Pamela Baxter and Lucia Perdomo-Ruehlemann on Why Mentors Matter

Pamela Baxter

Cofounder, CEO, Bonafide Beauty Lab

Lucia Perdomo-Ruehlemann

President, Saie

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You met when Leonard Lauder suggested that Pamela would be a great mentor to Lucia. What role has mentorship played in your careers?

Pamela Baxter: I chose mentors and they may not even know they are my mentor. You find people whom you not only relate to, but whom you admire for the way they handle situations or manage people or lead a team. I don’t think it has to be a formal relationship. You learn from them and absorb by osmosis.

Lucia Perdomo-Ruehlemann: I look at it as your personal board of directors — and they might not even be aware they are part of that committee with you. Within and beyond business, the cues you pick up are also their values. How they balance friendships and relationships in their personal lives. How they handle stress. There are often people who are too busy to be your official mentor, but when you’re in the room, pay attention.

P.B.: Often it is the questions they ask — not the answers they have. The best questions make you think about things from a different perspective and bring out more conversation.

You’ve known each other for decades. What have you learned from each other?

P.B.: Lucy is incredibly curious and she has the ability to ask some really interesting questions. Nothing is ever taken for granted or is as it seems. There can always be a different way or layer or perspective. Her energy, her humanity, the way she handles people — I admire all of that.

L.P.-R.: There is a lightness about Pamela. When she walks into a room, it’s heavy — she’s Pamela Baxter, she has all of this experience, she is on boards, she has nurtured brands like La Mer. But when she speaks, there is an inclusivity about her. She is very willing to have reverse mentorship, learn from the teams around her. You feel safe to ask questions, to be curious and not be judged. What happens as a result is Pamela breeds incredible team spirit. Anything is possible. We dream big.

What is integral to longevity in the beauty business?

P.B.: Without curiosity and passion, you literally have nothing. If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, the business you’re in, the people you serve, the team you lead, what else is there? You have to get up every day and say — I am so lucky to be doing what I’m doing. If you can’t do that, you’re in the wrong business. If you’re not thrilled every day with something new you can discover — if you feel like you have all the answers — time to move on. Personally, I need to be scared; I need to be in something that I know nothing about, where I’m learning something.

L.P.-R.: Follow people who believe in you. That helps with longevity in this industry. There are so many aspects of the business, and all you need is that one person who says, go get it, I believe in you. Nurture that relationship and you will unlock inside of yourself incredible potential. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and believe in your values.

Over the course of your career, have there been challenges you’ve had to overcome based on gender?

P.B.: My biggest challenges were when the Estée Lauder Cos. went from being a privately held family company into a publicly traded American company, and then going from an American company to a French company when I went to LVMH. Everything was different — the way they made decisions, the hierarchy, the management style. To overcome it, I read seven books and passed the best one on to Lucy so she would understand. You learn from the culture how to get things through. There were things we wanted to do and we knew instinctively [top management] would say no, so we would just do some things and then we would apologize. Or you have to make it seem like it is someone one else’s idea. There is no limit to what you can do if you don’t care whose idea it was.

When did the professional become personal — when did you become friends?

L.P.-R.: Day two.

P.B.: You just click with people. You share the same values, you know in your heart that you’ve got their back and they’ve got yours. You appreciate the fact there are things you are good at and things they are good at. It becomes symbiotic.

Why is female friendship important in business?

PB: There are cultural differences between the male and female species and their management styles and the techniques you have to employ to move things forward. As Lucy said — you’ve got a different way of managing, thinking, processing, and different levels of ego.

Sometimes women keep their egos in check a lot better than our male counterparts, so there is a camaraderie that exists. You can look at someone in a meeting and know they are on the same wavelength.

L.P.-R.: As women, there is a lot of multitasking in the office and beyond the office. My observation was the men came to work and they worked. They weren’t worried about school calling or cleats not fitting. They probably had a partner taking care of that at home. For me, it was so helpful to be able go into Pamela and say, I forgot to pack the lunch for school so I’m scrambling to Venmo my kid some lunch money. It wasn’t held against me. It was like – go do that and come back in five minutes. On my teams, we have people at a lot of different ebbs and flows of stages of life, and as women we have a great deal of empathy for that.

What are the benefits of experience in a youth obsessed category like beauty?

PB: There are benefits in life in general. You have to keep yourself going. Your curiosity doesn’t die at 50 or 60 or 70 or 80 or 90. Every business is changing. Beauty biotech, for example, is super interesting to me. In 10 or 15 years, we’ll be looking at a completely different set of ingredients. Your experience is one thing, but your knowledge doesn’t stop. If your knowledge stops, you could be a dinosaur in six months no matter what age you are.

L.P.-R.: I have four kids. It is like reverse mentoring. When they are in the car, I’m quiet. I want to hear everything they’re talking about. The other piece for me is experience makes you a little bit unshakeable. The sun will shine tomorrow. There will be a new day. As I work with a lot of newer brands, it is velocity — everything is so fast, and having someone at the table who says — I’ve been there, this is familiar to me and we are going to be OK — with a smile and lightness — gives confidence to everyone.

P.B.: I ask a lot of questions and stay curious beyond beauty, because beauty is informed by the world. Keeping conversation fluid and asking questions with whoever is around you helps inform your own experience, keeps you fresh.

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