What It's Like to Be the Country Manager of a Beauty Empire

Mel Lerma talks to Town&Country about how not to be a bossy boss and growing old with her high school sweetheart.

What’s the first thing you usually do when you wake up?
Have a light breakfast.

What did you have for breakfast?
Milk and cereal with a banana. I eat light early in the morning, then I usually bring a sandwich for when I get hungry, usually around 10 a.m.

Your secret to keeping in shape?
I try to watch my diet a little. I try to eat more greens and I’ve cut my rice to half a cup per meal. I still can’t live without rice.

Exercise routine?
I jog occasionally but it’s hardly a routine.

What do you usually wear to work?
When I have meetings, I like to look corporate and wear business attire but on lighter days, I prefer something more comfortable. But I make sure to look respectable all the time.

What’s always in your handbag?
Phone, wallet, case for eyeglasses, and my makeup staples such as Clinique Superpowder and three lipstick shades (Now it’s Estée Lauder Pure Color Envy in Not So Innocent, Tory Burch in Saucy, and M.A.C in Brave). I also have a Bobbi Brown concealer and a bottle of Jo Malone London in English Pear and Freesia.

Tell us about working at Estée Lauder, one the biggest beauty empires in the world.
It’s a dream job for me and I’m not talking about just having great products to market. It’s a privilege to be working for a company where you feel you grow every day, where challenge always seems a good thing, and where all your efforts are valued. I also appreciate the professionalism of the people I work with and the relationships I build.

What does your work entail?
Engaging and collaborating with admirable and passionate people in the industry. I love my workbecause I don’t feel that doing things is an obligation. I love having vision and seeing results, so I would enjoy doing whatever will take me there.

What’s the biggest challenge?
The luxury product sector, or what we call the prestige beauty industry, is evolving quickly, and we are living in an era of exciting challenges such as the rise of entrepreneurs and small niche brands, the speed to market and the power of the consumer via social media, and the influence of certain consumer groups. These exciting challenges make global prestige beauty one of the most dynamic areas of consumer goods. Prestige beauty is not only about the products. It is about experience, education, and authentic storytelling.

What has working in the beauty industry taught you?
I learned how to appreciate beauty in everyone and everything. I can’t even remember using the word “ugly,” it doesn’t seem to exist in my vocabulary nowadays.

What is the biggest misconception about being in the beauty industry?
That it’s all fun and glamour. It’s not just that. It entails a lot of hard work to make success stories. No task is too big or too small for any role in our organization. We all roll up our sleeves every now and then.

Your icons?
Estée Lauder for her vision and inspirational words to live by. Evelyn Lauder for her heart and devotion to helping women.

What is one thing constant in the beauty industry amid technological innovations, evolution of formulations, and changing trends?
It’s having that personal connection to a brand. You will always find something in a brand that you love, and it’s not always about technology, formulations, or trends.


What would you never compromise on?
Integrity and respect for the people that help make a success out of our company. Leonard Lauder always reminds us that people are our most valuable assets.

How are you as a boss?
I’m not a bossy boss. The reason I say this is because I don’t really see myself above everyone else. I value the people around me and I like it when others have better ideas or opinions other than my own. It tells me I have a strong team and that’s my ultimate fulfillment as a leader.


As a friend?
I try to be someone a friend can count on. I would go out of my way for a true friend.

As a mother? My kids are all grown up so I try to be as close to them as possible.
I just want to know what goes on in their adult/adolescent lives and how I can play my part. I am beyond enforcing rules and discipline. I just want to be the mother they will always love and appreciate, especially when they have a family of their own.

As a wife?
I try to be supportive of my husband Joey’s choices. I develop interest in the things he’s interested in so we can do a lot of things together. I imagine our lives as we grow older and when it’ll just be the two of us again. There shall never be a dull moment as long as we’re together.

You married early.
Joey and I have been close since we were in high school so we married quite early. We have two boys who are already working and a high school girl. We celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary last year, just the two of us. We are very private and simple that way. I enjoy everything with my family, even quiet moments at home. I enjoy every minute with them.


I learned how to appreciate beauty in everyone and everything. I can’t even remember using the word “ugly,” it doesn’t seem to exist in my vocabulary nowadays.

How did you celebrate your silver anniversary?
We went to St. Moritz, Switzerland, late last year and visited some countries nearby that we haven’t been to. I think we chose wisely, experiencing both the beauty of nature and the grandeur of architecture that made us goback to history books. It wasquite an adventure as we explored the cities randomlywith no plans, which included getting lost in the corners of nowhere.

See any of them following in your footsteps?
They already have their own goals and dreams that are not really the same as mine or my husband’s. They are free as a bird but who knows.

What do you do together as a family?
Golf and diving, though not as much as we used to or we would like to. I’m hoping to find more time to do the things we all enjoy.

What book are you reading right now?
Decisive, by Chip and Dan Heath. I like books that allow me to review myperspectives in life and at work.

Recent books that stand out?
Game of Thrones. I’m an avid follower.

Staple magazines?
Beauty, fashion, and lifestyle magazines with substance. While I see these magazines to be relevant at work, I am actually more interested reading about articles that inspire.

