SOPHIA LEO

Programme Director of Inter-regional ESG Enterprise Partner Programme

Managing Director of Overseas Singapore Academy

Managing Partner of Fanatique LLP

Ethos: The freedom to live authentically with compassion

Biography – experiences at work & in business

2017 – 2022

 

In 2017, Overseas Singapore Academy Pte. Ltd. was established with one of Singapore’s most notable A-Level Economics tutors, Mr Anthony Fok, as a shareholder for SGD 40,000 start-up capital although he had initially declined to be a shareholder, giving her the sum with no personal motive or business agenda, purely out of his altruistic inclination to assist his friends in their endeavours. His generosity is well-known among his teaching peers and students.

 

That year, Sophia was invited by a young alumnus of the Royal College whom she met at a business function in Singapore, to visit Sri Lanka and his school campus. She volunteered to conduct an English writing workshop for Royal College, a top public educational institution of Sri Lanka with illustrious alumni, and students from four other schools. Overseas Singapore Academy sponsored the workshop material, teatime snacks and beverages for about 250 students. She met the school principal and the head of department for English language – Mdm Shyamalie, who arranged the workshop.

 

She was picked up from the airport on arrival, and on another day, fetched to Kandy as a guest to experience a local wedding after a 4-hour drive uphill with the alumnus and his friends who were all alumni of Royal College. The trip was worth the while as she experienced the local culture and the heart-warming hospitality she was shown. While she was in Colombo, she took the opportunity to visit the school campus of Auston Institute of Management and met the managing director of the school who was her client from Singapore and was on one of his scheduled periodic business trips.

 

In the same year, she met the then High Commissioner of the Republic of Sri Lanka to Singapore, H.E. Mr Nimal Weeraratne, at a business event. She paid him a visit at the High Commission and they had a lunch chat at the building. During a private social function at Dempsey Hill, he introduced her to the Chairman of the Bank of Ceylon and partner who were in Singapore. He also connected her to the Sri Lankan founder of an education technology start-up based in Singapore.

 

Sophia organised a series of events for her clients in the medical aesthetics, beauty and wellness industries that she terms “Wellness Buffet” – complimentary lunch talks for organisations, eg. Singtel, NCS, Keppel Land, Orchid Golf and Country Club, Singapore Business Federation, etc.

 

In a continuation of her marketing and business consulting work at Fanatique, Sophia provided marketing and PR services to a company in the electric mobility (e-mobility) industry in 2022. Sales volume increased 225% YoY due to better Google ads performance, communications strategy that appeals to the target audience visually and an improved website with UI/UX optimised for generating leads. She launched more websites for companies in the green transportation industry, handled social media marketing campaigns and gave creative art direction for the design of advertisements, product user guides, labels, signs, exhibition set-up, backdrops, and banners.

 

Deeply saddened by the demise of her beloved maternal grandpa and grandma who passed away in the consecutive years 2020 and 2021, and her mother’s cancer diagnosis in 2022, Sophia is comforted by her friends and business partners who continue to lend her support, for which she is thankful. In Dec 2020, Sophia sustained an injury to her left foot which resulted in her inability to exercise until she undergoes a complicated foot surgery which may improve or worsen her condition. Despite being busy with her work projects, Sophia intends to undergo foot surgery in late 2023 after consulting renowned orthopaedics specialising in that area, so as to return to her usual exercise routine.

 

Sophia has travelled multiple times to each of these countries that she is familiar within the APAC region: Australia – Brunei – Cambodia – China (incl. Hong Kong & Macau) – India – Indonesia – Japan – Malaysia – Myanmar – Singapore – South Korea – Sri Lanka – Thailand – Vietnam

2013 – 2016

 

In 2013, she obtained a newspaper print permit to print and publish Family Lifestyle magazine for public circulation. 20,000 copies for the quarterly publication were freely distributed to golf and country clubs, Kebun Baru community club and at other public places. After raking in a five-digit advertising revenue for the print version, she converted it to a digital only version. As she had no plans to hire a team of content creators, she managed content creation for the online magazine website for a year before deciding to convert it for other use.

