Mastering Design Leadership with Anet Melo: Multicultural Leadership Secrets Revealed!

In This Episode


Dive into the realm of design leadership and discover how multicultural experiences can shape and influence your leadership style. 

In this episode of Leadership Narratives, we join host Angie Lee as she engages in an enlightening discussion with Anet Melo, a VP and Design Director of Publicis Groupe, who has left a mark in the industry by working with world-leading brands like Verizon, Disney, and Mitsubishi. Anet shares her journey from being creative to mastering the art of design leadership, focusing on the importance of authenticity, empathy, and resilience. 

Gain a deeper understanding as she outlines her approach to branding and design systems, offering real-life instances from her extensive experience. This episode is rich in insights for those looking to master design leadership, providing a fresh perspective on harnessing multicultural experiences for effective leadership. 

With practical advice for potential leaders and valuable guidance for those beginning their leadership journey, Anet’s wisdom is not to be missed. Tune in as we uncover the secrets to successful design leadership through a multicultural lens. 

This is more than just a podcast episode; it’s an opportunity to discover one’s authentic purpose in a complex, multicultural world. Don’t miss this chance to explore how developing multicultural perspectives and values can shape your leadership style and drive your career forward!

Key Takeaways

Anet Melo’s Background and Multicultural Impact

  • Anet’s journey from a third world country to design leadership.
  • The influence of Anet’s Cuban heritage and her experiences in Mexico City and the United States on her leadership style.
  • Anet’s resilience and self-sufficiency as results of her immigrant story.

Design Leadership and Multicultural Perspectives

  • Embracing various styles and perspectives as a design leader.
  • The role of Anet Melo’s international experiences in forming her approach to design leadership.
  • Importance of maintaining diverse sources of inspiration and connectivity with the art world to stay passionate about design.

Daily Routines and Personal Insights

  • Anet describes her morning routine including coffee, walks, and inconsistent breakfast patterns.
  • The significance of a morning routine in preparing for a successful day of leadership.

Key Values and Advice for Aspiring Leaders

  • Anet shares her cornerstone values for design leadership: excellence, teamwork, respect, and integrity.
  • Importance of authenticity, learning from past leaders, value consistency, empathy, and compassion in leadership.

Creative Process and Branding Expertise

  • Anet’s passion for branding and the critical role of design systems.
  • Integrating consistent yet adaptable design systems for brand identity.

Anet Melo’s Leadership Journey

  • Anet’s early interest in visual expression and the pursuit of design as a career.
  • Her evolution in the field of design and leadership over time.

 Communication and Team Empowerment

  • Emphasizing the essentiality of communication skills in design leadership.
  • Providing necessary tools and opportunities for team members to share and discuss ideas.

Overcoming Challenges and Staying Inspired

  • Strategies Anet uses to stay creatively inspired and overcome challenges.
  • Anet reflects on her younger self and the assurance of her abilities despite facing self-doubt.

Guest Bio

Anet is a seasoned VP Design Director with over two decades of experience who excels in building and leading design teams across diverse industries. Her expertise covers branding, design systems, information architecture, marketing, and digital experiences, showcasing her as both a creative and a team leader. As the current VP Design Director at Publicis Group, Anet seamlessly blends strategic leadership with hands-on design expertise. She oversees creative development within teams and projects, fostering a collaborative and excellence-driven workspace. Anet excels in offering creative direction and leading critical design projects for prestigious clients such as Verizon, Sirius XM, First Hawaiian Bank, and more. Her visionary leadership motivates her team and directly influences creative outcomes, ensuring success and brand excellence in every project. 

Follow Anet’s work via and connect on LinkedIn:   / anetmelo  


Angie Lee [00:00:01]:

Welcome back to Leadership Narratives Podcast. This is a show where we explore the intersection between business and leadership, featuring a collection of intimate conversations with industry giants, trailblazers and game changers across different disciplines on what it means to make a mark on the world. Today, we have an interesting episode to dive into the minds behind the brands that shape our world.

Angie Lee [00:00:58]:

I’m excited to have my dear friend and a titan in the branding and creative design industry, Anet Melo, as our guest. Anet’s work in this field has left an indelible mark on some of the most prominent real estate developers in major cities like New York City, DC, Chicago and Miami. From envisioning branding strategies for the world’s leading brands like Verizon, Disney, Mitsubishi, to fostering creative solutions for Mexico’s top notch corporations at Interbrand MX, Anet;s impact is far reaching. She’s a maestro in branding, creative strategy and interactive design, among other skills. And she’s here today to share her knowledge on what it takes to master design leadership in today’s world. Stay tuned for a fascinating conversation with Anet, exploring the world of branding through her expert lens. Anet, a warm welcome to our show again, thank you so much. How are you doing today?

