. In this interview at OIS, he opened up a bit, talked about some of the changes he made to the management team, some of the work he’s doing on the philosophy and how he feels about the Reply All function on email. So Jim’s a great guy. I hope you enjoy this conversation with him at OIS@AAO.

TS: Hi, this is Tom Salemi from OIS TV. Please to be joined by Jim Mazzo. He’s the Global President of Ophthalmology at Carl Zeiss Meditec. Congratulations on the new gig.

Jim Mazzo: Thanks, Tom. Nice to see you. How have you been?

TS: Been doing great.

JM: How’s the meeting going?

TS: So far, so good. I haven’t been able to see any of it. I’m locked away in this very dark room.

JM: That’s OK. That’s OK.

TS: But I assume it’s going along terrifically outside. So I know you’re on our panel today about building ophthalmic business unit. And a lot of interesting companies: Shire, Sun, J&J and of course Zeiss all ramping up practices. What’s going on?

JM: Well, you know, this is my 36th year in the industry. And every year I keep thinking, Well, we’re probably going to start to see a slowdown, and something else happens. Obviously now J&J and my old company, AMO. But what I think is happening is you’re seeing that ophthalmology still is at the highest level of interest by a lot of companies, big and small. And why is that? We’ve got unmet needs still to have products going forward. Retina, dry eye, presbyopia, all categories that really the patients are requiring new technologies. So these large companies are looking at our space and saying, Hey, great demographics; let’s get in. Small companies saying, I’m going to focus on a technology and maybe come through the acquisition. So 36 years I’m still not surprised at what’s going on.

TS: And you joined Zeiss a few months ago, and when we talked to you in the Podcast this summer, you were going to take some time to do an assessment –

JM: Right.

TS: – take a look at the business. How’s that going? How’s that process coming? What’s it like to sort of move into this already a leader, an acknowledged special player in the space, but still to come in with a fresh perspective?

JM: You know, it’s actually been fun, and I’ll tell you why. I started out with a large company, Allergan, and then of course spun AMO, created that to make a large company. Then I went dark for a couple years and went to some small companies. I ran some small companies and took a lot of learnings from that. And actually, my first almost 90 days, what I’m starting to push more into is that small company mentality within a large company. Take the benefits of the small company, which is focus, fail fast, get the right people in the right places, and execute, and then use the large company resources on breadth and depth of product line and people. So we’re starting to merge that. I’ve made some organizational changes. Aaron Schallhorn now running all of professional education. Today I’m announcing Steve Schallhorn is reporting directly to myself as Chief Medical Officer. Andy Chang came over from Bausch and Lomb, moved a couple other Zeiss people into business development and into head of diagnostics. So we’re making changes really focused around the customer, which you know me for a long period of time.

TS: Sure.

JM: The most important person at Zeiss is the customer. And so now we need to align our organization that way.

TS: I was going to ask about changing the culture. So that’s obviously a great way to do it, to bring in people with fresh perspectives like yourselves. And you’re drawing from many different players as well. It’s not like you’re pulling from the old Allergan medley

JM: No, no, I’m not taking from somebody old. I think what’s great is Zeiss has had 150-year culture in our industry. They were here in the past, they’re here today, and they’re going to be here in the future. Not a lot of other companies can say that. So we’re building on that. But what we’re trying to do is a little more customer orientation, making sure that we understand what the customers’ requirements are. You know, a lot of times, people build structures, and then assume that the doctor understands the structure. They could care less about how we’re organized. So what we’re trying to do is have clear definitions of responsibility, execute against those, and make sure that the customer is not inhibited by our design of our structure, but it’s more powerful for them to be able to make their decisions on a daily basis.

TS: And you mentioned the fail fast mentality. Does that reflect every part of the business? Or specifically to R&D and innovation?

JM: Well, I’m doing a really good job of failing fast. But I have a history of that. No, I think that’s actually everywhere. People seem to think of it as an R&D, and I’m trying to create that culture too within R&D is let’s kill a project if it’s not, and let’s accelerate a project. But also the fail fast in just your decision making. You know, think of the amount of emails you get every day. Think about the amount of meetings you get every day. I consider failing fast meaning why do we need that meeting? Kill it. Why do we need those multiple emails? Kill Reply All. Let’s start with that one right off the bat. But I think it’s that mentality of how do you want to spend your time. When you’re in a small company, time is so critical because you’re only funded to a certain point. If you don’t get to that point, you’re not getting funded. When you’re a large company, you know funds are always going to be there. So time is not as critical. I’m trying to create the time is critical because we have to move fast. We have to move forward and we have to take advantage.

TS: Do you have a Twitter feed? You should have a Twitter feed.

JM: No. I don’t know how the hell to do Twitter. I’ll leave that up to smart people like you.

TS: Oh, sure, sure. You’ve got a lot of thoughts you need to share with the world. Final question: how do you think Zeiss is going to look 3 to 5 years from now? What happens?

JM: Well, that’s a great question. Five years, I have no clue because as I started this conversation, I’m amazed every year. Let’s say three years from now. I hope what Zeiss has not lost what Zeiss has done, which is a great culture of top technology, a great culture of making sure that they’ve been committed to this great industry of ophthalmology and optometry. What I hope we have seen is that our customer service is rated as the best of any company. You know, what I’ve said today to our Zeiss team is that customer service will carry an organization with great products. You have to have great products and great service. If you don’t provide the best service, the product alone cannot carry you. And that’s not only in our industry. You see that across retail industries, you see that across. People will pay for great products as long as they get great service. So I want Zeiss to be recognized for great products and great service.

TS: And how do you measure that?

JM: How do I measure it? Well we do, do customer surveys. But to a point, I measure that by actually – as you know me, 36 years, every day I’m talking to the customer. And the customer, what I love about it because I’ve been around so long, they’re brutally honest with me. And I meet to them across the globe. And if I start to hear comments about Hey, I’m really seeing a difference in the service, then that’s how I’m going to measure it. But we’ll of course do the traditional surveys. We’ll do obviously what we see when we get feedback from them on the phone. We’ll be much more automated, too, about how we’re doing. But still want to get the sense from the customers, and that’s what I love, and that’s why I love this space.

TS: Are you going to be making sales calls with the young sales person?

JM: I’ll be making sales calls all the time because that’s the only time I have any fun is when I’m in the field talking to the customer.

TS: I believe that. I believe that entirely. Thanks for joining us, Jim.

JM: Thanks, Tom, always great.

TS: All right, everybody, that’s a wrap. Jim Mazzo, thanks so much for bringing us up to speed on what’s going on at Carl Zeiss Meditec. It’s great to see you leading the ophthalmic devices unit, and look forward to hearing many of the changes going forward. Happy to say we’ll have Andy Chang, who joined the company just before OIS@AAO. He sat down with us after the conference and we had a nice conversation about what he hopes to bring to the company. So please keep an eye out or an ear out for that Podcast in the future. And of course you won’t have to keep an eye out if you sign up for the Eye on Innovation Newsletter. So go to You can just provide us your email and we’ll send you the Eye on Innovation Newsletter with all of our podcasts and our videos and our written content coming your way. So thanks for joining us, everyone, for listening in to the OIS Podcast, and please do tune in next week for another tale of innovation.