Turning Family Bonding Into Branding Goals: Vicki Belo And Cristalle Belo-Pitt
One of Asia's most respected medical-cosmetics outfits, Belo Medical Group is known for having helped hordes of men and women age backwards. Its leaders—Dr Vicki Belo and her daughter Cristalle Belo-Pitt—are veritable celebrities, as evidenced by social-media followings that tally 1.8 million and 515,000 followers respectively. In an age in which succession is one of the biggest issues facing family-run corporations, they've managed to mix bloodlines with business and make it work. We asked them how.
Describe your respective roles at Belo Medical Group.
Vicki Belo: Officially I am the medical director and CEO of the company, and I have a general manager who takes care of the day-to-day operations. I assigned myself the things I enjoy most—I do the research and development; I go around the world and I look for the latest technology and developments in the industry; I attend the conventions and I read the journals to see what new things we can do at the clinic. I also delve into marketing and of course a little PR here and there, because I am the face of the company, after all!
Cristalle Belo-Pitt: I bridge two aspects of the business that operate in two different markets—one is a high-end clinic and the other is mass-retail skincare products. They both carry the same name so I make sure that the ethos of the brand is represented in both.
In 2007, I expanded the Belo line to have a line of affordable skincare products people can easily have access to in supermarkets and drugstores. This is in line with our vision to “Make the Philippines the most beautiful country in the world, one person at a time.”
Although it reaches a different socio-economic class, I make sure that its positioning is aligned with the aspirational positioning that the Belo Medical Group carries. We launch products that have a distinct beauty proposition, so they immediately stand out from the competitors and give the consumer value that only Belo—a company backed up by skincare experts—can deliver.
As a brand, I want Belo Medical Group to represent me
How would you define the Belo brand?
VB: As a brand, I want Belo Medical Group to represent me. In a way, its always been innovative, fun. I want it to be fast-forward in thinking, and world class. It's a brand that will care about you and how you feel. It's always been grounded in the desire to make people feel good about themselves.
CBP: I would say it’s glamorous—it carries a certain flair that also represents who Dr Belo is. Progressive—always focused on innovation. Expert—countless number of procedures, patients and positive testimonials in the last 27 years. But with a heart—it’s our main goal to make people feel a little better about themselves by entering our clinics or through our products. These are our company values that truly reflect who Dr Belo is and what the Belo Medical Group is all about.
One project that is close to my heart is Belo Goes the Extra Smile, where we work with Operation Smile, using our surgical talents to fix babies and kids who have cleft lip and cleft palates. Helping them feel physically more confident about themselves is a lifelong gift we can give them.
Was it always a given that Cristalle would join the family business?
VB: Of course I wanted her to. In the beginning I really wanted Cristalle to be a doctor. But of course, since that wasnt her inclination I had to support her. She went to business school instead, and it worked out well because she complements me on the business side. I have no training in business, so she’s the one who helps me out on that.
CBP: Yes! When I was in high school, I would always hang out in her clinic and sit through a lot of lunch meetings where I hear them discuss business problems and I observe them brainstorming for solutions. It feels good that I was able to expand her business in a different field and make the Belo name more accessible to the masses, who aspire to be able to try treatments in the clinic. Now they can bring home Belo in a bottle in the form of our products.
What’s it like to work with family?
CBP: It’s very tricky working with family because the lines between work and personal lives are very blurred. I remember having bedroom meetings with my mom. We used to be roommates (since when she and my dad split, until the time I got married). So instead of having boardroom meetings, we would joke around that we always have "bedroom meetings". The nice part about it is that all the time you put into work contributes to building a legacy. It’s something for the future that even my kids can benefit from.
VB: I really dont put a line between work and the things I do [for pleasure]. Because I like being surrounded by beauty and that is the business that I’m in. Working with family, particularly Cristalle, is great. She really complements me. She has strengths where I am weak. She’s so sociable and extremely patient. She has great business sense. She went to business school at MIT and she has learned so much on the business side and this really helps me out. And because Cristalle has always been with me, she has imbibed everything that I’ve been doing. I actually think she would make a good dermatologist, she just doesn't have the medical degree.
In our “bedroom meetings", we would put our legs up while lying down in bed and talk for hours and exchange ideas. I love being with Cristalle, I know she loves me very much and she’s so protective. She only has my best interests in mind.
What are some of the greatest work and life lessons that you’ve learned from each other?
VB: I’ve learned the lesson of giving. She’s always been such a giver. She has a geniune concern for people who are less fortunate than her. She really has the heart for people.
CBP: It’s always one common theme—don’t stop playing. Life is fun for my mom and it’s so nice to see how this “play” has resulted in such a big family business. What I love about it is she really enjoys what she is doing and she is so passionate about it. Because of "play”, it never feels like work to her. Because of "play", if something doesn’t work, she easily changes course and doesn’t get sad or depressed about a negative outcome. Because of "play", she is always injecting creativity into the equation. It doesn’t mean that she doesn’t take things seriously, what it means is that there is always a childlike atmosphere of discovery, curiosity, love, generosity... and wanting to win!
How much time do you spend together at work versus socially?
CBP: It’s a very blurred line because work always finds its way into every conversation. Now that we don’t live together, we see each other so much less, so I bounce ideas off her whenever I see her. I always have an update or an idea to explore.
VB: I don't really put a line between work and what I do otherwise. I used to spend a lot of time with Cristalle, but now that she also has her own family not as much anymore. But we still attend gatherings together and we have our meetings while we do our make-up!
Being in the cosmetics industry, what does beauty mean to you?
VB: I've been in the cosmetics industry for 29 years and it has become very clear to me that this business is not about the physical things alone. It's really about looking at the person as a whole. Because beauty on the outside does not complete it—I consider also vitality, kindness, passion. Many people look beautuful but they dont have the vitality, so I’d consider them not so beautiful.
I guess what I'm saying is beauty is not just about the physical attributes. You also have to be beautiful inside, and what we do in Belo Medical Group is to jumpstart their journey by making them the best versions of themselves—the rest is up to them.
CBH: It’s an artistic, physical representation of the person you are. It’s the story of each person's soul manifested in their physical self. With just one look, one must be able to grasp the essence of the being. It is beautiful because it is individual, it is unique.