 

In 2014, on her first trip to Kota Kinabalu – Sabah, Malaysia, Sophia met Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun, then State Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment of Sabah who welcomed her with the tourism board general manager and his staff, on the first day of her visit at the club lounge of the Le Meridien hotel where she was on vacation stay with her friend, with a smorgasbord of treats and his favourite dessert specially arranged by the hotel general. She was also treated to a sumptuous seafood dinner hosted by his staff and a tour agency owner she was introduced to, who brought his wife to drove her friend and her around town the next day. Sophia expressed her sincere appreciation for their warm hospitality.

 

From 2014 to 2020, Sophia continued to teach English language in her free time, as private tutor to 3 students residing in Sentosa Cove and at her rented SoHo premises. Since 2003, she has taught no less than a total of 1,000 students as a rough estimate. A high percentage of her students make marked improvement in their examination results. Sophia treats her students with patience and kindness. She was often invited to birthday parties of her students, grand opening of a store owned by her students’ parents and their company’s anniversary celebrations. Meanwhile, she continued working in the marketing and business development functions for clients and employers on contract basis; building digital media assets and websites, creating and managing content and social media engagement, and other aspects of omni-channel marketing.

 

In 2015, she initiated a book donation from her client – Singapore Asia Publishers (SAP), to participate in a fund-raising presentation of cheques event organised by MCA Johor state liaison committee, where she represented her client, managing director of SAP – Mr Kelvin Yoo, in presenting the books to then Deputy Minister of Education of Malaysia, Datuk Chong Sin Woon, and then deputy president of MCA and Minister in the Prime Minister’s office, Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong. The estimated total retail value of the 26 cartons of brand-new books was approx. RM 32,000. Sophia enlisted the assistance of Gan Seng Printing (M) Sdn Bhd, one of the most reputable and established commercial printing companies in Malaysia, to transport the cartons from Singapore to the event venue – a school in Johor. The books were distributed to the principals and key teaching staff of the public schools in Johor that were the beneficiaries of the fundraiser, during the event.

 

After gym sessions at Phillip Wain spa and health club at Meritus Mandarin Orchard hotel, she would occasionally visit Bar on 5 to wind down in the evenings. On the occasion that Shisen Hanten was awarded 2 Michelin stars, the COO of the hotel, Mr Tan Kim Seng, celebrated it with champagne on the house for all at Bar on 5. From thanking him for the drink, they became friends and she would be treated to many more drinks and even more tasty treats from the hotel’s fine restaurants.

 

In 2016, Sophia participated in a business mission to Myanmar that was organised by the Singapore Business Federation (SBF), and led by mission leader and then SBF chairman, H.E. Mr S.S. Teo, where she made the acquaintance of no less than forty Burmese business owners, representatives of various government ministries of Myanmar and other Singaporean delegates on the trip. She invited then general manager of Yoma Strategic Holdings, Mr Craig Maturi, to join in the welcome dinner. While she was there, her client who was then the sole distributor of Guinness Stout in Cambodia and Myanmar, caught up with her as well.

2011 – 2012

 

In Nov 2011, Fanatique LLP was incorporated as a limited liability partnership in Singapore. In the following decade, she worked in various roles as an outsourced marketing, events and business development personnel while running Fanatique and holding full-time stints between client projects, mostly in the retail, beauty and wellness, and education industries. Taking her work seriously with a strong sense of duty to deliver the best possible outcomes for her clients in their marketing, communications, and public relations strategies, she spares no effort in getting the job done at the high quality and low cost to produce marketing collateral and promotional material for her clients’ products and services.

 

One of her early client projects was the design and printing of direct mailers for Mustafa Centre in 2012 at the project fee of SGD 72,000 for distribution to 650,000 HDB households using SingPost admail. Sophia liaised with more than 60 participating brands for over 300 merchandise to be featured on the direct mailer, providing complimentary photography and digital imaging services where necessary. In the following year, Fanatique LLP was one of fifty exclusively selected agencies for SingPost’s DMRocket Alliance Programme to enjoy discounts and other benefits for engaging SingPost’s products and solutions, with a bonus reward of a Samsung tablet.

 

Media buying being available at lower rates to media agencies like Fanatique was an advantage and that spurred her to explore lower cost alternatives for offset printing and product packaging as well. She found five companies in Johor that she could work with, at considerably lower prices and short turnaround time, ceteris paribus. Her profit margin was substantial since it was zero cost to her. She also built good rapport with her suppliers and partners who supported her for website and app development as well as roadshow events set-up.

