Fred Friedfeld, a giant in our industry, showed us how to be our best selves

BY Robert Bell

Published in the September-October 2014 issue

This has been a difficult column for me to write. This summer, our industry was saddened to mark the passing of an industry icon. A giant and a gentlemen. Together, we mourn the loss of Fred Friedfeld, who, along with his beloved wife, Mimi, founded ClearVision Optical 65 years ago.

Whether you knew Mr. Friedfeld or not, we should celebrate his contributions to our daily, professional lives. Though I was not close with him, I had the good fortune to know Fred for many years since he was a dear friend to my father. I grew up admiring him, and I could supply a list of his many accomplishments. But his strongest legacy is that he simply made this a nicer industry in which to work. Trust me, nothing could be more important.

I shouldn’t use the word “simply,” because there was nothing simple about it. When you are surrounded by intense competition, when it’s every man for himself, when it’s a dog-eat-dog world, when you are competing with cutthroat tactics, it’s very easy to fall into the same trap and do business the way everyone else does.

But Fred was different. It wasn’t about him. It was about everyone else. Yes, of course, the next sentence is going to be “he took care of his customers’ needs first.” Makes sense, right? Except that’s not where it ended with Fred. He took care of his employees, his vendors and his peers, too. He had this inexplicable way to make those around him feel important and special.

And, no matter who you are, don’t we all crave to be around someone like that? It makes us feel better about ourselves and helps us flourish.

An example of how he treated people is in an unexpected letter he sent my father in October 2009.

Dear Larry,
What a wonderful time we had. We will all remember it.
I want to wish you a happy, happy birthday.
I am enclosing a special $2 bill which I purchased in 1976. This bill has never been touched by humans except myself. It will bring you good health and happiness. I only give these to special people and you are one of those. Keep well and keep in touch.
— Fred
This letter, lovely in itself, was handwritten, in the age of emails. But the gift of a $2 bill, purchased 33 years ago, gave my father a feeling he still cannot fully describe. Of course, he still has the $2 bill and he cried when he read this letter to me over the phone. Fred touched him in a remarkable way. I know Fred had a similar impact on many lives. That’s a legacy!

So earlier, I wrote we should celebrate Mr. Friedfeld’s contributions to our industry. Let me share with you my take on his gleaming examples:

• Don’t think of yourself first. Be genuine, gracious and grateful.

• Be willing to offer someone else assistance in helping them attain their goals. Encourage people.

• Your reward is how you make people feel about themselves.

• Ask everyone for their ideas because you can’t always have the right idea. Give credit to those who’ve earned it. Give credit to those who make a genuine effort. Inspire those who want to move forward but may lack direction.

• Listen!

• Show sincere respect as it’s the only way for you to earn the respect of others. Say thank you; it shows you realize that no one succeeds by themselves.

• Do something a bit out of the ordinary (a $2 bill, perhaps?) to show your appreciation toward others.

• Give people around you permission to shine. Take extraordinary pride in their accomplishments.

• Love your family.

• Love your friends.

• Admire your competitors.

• Love what you do!

Thank you, Mr. Friedfeld! We celebrate you, and your lessons will never be forgotten.

Robert Bell believes in “uncommon sense,” inside-out thinking and challenging the status quo of traditional selling methods. He is the creator of The EyeCoach Selling System, “Don’t Be Afraid, It’s Only Selling!” is a managing partner of The Visionaries Group and manages the Vision Volunteers for Project Homeless Connect-Vision in San Francisco. Email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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