Vicki Belo ponders succession issues in beauty empire

Katherine Visconti
Why the famous 'Doctor to the Stars' is putting off plans of retiring or making an initial public offering

MANILA, Philippines – Succession issues and her personal management style are keeping high-profile beauty entrepreneur Victoria ‘Vicki’ Belo from passing the torch in her business empire, the Belo Medical Group.

“I honestly said 5 years ago [that] I would retire this year because I don’t want to be an old, ugly dermatologist. But as of now, I’m not ready yet,” Belo candidly told business reporters on July 23.

For almost 20 years, the celebrity doctor’s Belo Medical Clinic has been behind the transformation and beauty secrets of several personalities in the entertainment industy, politics, in turn attracting a throng of middle-class clients who aspire to look better.    

The group’s portfolio includes 9 clinics in key Manila and Cebu locations, and the skin care company Intelligent Skin Care Inc, which makes beauty products under the brand, Belo Essentials.

Belo’s dilemma is typically what hounds entrepreneurs faced with realities of success.

Going public

Belo knows she is a successful entrepreneur and toyed with the idea of sealing her stature by joining the major league. 

Belo revealed that she has spoken to her high school friend and big-league businessman Iñigo Zobel about the prospects of an initial public offering (IPO). Zobel is currently president of AirPhil Express, the budget airline of Philippine Airlines (PAL), which is now a unit of the country’s biggest conglomerate, San Miguel Corp.

“He (Zobel) said [that] in order to really play with the big boys, we should really have an IPO,” she said in a chance interview at the Makati Shangri-la Manila, where she and Zobel graced a PAL event.

“It’s his idea. I don’t know. I’m always scared to lose control. He’s very busy right now so it’s on the shelf,” she said. 

Launching an IPO allows businesses to have access to other investors’ capital, but it also imposes various business disciplines, including tighter and smarter spending, more deliberate strategy planning, and stricter reporting of financial performance updates, among others. 

Being the brand

Belo built her business from the ground up — starting out in a cramped 44-square unit — and kept a firm hold on the practice. She prides herself for building her company and running it herself which may explain why she is averse to bringing in outside stakeholders.

“I need to be hands on. In fact I opened a clinic in the States, in Glendale, but I closed it because I couldn’t handle the traveling and the working. I got so tired,” she said.

Asked if she would sell the company outright, Belo said, “No, I think I love our family name too much.

Then she paused and added with her trademark suggestive smile, “But it depends if somebody offers me enough.”

The lure of retirement for this 56-year-old “Doctor for the Stars” seemed a nagging issue. 

The Belo clinics and brand are as much wrapped up in her name and her image as her expertise. Mass media is familiar with her love life.

Being media-savvy and tapping relationships among Manila’s Who’s Who, helped her make liposuctions, facelifts, laser and dermatologic surgeries hip and affordable.

Succession planning

The doctor may be holding off on retirement because she enjoys her work but she also has not firmed up plans for who will succeed her.

“Unfortunately I only have two kids. One daughter. And my ex-husband agreed that my son takes over your businesses (ex-husband’s) and the daughter takes over mine (Belo Medical). He has a lot of stuff also so I only have Cristalle (daughter) and she’s a bit overwhelmed already.”

Initially, Belo hoped her daughter would follow in her footsteps and take up medicine then eventually run her clinics.

In a previous interview with Probe Profiles, Belo spoke to veteran journalist Cheche Lazaro in a mix of Filipino and English and shared an experience of typical entrepreneurs who wish they could eventually pass on control and management of their business to their children. 

“I said Cristalle take one year of medicine, you might like it. Because I really really liked medicine and I find it hard to imagine that there is some person that would enter medicine and not like it. Because I feel like once you’re inside you’ll get carried away because it’s so interesting. But Cristalle really isn’t the type to like it. Everyday she cried when she came home but she promised me one year so she tried to keep the one year. I said, Cristalle if you don’t like if after a year at least you gave it a chance it’s all I need. And after that she goes, Mommy I really don’t like it.”

“She felt guilty because it’s the really the first time she let me down. But she said to me, you know Mommy, I’ll give you your other dream. Because I’ve always wanted… Whenever I go to the supermarket, walk in the street, girls will stop me, people will stop me and say, Doctor, don’t you have products for us? They would say, Don’t you have anything for us that we can afford? Because we can not afford to go to Belo Medical Group. But don’t you have anything that we can use everyday that is approved by you, Dr. Belo. So I said, Cristalle, I really want to develop a product that’s affordable to everybody… So that’s what Cristalle is doing and I’m very happy.”

Belo explained that her daughter now handles all the mass products for Intelligent Skin Care Inc.

Belo still manages and runs the medical side of the business and doesn’t have an obvious successor at Belo Medical Group Inc.

Boyfriend-successor

She also shared that she was once grooming Hayden Kho, her former boyfriend and a doctor then, to take over the practice. But she pushed him too hard.

In a mix of Filipino and English she said:

“I was looking for someone to take over my place and Belo Medical Group. I was making his course, planning everything that I wanted him to do. I wasn’t listening to him when he was telling me, “Hindi ko kaya ’yan.” Sinabi ko, “Mag-showbiz ka.” I mean, not actually want him to go to showbiz, I wanted him to become well-known already. I said for the transition if you are to become boss, I don’t want you to be known as Dr. Belo’s boyfriend. I want you to have your own identity. But I pushed too much, too soon.”

Their break-up, as did their May-December romance, hit tabloid headlines, with Kho ending up losing his medical license — and Belo back to square one on her search for her anointed successor.

However the business future of the Belo Medical Group will be shaped, any changing of hands that will take place in this beauty empire will surely make it not just to the gossip columns but also to business pages. – Rappler.com