 

While on a flight in 2012, a conversation was struck between her and her fellow passengers in the seats next to hers; the Italian and Spanish VPs of retail and business operations at Worldwide Retail Store Asia – the retail licensee of National Geographic, were sufficiently convinced that the chatty Singaporean lady is adept at social engagement and she landed a job back in Singapore as event manager at the National Geographic Store in Vivocity mall. The following year, she brought her team from China Products International Wholesale Mart to Kuala Lumpur to meet the Malaysia Retail Chain Association (MRCA) at a dinner event hosted by the latter.

2010

 

In Mar 2010, after Sophia had left the employment of Cityneon Holdings and was in Kuala Lumpur to catch up with friends in her social network, MCA party and presidential election was ongoing. She expressed interest to join the campaign team for Dato’ Sri Ong Tee Keat who was contested for his presidential seat in the party and was remunerated RM 10,000 for her creative direction of the layout of his manifesto brochure with his media team, assistance with bilingual translation and press releases, working on the campaign website with web developers and journalists from Star Media Group, led by campaign director – Dato’ Bruce Lim Aun Choong, along with Dato’ Simon Lim and Y.B. Mr Gan Ping Sieu. She met many MCA central delegates representing each Malaysian state at rallying speeches over dinner in Chinese schools and restaurants, and at MCA headquarters.

 

From 2009 to 2018, Sophia kept in contact with her friends in Malaysia on several occasions. On one occasion, she was invited by Dato’ Dr Colin Lee, founder of Tropicana Medical Centre whom she first met in Singapore through mutual friends, to visit his residence at Tropicana Golf and Country Club and on another, to a private gathering on his yacht that was berthed at the Royal Selangor Yacht Club before setting sail to nowhere briefly.

 

In Oct 2010, Datuk Seri Ti Lian Ker accompanied then crown prince of Pahang, H.R.H. Tengku Abdullah, the sultan of Pahang, H.M. Tuanku Sultan Ahmad Shah, and other members of the Pahang royal family on a personal, unofficial trip to Singapore, en route to London. Sophia had the pleasure of meeting H.M. and H.R.H. at Scotts Lounge (Grand Hyatt) on two days of their short visit. On the first day, she had teppanyaki dinner with Datuk Seri Ti and H.R.H. at Inagiku (Fairmont). It was good as usual. Sophia also often enjoys the teppanyaki at Shima (Goodwood Park). On the second day, she was presented a gift during dinner at Mezzanine – Grand Hyatt (private section) with H.M. She received a personal donation of SGD 30,000 by H.M. as his way of encouragement for her idea of starting on an entrepreneurial journey, and subsequently, another gift and a second donation of SGD 30,000 on a trip to Kuala Lumpur on his invitation, as arranged by Colonel Azahar – one of his security guards, and his personal assistant – Dato’ Setia Wangsa who picked her up from the airport on arrival. A year later, she was invited to meet H.M. again in Singapore during another trip to Singapore with his aides and family.

 

In late 2010, Sophia was on vacation in Phnom Penh when she decided to drop by the Embassy of the Republic of Singapore, and send a greeting message to Ambassador H.E. Mr Premjith Sadasivan, whom she got to know when he was Director of South Asia and Sub-Saharan at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore, and was a key personnel in organising the PBD Conference. He hosted her to a few meals. At Topaz restaurant, she was introduced to the High Commissioner of the United Kingdom to Cambodia, who happened to be present with guests including renowned professional golfer – Mr Nick Faldo, and Mr Sam Ang Vettanac of the Vettanac Bank. The ambassador gave her a pair of tickets to attend a movie premiere at the Chenla Theatre on the final night of the inaugural Cambodia International Film Festival. She gave a hardworking Tuk-tuk driver a treat to the movie with her.

2006 – 2009

 

Sophia accepted a job offer from Cityneon Holdings (now known as Neon) – a company that was listed on Sesdaq and then the mainboard of SGX, where she stayed for the next three years as business development and corporate communications manager for the group, tasked with a wide range of responsibilities that includes working with the accounts and finance department in organising annual general meetings and board meetings. During this time, majority stake in the company was bought by Star Publications (M) Berhad, which is the publisher of The Star – a leading English daily newspaper with the highest circulation number nationwide of any publication in Malaysia.