Anet Melo [00:01:51]:

I’m good, thank you. How are you doing?

Angie Lee [00:01:53]:

Great. Thank you for asking. So what did you have for breakfast today, Anet?

Anet Melo [00:01:57]:

Good question. I had a couple of boiled eggs and slice of cheese and another slice of avocado. I tried to not go too crazy on breakfast. I don’t eat breakfast on a regular basis, I must say, I try to fast, typically, but yeah, I did have breakfast this morning. That was it. I kind of miss my coffee in the morning.

Angie Lee [00:02:22]:

Same here. I can’t function without having that first cup of coffee in the morning. But your breakfast sounds like it’s a very healthy, somewhat light, but yet nutritious. I guess the balance between protein and fat. Tell us a little bit more about what your morning routine looks like. Do you typically start the day with breakfast?

Anet Melo [00:02:38]:

No, I don’t. I typically start the day with coffee and then when the weather is good, which is just a couple of months here in New York, I try to go for a walk with my husband early in the morning, and then I come back, take a shower and start my day. And then I eat something around, I don’t know, maybe 02:00 p.m. Or when I’m able to. Sometimes the workload is crazy, and it’s just whenever I have a chance.

Angie Lee [00:03:04]:

How did you begin your journey in design leadership?

Anet Melo [00:03:07]:

I was always kind of good at drawing and more interested in things that had to do with visual expression. Was drawing all the time instead of playing with dolls and all that. It was just what I was attracted to. And then kind of naturally through the academy process and studied, analyzed multiple things that I could do. I was inspired by things outside of the visual world, too, like psychology or communications at large, like journalism and stuff. And I was really interested in that at the end of the day. Was that visual kind of like attraction to all things designed and all that that inspired me to study that. It was actually funny because at the time, the design career wasn’t really that well known in Cuba.

Anet Melo [00:03:59]:

It was kind of like it had started for the past eight to ten years. Top. So there wasn’t a very kind of well known boss around that as a career per se. But as soon as I found out about it, I just presented for the tests and got straight into university and spent the rest of my five years of study there and then the rest of my life being a designer.

Angie Lee [00:04:30]:

I love that. Speaking of being deeply rooted, whether it’s in arts or creativity, I’d like to explore a little bit more about your belief systems, or maybe what your core values are made of, or what your opinion is on this topic. What types of values do you believe are essential for a design leader to possess and why?

Anet Melo [00:04:51]:

In no particular order. Right. But I think a design leader needs to be. Needs to kind of lead with excellence. For me, it’s not possible for someone to lead others without being an expert in their own field. Right. So I think to me, that’s essential. And then obviously you have to be able to teamwork with people and to be welcoming of different ideas and to work well with others.

Anet Melo [00:05:21]:

Values that are kind of like inherent to any good leader beyond just the design discipline. I think respect and integrity are values that are really important to me and that have been always kind of present, whether it’s in the way that I perceive leadership in others and have experienced it myself. As for the way that I demand from myself to be respectful of others, too. So regardless of rank, title, role, background, I like to think that everyone deserves to be treated with equal respect. That’s one of the best traits that a creative leader, and a leader in general, can have, to be respectful of others.

Angie Lee [00:06:09]:

So it sounds like the most standard definition of a leader, right? Having that sense of integrity, being trustworthy, being accountable, but also being committed to excellence. Because especially in your field, much of your work has to do with whether it’s creative strategy or visual design or something that has so many creative elements, setting that standard or knowing that we need to show up to our work. And especially as a leader, someone who’s starting out in their leadership journey in the creative field, what advice would you have for them so they can learn how to align their personal values with their leadership style? Any advice there?

Anet Melo [00:06:49]:

One has to be authentic. You cannot really sacrifice the person you are just to kind of meet a specific leadership standard or style, right? You have to create your own, and it has to be inspired by your own experience. So I think that to begin with, for someone to be a leader and to become a good leader, you have to have experience first. You have to have experience then, and situations and challenges and conflict and resolution that gives you enough exposure to different situations so you know how to solve for those specific issues if it comes to be your decision. At the end of the day, that’s one thing. And then learn from the way you were led before. If you had good or bad leaders, we’ve had them all. There’s always something to learn from them.

