Business Lessons: Vicki Belo on a leader she admires, how she’s evolved in 31 years, and building a circle of safety with her people - LA Lives

The Belo Medical Group CEO says she has done a 180 in the past year.

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“I really believe that everything happens for a reason,” says Dr. Vicki Belo. “And I’ve gone through so much in 31 years.”

The retrospection was warranted. We were in a Zoom call with the Belo Medical Group CEO, who just came back from a trip to Paris with her husband Hayden and daughter Scarlet Snow a couple of days before her clinic celebrates its 31st anniversary.    

Since opening in 1990, Belo has opened 14 more clinics all over the country, including in Cebu and Davao. Certified by the Department of Health and endorsed by the Department of Tourism, Belo Medical is the first ambulatory cosmetic surgi-centre in the country. It is also the first ambulatory clinic in the Philippines to be accredited by the international body National Accreditation Board of Hospitals and Healthcare Providers (NABH).

“Such a ride. A roller coaster ride,” Belo, who is also medical director of her clinics, says. “Everything that happened that wasn’t so good always taught me something. Parang there’s a grand plan for me. Of course, I believe that God has a plan for me.

Beyond appearances

The doctor does admit to one regret in the past three decades—not investing her money properly. “I always tell everyone who’s young, don’t be like me. I mean, I had a lot of fun. I bought all the shoes and bags and trips and clothes I want,” she shares.

Belo shares that she admires Sta. Elena Construction and Development Corporation founder, president, and CEO Alice Eduardo, who practiced delayed gratification.

“She built and built and built, and reinvested and reinvested. And when she had so, so, so much money, put it all in property,” Belo shares. “And of course it appreciated a lot, and now it’s like she can buy anything she wants.”

But her tendency to spend when she was starting out was from what she felt was a necessity of her job. She says she was quite conscious of appearances then, wanting a Rolex on her wrist and a $3,500 Chanel bag on her arm.  

Parang, I had to have my Chanel bag, I had to have my Rolex watch,” she explains. “Because I know if patients would look at me and I don’t have them, I felt they would say ‘Ay, pipitsugin yata itong doctor nato. Hindi successful.’”

Necessity became a happy obsession of buying things later on. “I had so much fun, but now I still have to work,” she says with a laugh.

Evolution of a leader

Throughout the years, her clinic and brand have been firmly entrenched in the everyday Filipino’s psyche. But Belo still thinks of herself as an accidental business leader, someone who doesn’t personally adapt to technology as quickly as the next person.

But while she still needs help with Zoom and smartphones from time to time—don’t we all?—she has evolved and grown as a leader.

“I’ve realized that leadership is something that’s earned, and not given,” Belo shares. “I don’t want to rule from a place of being powerful because I own the clinic. I am evolving into becoming the kind of leader that I want.”

She says she wants to be someone who can make people want to follow her, want to be loyal to the company, and want to love Belo. “[I want them to] want to give our patients the best experience because they believe in my vision and mission,” she explains.

Belo remembers one recent incident that made her realize the extent of her influence as a leader. While they’ve purchased vaccines for their 480 employees, many in her workforce were still reluctant to get jabbed. She then addressed her people.

“I had to make a video talking to them about the importance of getting vaccinated, not only to protect themselves and their family but to also stop this virus from mutating,” Belo says. “The more people don’t get vaccinated, it will just keep mutating into Lambda, Delta… If everybody gets vaccinated, hihina na siya.”

She says it was a realization. “I’m a leader. Ngayon ko lang natanggap. So that’s how I’ve evolved,” she shares. “I’ve said hey, I am an influencer. And you know I hope I get to use whatever I have for good and for the betterment of the Philippines. That’s my other goal, my country!”

Circle of safety

One other realization that the doctor had in the past year was that how she approached situations and challenges might be different from her people—and that’s okay.

“I’m not a scared kind of person,” Belo says. “My happiest place when I was in medicine was in the emergency room. That’s where I felt the most calm. I’m one of these people that the crazier things get, the calmer I get.”

But she had a mistaken notion that how she feels is what other people feel. “Now, I’m looking at them and I’m realizing, ah it’s not like that. I use this strength of mine that when things are challenging, that’s when I do my best,” she says. “But that’s not pala how most people are. When they’re not sure, they get scared. Then they kinda go to a place where they’re safe. Like they have to protect themselves. They have to be defensive.”

Being the boss, her mind expectedly always thought macro: Where Belo would go; what are they going to do; how are they are going to evolve; how can they be more successful.

“And then I’ve realized, I’ve done a 180 degree turn,” she admits. “I realized that without the employees being happy and feeling safe, they can’t give me their trust. They can’t cooperate with me if they’re so scared.”

Now, she is focused on creating a circle of safety among her people, where they won’t have to be scared about losing their jobs, or getting sick. Without those worries, her employees can trust and work well with each other.

That’s why she’s reaching out more and making sure that circle is set and readily felt by all.

“I believe now as a leader I should be of service more,” Belo says. “I should be more empathetic with them so that they will trust me to lead them to wherever we can go together.”

Banner Photo from @victoria_belo on IG

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