Confessions of a skin-care CEO

UPTOWN DOWNTOWN - Joanne Zapanta-Andrada () - May 10, 2009 - 12:00am

VMV Hypoallergenics CEO Laura Verallo de Bertotto wowed Filipino and international audiences alike when she was recently invited to speak in Bloomberg Channel in New York. The 30-something head of the successful skin-care line has taken the company’s products global with fascinating results. In a span of two years, the Philippine-based VMV has found itself lauded by publications such as Elle, Self, Men’s Vogue, O!, Allure, Redbook, Teen Vogue, W, Ebony, Wallpaper and Woman’s Wear Daily. The product line was also featured in US TV via Fox News and NBC’s highly rated Today Show.

The company was created by US-trained dermatologist Dr. Vermen Verallo-Rowell almost 20 years ago. Laura saw the development of the company, not knowing that she would eventually head it one day. Though she has obviously propelled VMV to greater heights, the pressure to prove herself worthy of being CEO weighs heavily on her mind and she is conscious of how many family-run companies die a natural death because of poor management.

Laura shares, “In our constitution, we are putting more hurdles for family members to jump over if future generations want to participate in the company (the standards are higher, the evaluation stricter). There are too many real cases of family businesses not surviving the passage through generations because of X or Y family member being awarded stewardship of the company for spurious reasons.”

Laura says that she, her sister and her husband take very seriously that they have to prove they have earned their positions. She says they have to be the ones to work the most (even when sick), put in the most hours, take on the most projects, dress the most professionally, conduct themselves the most professionally, be seen reading and studying everything. They cannot afford not to be irreproachable in their professionalism and quality of output and pursuit of improvement.

“We all fail at times, of course... but I believe it’s the family members who have the least right to take things lightly or to look anything less than obsessed with constant betterment. It’s a trite saying but it’s all-too-true: the fish rots from the head. How can you expect anyone to deliver when your delivery is sub-standard?

“As a family member, you’re already working with a prevailing assumption that you got the job even if you may not really deserve it. It is, I believe, the family member’s responsibility to constantly work against that and prove that assumption wrong. Not just to colleagues, teammates, and staff, but to the family itself and all stakeholders involved,” she says.

Laura, a graduate of the Ivy League Canterbury School in New Milford Connecticut and Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, is mother to adorable two-year-old Madison. A self-admitted “not-natural” mom, Laura believes that it is possible to work hard in a career and be a good parent at the same time. She says she grew up with Energizer-parent bunnies. Her mom, she shares, stays up till 2 a.m. studying, writing and preparing lectures. “My mom stays up, with my father (a cancer survivor, mind you) at 5:30 a.m. to work out then they’re off to full days of work.”

“Family for me never meant constantly being surrounded by parents or siblings (I’m 11 years older than my sister). And I think I turned out okay. However, my husband (and VMV CFO Juan Pablo Bertotto) came from the exact opposite. Oddly enough, I think my upbringing led to a more communicative family environment and my husband’s upbringing led to a stronger sense of bonding and community and security,” Laura says.

When they decided to have Madison, they wanted to participate a major role in her life. They felt it was healthy for their daughter to see them working, exercising and having a life. Laura is confident Madison will grow up with their family values.

Laura is passionate about carving a distinct niche for VMV in the global market. She is equally passionate about seeing others succeed in this field. When asked about what advice she would give for young people wishing to market their products in the international front, she had this to share: “First, be very clear about your focus and identity. What, exactly, are you selling? Can it be replicated or is it truly unique in the world? If your brand were a person, would it be male, female? Would s/he be tall, short, average? How would s/he dress? How would s/he talk? Would s/he be married? Working? With kids? Pets? What would s/he read, watch, listen to, wear?”

These questions may be odd to answer but Laura believes that unless you have answers to these questions, your brand risks being diluted, hard to understand, easy to replicate.

If one wishes to market one’s products globally, she adds, one must be ready to answer the question: What is your company bringing to the world? Laura notes that the world is very big and there’s a lot of competition.

“Opportunity is where you see a gap. How you’re able to fill that gap may determine the potential for your success in the global marketplace. Be brutally honest,” she says.

If your brand/company doesn’t have something truly unique to offer the world, she analyzes, then the world may not be the best target.

“I feel that the best way to promote your country is to wave uniqueness, quality, standards, innovation, etc. Penetrate the global market on the merit of your brand and product. Let that be good enough to stand on its own. If you have the intent on lifting up the Philippines, don’t be obsessed about your origin: be obsessed about your product/brand. Then let that excellence lift up your country,” she says.

Laura also advises young entrepreneurs to take advantage of new technologies — embrace the web, social networks, digital, new options in shipping, warehousing, selling, marketing, etc.

“Especially for entrepreneurs who don’t have the deep pockets of the larger industry global giants, innovative, out-of-the-box approaches can really bridge the gap,” she concludes.


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