Anet Melo [00:07:51]:

There’s always some good quality that one can kind of recognize and try to mimic, even, and some bad qualities that you know that you suffer from. And you want to avoid having your team to go through that with you. So being honest about what you will like a leader to be with you, and then be consistent with that. And also avoid becoming the person you are not. So it always comes down to being authentic and also being very empathetic. You need to feel empathy for others and be able to put yourself in their place, because you have been, chances are in their place before and have experienced what they might have going through right now in terms of the level of experience or the amount of times they have been asked to make decisions and might not be able to do so on their own and be supportive and all that. Or if they’re going through a difficult time in their lives, maybe there’s something that it’s not possible for them to do better this time. One is to be able to also factor that in when leading others.

Anet Melo [00:09:11]:

And make sure you are also compassionate and make space for things to happen and mistakes to happen, and jump to the rescue of your own team if needed. It’s not just about delegating things on others. It’s also about being able to do it yourself if needs be.

Angie Lee [00:09:27]:

Speaking of a masterclass, Anet, you’re just filling so much wisdom. I hope our audience is taking notes and jotting down all of these great takeaways. You talked a little bit about personal experiences that make up who we, you know, I was just listening to a podcast by Jordan Peterson and where he talks about how experiences that we face in life, we ultimately make a decision on whether or not that experience either wounds us or it teaches us right. It gives us wisdom, and it’s a decision that we have to make in our journeys because our journeys are made up of very unique experiences that are only available to us and to us only. I’d love to hear a little bit more about your experience, though. Anet, can you share a personal experience that significantly impacted your philosophy? Whether it’s in design or mean, it’s not.

Anet Melo [00:10:19]:

It hasn’t been one. It has been many personal experiences. I think one of the things that has definitely impacted my style of leadership and my approach to life in general is the fact that I, twice an immigrant, I left my country of birth, Cuba, for the first time in my twenty s, and I went to live and work in Mexico City, an entirely different culture spy. We speak the same language. It’s not the same at all. And culturally and politically in so many other ways. It’s just a different world to me. It was a different world to I, you know, doing that then, and then few years later, coming to the United States and also going through that process again is something that shapes your resilience and your ability to find solution to things on your own, especially if you’re a first time immigrant, if you don’t have family on the other side or can rely on the support of colleagues or family members that you have to shape and open the road on your own, pretty much.

Anet Melo [00:11:37]:

So you learn to rely on your own sense of confidence, intuition, and the need to become really adaptable to different scenarios and different situations and to be able to interact with different people and work with different people. All of those are things that definitely shape the person and the leader that I am right now because it exposed me to so many different perspectives and all of them valid in their own way.

Angie Lee [00:12:11]:

And speaking of processes, I’d love to hear more about your approach to branding and design systems.

Anet Melo [00:12:16]:

So branding is my passion. That’s what I’ve been specialized on for years. From my time in Mexico, I worked at very renowned and key branding agencies led by people really smart and experienced that kind of inspire my own point of view. I think branding is just a mother of all design. It’s what came first, design wise, from the time you branded your cattle just to differentiate yourself from the neighbors. That was branding already and it’s actually called brand. In the same way to the modern times where you find specific features that identify one company from another one product, from the next one service to any communication piece. It could be a website.

Anet Melo [00:13:10]:

It all comes down to what’s your brand, what’s your identity? It’s beyond visual elements. It’s your core values as a company or as a service. And it’s the way your tone of voice and it’s your communications look. It’s how consistent they are, it’s how honest they are in the sense that they represent who you truly are as a company or a service. I love branding in terms of design systems. I think the design system is just a DNA of branding system and it’s a DNA of a company in terms of their communications. Right. If you don’t have specific set of elements that consistently displayed in the way that make you identifiable, then you can be mistaken for any other product, any other company or any other service out there.

Anet Melo [00:14:06]:

So if there’s no consistent set of rules and elements that your communications kind of operate within, I think you risk not being recognized. On the other hand, there’s also a fair and healthy amount of flexibility that’s needed within a design system to also guarantee that your brand doesn’t become obsolete or your communications don’t become boring after just a week. Right. It’s finding that balance between consistency and flexibility. What makes a design system so valuable and interesting. And it’s another one of those specific things within the branding practice that I really love doing. It can be quite tedious for certain people kind of get lost in the intricacies of rules and specific boundaries for communications while also playing on how far we can go. How much stretch does the system have just so we can make the brand more feel fresh and unique at the same time.

Anet Melo [00:15:17]:

That’s always something I try to consistently teach my teams in general, even if it’s not part of a specific training or anything like that. It’s just part of even a typical feedback session kind of getting those concepts in. There is always something that makes any specific communication to have more substance and more kind of like be rooted in something that is more unique and specific to that particular challenge, and it’s going to become a more solid solution at the end of the day.