What music is on your playlist?
I love ’80s music and some of my favorites are “More To Lose” by Seona Dancing, “State of Art” by Friends Again, and “Take on Me” by A-ha. My husband and I love collecting ’80s vinyl records too. I am also currently hooked on songs by New Radicals, Nelly, and Bread.


Describe your personal clothing style.
I don’t like to think too much of what I will wear every day so I go for clothes that are easy to mix and match. I like simple and classic clothing.

Clothing staples?
Anything black, white, gray that can be mixed and matched with color and prints.

Favorite clothing brands and designers?
I admire our local designers because they are able to represent the beauty of Filipino taste, yet can be proudly global. Too many of them to mention. But for my daily wear, I usually find many pieces I like from Anne Klein, Max Studio, and Zara.

Newst pieces of clothing you've purchased?
Michael Kors trousers, Brooks Brothers polo shirt, and Uniqlo sleepwear.

My current favorite pairs are from Diane von Furstenberg and YSL. But for work, I am most comfortable with Michael Kors, Anne Klein, and Ecco.

I have a classic Rolex watch that I wear every day. I’ve had it for years.

Favorite fragrances?
Jo Malone London mix of English Pear & Freesia and Lime Basil & Mandarin, Estée Lauder Modern Muse, and Tory Burch Signature.

What do you like most about your appearance?
I think I’m very simple and I like it that way.

Lunch today: business or pleasure?
A little bit of both.

Lunch companions?
I’ll be spending it with my colleagues in our office pantry and get to bond a little with them.

Favorite restaurant?
Kimpura never gets old. This is where my husband and I used to date when we were in high school through college, where we would have occasional get-togethers with family, where my boys would treat us on special occasions like when they got their first paychecks.

Drink of choice?
Water! For cocktail hour, an amaretto sour or champagne.

Dream lunch companion?
Leonard Lauder. I want a dose of his wisdom.

Were you given any great advice today?
From an Instagram post: “Happiness is letting go of what you think your life is supposed to look like and
celebrating it for everything that it is.” This quote is from Mandy Hale.

Have you dispensed any advice of your own?
I like to give advice all the time, to my children and at work. The last one is to my son, reminding him that there are many things he can’t control in his life, so he needs to make the best out of the ones he can. This is how we put fate in our own hands.

What was the prettiest thing you saw today?
Clear blue skies. It was such a gorgeous morning.


What do you do as soon as you get home?
Have dinner with my family. They won’t start without me so I really try to make it home for dinner.

What does your home look like?
The same as it did when we moved in. I feel guilty that I don’t even have time to redecorate. We inherited some 1950s furniture from my in-laws with classic wood carvings. I hesitated because I wanted my home to look simple and contemporary. But the pieces were too meaningful to us for us not to use so we had to be creative, do a mix of both. I’m very happy with how it all turned out.

How do you entertain?
Casually with close friends and family. i hardly host fancy dinners and i make sure my guests always feel at home. i don’t mind if they come in shorts or jeans.


How often?
Once a month at most.

Any guilty pleasure today?
Ice cream.

Greatest extravagance?
Travel with my family.

Pet peeve?
Traffic and wasted time.

Love of your life?
My family with special mention to my husband whom I’ve loved ever since I learned what true love is.

What do you wear on a hot date?
I can’t remember what a hot date is like. I wear anything. Is that bad?

Qualities you like most in a man?
One who is loyal and puts his family first.

Where are you having dinner tonight?
At home.

What’s for dinner?
Salad and roast chicken.


What else are you up to tonight?
I’ll watch a movie at home with my husband. He usually just surprises me so i don’t know what it will be yet. He just knows what I like.

View More Articles About:
Recommended Videos
About The Author
Nicole Limos Morales
Contributing Beauty Editor
Nicole is the former managing editor of Town&Country. After working as features editor and beauty editor of the title’s print edition for 6 years, she helped launch in 2016, creating new concepts and story formats, analyzing data, and mastering digital audiences—establishing the title to become the Philippines’ leading luxury lifestyle website. She left her full-time position in 2019 to focus on family life, while carrying on writing beauty content for T&C as a contributing editor. “I think what’s amazing about beauty is that in its arena, you can really only be a skeptic for so long,” she says. “There will always be a product that will make you believe.”
View Other Articles From Nicole
Latest Stories
For starters, good quality and design are aspects they will appreciate.
The first-ever Filipino Netflix movie imparts nuggets of wisdom to the social media-crazed generation.
Because the holiday season isn't complete without a movie marathon.
Looking to grow your own vintage watch collection? Start with these classic picks.
Her portrayal of a masked mercenary in this month’s Rise of Skywalker is one of Hollywood’s best-kept secrets. Keri Russell prepares for the big reveal at a brownstone in Brooklyn, a galaxy far, far away.
Take a ride on a train through Asia or take a trip to a champagne chalet, the options are endless.
Alcohol-free traveling is an emerging trend, but there’s much more to this phenomenon than meets the eye.
It comes complete with jewels, corgis, banquets, and etiquette lessons.
Load More Articles