Stuart Burn likes challenges – in fact he thrives on them. Having taken over as vice chair of FMO, the UK’s optical trade association, in September, he will succeed Andy Yorke as chairman in December and is expected to deliver the biggest and best Optrafair exhibition in April 2020. No pressure then.

Having left school with modest qualifications in 1986, Burn cut his teeth providing asset finance to the medical professions at Braemar Finance. In 2005 he decided to go it alone by setting up Performance Finance, which has grown steadily to become a multi-million pound business providing funding for medical and paper professions. Burn has progressively broadened his customer base which now includes; opticians, dentists, vets, accountants and solicitors.

While successfully developing his own company over the past 14 years Burn has seen Optrafair, FMO’s exhibition, slowly decline. It is fair to say that FMO took its eye off the ball and did not react positively enough to the changes happening within the industry, he says.

In 2017 FMO celebrated its 100th anniversary, still proud of its history Burn is more interested in it future. ‘That was then, this is most certainly now,’ he says.

So what’s the plan? How are Burn, FMO directors and members going to arrest Optrafair’s decline and subsequently boost FMO membership? Firstly by delivering a far more inclusive event. The year 2020 is synonymous with optics and this is the linchpin of a coordinated plan by FMO and its exhibition partner, MA Exhibitions, to make the exhibition relevant to sectors across the optical industry. In order to build attendance Optrafair needs to be more engaging and have far greater appeal, representing every facet of the optical world. Burn is keen to add ophthalmology, audiology and pharmaceuticals to the foundation blocks of frames, lenses, equipment and contact lenses.

Optrafair 20/20 will concentrate on the future, with the exhibition encompassing technological change and innovation. In addition, keynote lectures from industry leaders will encompass a host of commercial, political, clinical topics and a comprehensive range of CET/CPD. There will also be a lighter side provided by the fashion parade and an array of new features, interviews, and product innovations all captured on Optrafair TV which will be streamed live throughout the three days.

Burn is currently working with Yorke to ensure all areas of the business are catered for. ‘I’m incredibly excited by the new features we’ve already confirmed and I’m desperate to let the cat out of the bag. However, I’ve been sworn to secrecy so these will be revealed in due course. I’m confident we will transform Optrafair into the most exciting and vibrant event for decades,’ he adds.

‘We’ve targeted 10,000 visitors for Optrafair 20/20 and for us to achieve that we have to deliver an event that is exciting and energetic, appeals to all sectors of the profession and shows people what the future holds in optics.’

So why does the managing director of a successful company commit to chairing a membership body and planning an exhibition that have both seen better days? Burn is emphatic; ‘It’s very simple, we are first and foremost a symbiotic community and our ability to flourish comes largely from our desire to engage and interact for the greater good. Our industry has gone through dramatic change in recent years and the pace of change is quickening year on year. As well as keeping pace with these changes we need to prepare our members for the future.

‘Just look at the last 10 years; we’ve seen the explosion of OCT, the first treatments for ARMD, huge strides in lenses and contact lenses, new Dry Eye diagnosis and treatments, independent prescribing, the rise of audiology and IOLs becoming mainstream.

‘The future is even more exciting and maybe even a little scary; artificial intelligence, autorefraction, 3D printing, online/remote refraction and dispensing. These are all topics that will be covered in Optrafair 20/20, so if you want to see where the future may take us, you know where to come,’ he says.

Replacing Yorke as chairman of the FMO is no easy task. Yorke’s huge knowledge and experience cannot be supplanted and that is why Burn has asked him to continue as FMO’s Optrafair Ambassador to ensure continuity through this transition. Burn is also raising his profile and engaging with the industry’s major players to keep Optrafair and FMO at the cutting edge.

‘The challenge of transforming Optrafair into a world-class event is hugely exhilarating. I will be the chairman but it’s the sweat, toil, energy and dedication of the FMO board and the Mark Allen Group that will deliver Optrafair 20/20,’ he says.

‘It is never about just one individual, rather a collaboration of talented individuals that will make Optrafair 20/20 the go-to event of the decade. I am immensely proud to be part of such a group.’