Angie Lee [00:15:55]:

Anet, as I’m hearing you talk about your subject matter expertise, and by the way, when I meet with other folks with different types of expertise in their fields, there is this sense of sparkle in your eye, and I just caught that.

Anet Melo [00:16:10]:

I caught a glimpse of that as.

Angie Lee [00:16:11]:

You were talking about the design systems and what branding means. And this is your bread and butter, and whether it’s deeply rooted in your upbringing from the childhood age or to exploring the world and working with major and top brands in the world, I’m just curious, do you believe that your multicultural experience has influenced your design leadership in any way?

Anet Melo [00:16:34]:

Yeah. I not only had the experience of going away and live for a brief period of time in another culture, I actually became part of that culture. I spent ten years in Mexico, I became a Mexican citizen, and then I have been in America or North America for another ten years. So I’ve also become an American citizen. So it’s one of those things that you definitely like. It’s more than just a passport, right? It’s a set of principles and customs and ideas and ways of expressing oneself that you learn from and you add to your own set of inner qualities and skills that you came with. And it’s always kind of adding up to that and complimenting the person that you were when you first started or came to the country. So definitely that has impacted my style of leadership, too.

Anet Melo [00:17:37]:

Obviously, I’m not the same leader today that I was ten years ago when I was leading in Mexico. Right. It’s a different environment, it’s a different culture. It’s a different, again, set of experiences that I was exposed to back then and now. Right. I brought with me some great experiences that I was able to implement here, but I definitely learned so much more out of the ten years that I’ve spent here that I wouldn’t be the leader that I am if I hadn’t lived in this country for the amount of time that I have, for sure.

Angie Lee [00:18:14]:

So what I was saying, Anet, was, in looking back, whether it’s early part of your leadership journey or even just going back ten years, what would you say to that Latina that’s starting out in that journey with a set of multicultural experiences? Like, if you were to look back ten years ago, the ten year younger version of you, what’s one piece of advice would you give?

Anet Melo [00:18:34]:

I would say you can do it. That’s what I would say. Because I never had the luxury of getting paralyzed by doubt or lack of self confidence. I had to force myself to become confident, even if faking it till I made it, even just because I couldn’t afford to go back in time and place. Right? But for sure, you are not experienced enough. You don’t know enough of that culture or the field or society in general. So much that I didn’t know about that. I never really gave a leadership a thought, for sure.

Anet Melo [00:19:23]:

During the first couple of years that I spent in Mexico, let’s say. Right. So as I started kind of becoming more used to that environment and kind of learning that what I thought to be limitations weren’t really that at all. And that regardless from where you’re from, regardless where you’rE from, people have different things that they bring to the table. Maybe coming from a Third world country might mean that I was limited in certain things. Definitely. But it also meant that I had a different view of certain other things than my colleagues. Right.

Anet Melo [00:20:05]:

It started to kind of become naturally as, oh, this is just valid and this is nice. We’re not equal, but we don’t have to be. In terms of what we’ve experienced and our point of view on certain things. Definitely, right? But not in our view or perspective of different things. Definitely design, too. I started to learn how to trust myself more and more, even though I’ve never really been a person that suffers from self doubt when it comes to my professional career per se. But one knows that one has limitations at certain age and certain time. And there’s certainly things that I don’t know about right now that I still need to learn in my leadership.

Anet Melo [00:20:58]:

Kind of like process, too. For sure. You never end up learning.

Angie Lee [00:21:02]:

Started talking about your experience coming from a third world country, coming here, the whole resiliency part of telling yourself that you can do this, but it’s not really a lack of self doubt.

Anet Melo [00:21:15]:

I think it wasn’t so much that I didn’t trust myself. As I said, it wasn’t a matter of self doubt as much as the understanding that I was coming from a third world country with a lot of limitations, and I hadn’t been exposed to so much that I definitely became exposed to once I went to live in Mexico, everything kind of added to my learning process, which hasn’t ended and won’t ever end. I believe I was able to learn from people that had a completely different upbringing in that mind, and a different perspective to design. Kind of like practice in general, and a different aesthetic preference even. Right. I kind of became a sponge, and I think that’s important for any good leader, any good creative to begin with. But especially if you aspire to become a leader, which I didn’t at first. It was a process that came about a little bit later in Mexico.

Anet Melo [00:22:22]:

You have to become kind of open to explore different styles and different perspectives, and most importantly, to understand that every challenge needs a tailor made solution, which there are different possible solutions to. But all of those possible solutions need to be reflective and relevant to that specific, unique challenge and project. It cannot be like a one size fit all situation. So I think that’s one thing that being exposed to different cultures and different point of views add to a creative leader, that openness to different things and that adaptability also to work and think in different ways.