 

Chairperson of the board was Datin Linda Ngiam who Sophia looked up to as a role model at the time and would visit at Menara Star which is the headquarters of Star Media Group Berhad. Corporate Affairs Director – Mr Richard Ong and his team hosted Sophia to dim sum lunch at Eastin Hotel located next to Menara Star, and Datin Linda met Sophia for brunch at Bangsar in her personal spare time over the weekend.

 

She also established good relations with other members of the board, a few of whom were politicians of the Malaysia Chinese Association (MCA), since MCA held a 42% shareholding in Star Media Group. Among them were former ministers in the cabinet of the Malaysian government: Dato’ Loke Yuen Yow – Minister of Youth & Sports, and then Deputy Minister of Finance; Datuk Seri Ti Lian Ker – Minister of National Unity, and then Youth & Sports. She went to lunch with her directors who hosted Dato’ Sri Ong Tee Keat at Royal China (Raffles Hotel), while he was in Singapore with Malaysian Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Najib Razak on official visit. Also, present were then SPH Group chairman, Mr Alan Chan, and others.

 

Earlier in Oct 2008, Cityneon was appointed for event management of the inaugural Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) Conference 2008, Singapore, which co-organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore and the Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (SICCI). Sophia was seconded to the event as liaison officer (LO) to then Human Resources Minister of Malaysia, Datuk Dr S. Subramanian, who attended it. The event was graced by ministers from several countries, representing the Indian diaspora. Distinguished guests include His Excellency – then President of Singapore – Mr S.R. Nathan; Singapore’s founding Prime Minister and Minister Mentor – The Honourable Mr Lee Kuan Yew, and The Honourable incumbent Prime Minister of Singapore – Mr Lee Hsien Loong. At the event, as LO, she coordinated well with the minister’s press secretary, political secretary, private secretary and special officer.

 

While in Kuala Lumpur on a company business trip in 2009, Sophia went to the Dewan Rakyat (lower house of the Parliament of Malaysia), to greet Datuk Dr S. Subramaniam at his office in parliament as arranged by his private secretary. Later, when he was Minister of Health of Malaysia, she went to meet him at his office in the ministry at Putrajaya. She was presented with the ministry’s souvenir for selected guests – Malaysian batik silk shawl in an exquisitely woven box.

 

Sophia began her gastronomic journey from this period onwards, thanks to the generosity of friends who bring her places serving a range of traditional as well as modern and fusion Asian and French cuisines, with Japanese cuisine being her regular choice. There are too many favourites to name, in Singapore and 13 other countries. After 2016, one of her favourites is Ishin in Kuala Lumpur which was introduced to her by Datuk Dr Colin, and she became well-acquainted with Mr TH Thong – co-owner of the restaurant who never lets her have the chance to foot the bill for the tables filled with exquisitely presented food and overflowing with fine beverages.

2002 – 2006

 

Sophia worked at IKEA Singapore on full-time project basis, collating information for the launch of IKEA Singapore website www.ikea.com.sg and apply correct usage of the visual imagery used on the website from IKEA toolbox of Inter-IKEA Systems B.V.

 

After working as a relief-teacher for Art subject at Siglap Secondary School and Changkat Changi Secondary School for a few months, she pursued a degree programme in Product Design at Lasalle College of the Arts. She taught English language and Children’s Art in group classes at several community centres and residents’ committee clubs as a registered trainer with the People’s Association as well as at her students’ homes. She moved out of her family home with her steady income from teaching, to live independently alone in a rented apartment located in the vicinity of Lasalle’s old campus.

 

She also rented a classroom at Paradiz Centre from a private training institute, to conduct intensive PSLE English classes in 2005. As always, she enjoys the lively interaction with her students. Her students from these classes improved a grade on average, with several of them achieving ‘A’s and ‘A*’s. At times, when she passed by an elderly streetside cobbler mending shoes by his makeshift stall along Selegie Road, she would give him food or a drink, or, a small donation although he has never asked for anything. It is not out of her character to care for the elderly.

