With more than 25 years of business experience, Rita is a strategic and hands-on entrepreneur. The spectrum of her experience ranges from strategy, negotiation, marketing, merchandising, retail, to operations.
She has a thirst for learning and is always on the look-out for uncharted, niche business opportunities. She also has an innate ability to adapt and reinvent businesses creatively to capture market share.
After 14 years honing her skills with DFS Group Ltd, Rita took on the challenge of building up 2 consulting entities located in Singapore and Malaysia. These entities focused on helping international brands establish their presence in both countries.
She is the Founding Director of Stradivari Strings, a business specializing in fine hand-crafted bowed strings instruments, as well as a music school.
1) “Rainmaker, Strategist, Entrepreneur, Luxury Brand Management” are what people see when they visit your LinkedIn profile. Anything else you would like people to know about who Rita Yeo is, besides the fact that she is a very successful business strategist and entrepreneur?
I believe it is important to incorporate exercise into one’s daily routine. Exercise not only strengthens one’s body, it also clears the mind giving it extra capacity to be creative and solve problems. My exercise routine alternates between Bikram hot yoga as well as spinning class at my gym.
Bikram hot yoga is 90 minutes of yoga practice in a studio heated to 42 degrees Celsius, consisting of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises. Bikram yoga practitioners acquire keen listening skills as the entire 90-minute class is taught by the master via a spoken rhetoric. Yoga practice also guides me to be a good listener in life.
I have an unusual reply whenever I am asked to share my hobby — it is to collect people. I enjoy building my social capital of circles and network. When the opportunity arises, I leverage on my social capital to link up my connections to help them to advance.
My parents are 90 years old, retired and healthy. My four older brothers are in very diverse lines – food and beverage, performing arts, real estate and education. My second brother, Yeo Teow Meng, is a violinist with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra.
2) You got a job at DFS Group Ltd right after graduating from NUS with a degree in Sociology. Would you say your degree was relevant or helpful in your career at DFS and after? What else do you think graduates these days need in order to survive and thrive at work?
I pursued a general university degree versus a specialized one. There is a difference between the two.
Sociology, like other subjects offered in the Arts and Social Sciences, requires the understanding and application of concepts. A lot of thinking and originality in application, is required to do well for an honours degree. Specialized degrees on the other hand, usually have fixed answers for topics one will be tested on. Some topics may be very difficult to comprehend. However, once learnt, it is with you and the answers do not vary.
In short, a specialized degree in areas such as law, accountancy or medicine would be helpful (in fact, essential) if one were to pursue a career in these specialized fields. A general university degree helps one to get a foothold in a job but to succeed and thrive at work, other traits are more important.
I joined DFS Group Ltd as a management trainee after university. There were hundreds of applications for four management trainee positions. A basic university degree was a prerequisite then, but does not guarantee that one will get the position. One has to stand out and demonstrate that one has the traits to thrive in the environment of the company. Being street smart and creative supersedes book smarts.
My career with DFS Group Ltd spanned 14 years. During this time frame, my portfolio and job scope changed every 18 months as I moved up the ranks. I believe that to succeed and thrive at work, new graduates need to have the thirst to learn and the courage to take on projects and responsibilities outside of one’s job scope.
3) As the Founder and MD of Stradivari Strings, can you elaborate on your business?
Stradivari Strings is a specialist retail shop which deals in fine, hand-crafted violin, viola, cello and bows. We source these from all over the world. Aside from a wide range from contemporary makers, we also have a comprehensive range of antique music instruments – the age range is from 90 to 280 years old!
Stradivari Strings is also a music school with 25 teachers who coach the violin, viola, cello, double bass, saxophone, flute, guitar, ukulele, piano and keyboard. We focus on one-to-one coaching by music teachers who are passionate about imparting their skills to motivated students. Our students can choose to go the leisure route or exam-based route in their music education. We also have maestro level coaches who conduct master classes to refine performance techniques.
4) What is the typical profile of your students?
My students come from all walks of life. Typically they are busy professionals who are managers or directors, bankers, medical professionals, airline professionals, educators, accountants. In short, anyone who is interested to unleash their musical talent can be my student.
70% of my students are adults age 30 and above. In fact, our oldest student started violin lessons for beginners at age 61. During my consultation with him, he shared that he wanted to start violin class as he is near retiring age and plans to spend his golden years fruitfully acquiring this skill. He is a senior pilot with one of the major airlines who keeps to the European time zone as he flies to the European cities. Despite his hectic schedule, he is progressing very well and enjoying violin lessons for adults.
Most of my adult students have very busy schedules with work, business travel and family commitments. This hectic lifestyle can be stressful at times. So music is an outlet for them to de-stress and normalize.
5) Can you share with us the typical experience of a student who contacts you for a consultation to select a violin or cello?
The violin/ cello selection process usually takes 2 hours. Before the selection process starts, I will ask the student a series of questions to ascertain their motivation level as well as understand their music background (if any). Based on this, I will curate 8 to 10 different violin / cello and guide the student to play on the range. Midway through the selection process, we would have identified the student’s favourite 3 violin/cello. The second half of the session will focus on violin bow/ cello bow pairing.
Every student who goes through this process finds the session very educational as I share a lot of information specific to the characteristics which define a good bowed strings instrument. This helps them to make an informed decision and zoom in on the violin / cello which suits them.
6) What questions do adults typically ask you when they enquire about music lessons?
(1) Am I too old to start violin lessons or cello lessons? (2) How fast can I pick up playing techniques? (3) How much time do I need to practise to improve?
7) What questions do you ask an adult student who comes to you looking to start violin or cello lessons?
There are 3 main questions I ask. (1) How motivated are you, on a scale of 1 to 10? (2) How long have you been thinking of starting music lessons? (3) Are you a beginner level student in the violin or cello? Do you have any music background in other music instruments?
The question about motivation level is important as this allows me to gauge an adult student’s commitment level. I can then advise which coach will be suitable, and also zoom in on the type of violin or cello they should select to start their music journey.
Why I ask how long a student has been thinking of starting violin or cello lessons is, the longer one has been thinking or desiring to learn, the more likely that person is going to persevere and succeed in their musical journey as an adult. There are many adult students who were deprived of a chance to learn the violin or the cello as a kid. This desire has been latent in them for decades! So when they start work, they have the means to pick up the skill.
Someone with music background will progress faster than someone without music background.
8) Stradivari Strings is 9 years old now. What would you say have been the greatest challenges and joys in running this business?
Students who join Stradivari Strings typically have a very strong desire to learn the music instrument. My vision is to nurture this interest and cultivate in our students, the love of music. As such, the music coach’s ability to do so is very important. The greatest challenge is to build a team of music coaches who are not only qualified, but also passionate about imparting the love and appreciation of music to our students. This took a lot of time and effort and I am happy to say that I have an awesome team in place.
Music is the only medicine the heart and soul needs. The greatest joy is to see our students enriching their lives through learning to play a music instrument. Also, seeing the joy on our students’ faces when they have found a violin or cello which calls out to them, at Stradivari Strings.
9) What’s next for you? Business plans in the pipeline?
I am exploring technology to create a smart sensor which monitors accuracy in playing techniques. In other words, the equivalent of a golf swing simulator for bowed strings instrument players.
Source: Working With Grace