Angie Lee [00:23:18]:

And speaking of which, it’s my understanding that you recently won an award for your work, and we’d love to hear a little bit more about that in connection to your work and your passion. How do you keep your passion for creativity alive?

Anet Melo [00:23:33]:

I don’t know that I intentionally tried to keep it alive. I happen to be fortunate enough to do something for a living that I love doing. It gets kind of refueled on a daily basis as I go about my regular projects. And it’s always interesting to me, regardless of the size of a project or the client, the challenge is what is so inspiring and finding those possible solutions that I was speaking about is what makes it all very enjoyable to me. Right. But at times you have to maybe kind of generate more consistent communications that we are not in that super, highly creative phase anymore. We certainly experience those type of projects as well as leaders, and you honor them as much. So in those cases, I try to stay always kind of connected with specific branding and design blocks that I love.

Anet Melo [00:24:41]:

That kind of led me take a big two at the newest successful branding or campaigns or projects in general. That’s always so inspiring. I go to museums. I like to stay in close contact with art in general and multiple sources of it. I don’t have a particular style that I love over another. I kind of like to be exposed to different mediums and styles. So that’s always kind of naturally inspiring to mE.

Angie Lee [00:25:18]:

Looking ahead, Anet, and in your personal view, what does it take to be a successful design leader?

Anet Melo [00:25:24]:

You have to be comfortable being vocal about ideas, providing feedback, discussing possible solutions with your team. You have to be open to their perspective as well. Actually, you have to be able to inspire them to come up with their own solution and their own perspective on things. If you want to fulfill your responsibility of being their trainer as well, you are training them to become successful designers or creatives in general in their own right. So you have to give them the tools, and part of giving them the tools is giving them the opportunity of coming up with solutions themselves. There are certainly specific leaders that have a different style that is more, I won’t say dictatorial, but definitely you kind of tell people what to do to the tea, and that’s certainly not the way I like doing things. It depends. At times, you have to make decisions, so it’s part of being a good leader.

Anet Melo [00:26:34]:

So this is where we’re going to go. This is what we’re going to present. These are the good solutions. These are not really good enough. And this you need to take to the next level. Doing this and that, that decisiveness and that openness to also discuss ideas, even your own, is something that I think it’s key in any creative leader in general.

Angie Lee [00:26:57]:

Like, one of the core principles for a good leader is communication.

Anet Melo [00:27:01]:


Angie Lee [00:27:01]:

That’s exactly what you’re alluding to, and I love that. Anet, what’s one final thought you’d love to leave our audience with?

Anet Melo [00:27:08]:

When it comes to being a leader, there’s a lot. And a creative leader, there’s a lot that one ends up sacrificing. One thing is actually creating yourself. As you become a leader, you are supposed to inspire and mentor others to do the actual creative thinking and all that. And sometimes you get caught in the admin type of tasks that have to do with a leadership role, and that can be a little bit uninspiring, but persist. And whenever there’s a chance to do things creatively, personal projects go for them and try to stay relevant and to stay in tune with what’s needed and the technological advances and all that, what it’s going to make the next design chapter in history possible. You have to stay current, and you have to stay on top of the industry in that sense. Like, continue to be informed and trained yourself in everything that’s required to become a good leader.

Angie Lee [00:28:30]:

Amazing. Thank you for that last takeaway. Anet, how can listeners support you in your work?

Anet Melo [00:28:35]:

Well, I would say I’m always open to connect with other creatives who are welcome to reach out and kind of like, maybe there’s a chance to collaborate on some projects. Maybe there’s a chance to exchange experiences and advices on certain things. Certainly open to that.

Angie Lee [00:28:53]:

Amazing listeners. We’re going to have link to Anet’s LinkedIn bio in our show notes so you’ll know exactly where to find her. And like she said, feel free to reach out for any questions or collaboration or any ideas for that matter. So thank you for all of the wonderful insights and your stories. Anet, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today. Audience thanks for tuning in to this week’s leadership narrative. I would like to remind you that if you’ve taken away something big today, like anything related to multicultural experiences or creative leadership or anything for that matter, that’ll help you to tweak how you lead. Be sure to tell us about it by reviewing the show at wherever you’re listening to this podcast.

Angie Lee [00:29:37]:

And don’t forget to tune back for next episode of Leadership Narrative from another industry giant. And with that Anet, audience, thank you so much for your time.

Anet Melo [00:29:47]:

Thank you so much. Angie, thank you for having me.

Angie Lee [00:29:49]:

See you later. Thank you. Bye

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