 

Sophia also taught fine arts, primarily drawing and painting, at her students’ homes along Gardenia Road and Jalan Pemimpin. Meera, the mother of a pair of siblings – Jeevan and Darshana whom Sophia taught at their home basement, gathered their neighbours’ children together and for group art lessons. Meera was among the most welcoming and helpful parents that Sophia was grateful to have encouragement from.

 

She commuted all around the island from Bayshore Road to Woodlands Ave as a private home tutor for academic subjects. Not forgetting the less fortunate, she visited an orphanage to give an Easter Bunny chocolate treat during Good Friday and brought homemade salad to a visually handicapped lady busker who lived in the same block of flats as her dad. She considers herself blessed to be brought up lacking nothing by her mother and stepdad though she lacked emotional support in a disciplinarian home environment with strict authoritarian upbringing since early childhood. She has a heart for stray cats and bought cat food to feed them a couple of times before she realised that rodents may also be attracted to cat food and stopped doing so.

 

Sophia joined the Ministry of Education as general education officer for a few months after passing an interview panel of four, one of whom was her A-Level Chinese language teacher / head of department. She was given options to teach Art at secondary level, or, the Chinese language or general subjects at primary level. Her selection was general subjects at primary level and she was assigned to Chongfu Primary School where she taught Primary 4 students English language and Mathematics, for a short time. From CA1 to SA1, her students made an average improvement of 11 points for their English language paper. Sophia invited her former students to a get-together at her residence in Seletar Springs after moving out from the property near Lasalle.

2000 – 2001

 

After a failed admission attempt to National Junior College (NJC) which offers the Art Elective Programme (AEP), for not meeting the score requirement, she was granted a placement upon second try, on condition that she enrols in NJC’s AEP based on the merit of her past achievement in Art through recommendation by her Art teacher / head of department of Art – Ms Kong Sook Ming, and endorsed by her principal at Cedar Girls’ Secondary School – Mrs Tay Sor Har. She also received a testimonial from her form class teacher who commended her, notably for her eloquence and social skills. There were few of such exceptional cases for entry to junior colleges.

 

In her 2nd year at NJC, Sophia was actively involved in four co-curricular activities as sub-editor of the college annual, and member of the art club, digital video club and photographic society. The school had a dedicated 4-storey Art Block that was equipped with a computer lab of Macintosh computers, Adobe and Macromedia graphic design, web design and video software applications, painting and ceramics studios and a dark room. She studied Economics, C. Mathematics, and Higher Art (with s-paper) for the GCE A-Level. She was in-charge of the design concept & layout of the college annual for her graduating year 2001. When the National Kidney Foundation set up a table near the school canteen for donations, Sophia signed up for a monthly contribution of about SGD 30 – bank GIRO deductible, till 2006.

 

While collecting her photo slides from a shop that develops film into slides for her submission to UOB Painting of the Year competition, she had a spirited conversation with another person in the shop who was collecting company staff photos. He was the then general manager of IKEA Singapore, Mr Philip Wee. He offered her a project role to work on the IKEA Singapore website with an outsourced web development company.

1997 – 1999

 

In 1997, Sophia represented Singapore schools as the national first prize winner (lower secondary levels) of the regional poster art competition “ASEAN – Free from Drugs” in Brunei Darussalam where government officials from its Ministry of Education and Prime Minister’s Office sponsored the expenses paid trip with daily allowance of SGD 90 for 5 days. Part of the itinerary for the student delegation was a tour of the Royal Regalia Museum where diplomatic gifts and state memorabilia were on grand display, and outing to Jerudong Park theme park where all rides were complimentary and extended in duration to the delight of the student delegates.

 

At the school’s anniversary celebrations in 1998, a school mate and her presented their pair of acrylic paintings as gifts to the guest-of-honour, Senior Minister of State for Education – Dr Aline Wong. Sophia was a debater and represented her secondary school, in a team of four students assigned as delegates from Sudan at the national schools’ UN Model Conference held at Raffles Junior College that year. She also participated in a few Mathematics and Science Olympiads since her upper primary school days.

 

She completed secondary school education at Cedar Girls’ Secondary School with 8 examinable subjects. She was awarded the national level schools’ “Colours Award” for outstanding achievement in extracurricular activity (Art Club). Her acrylic + oil painting won a bronze award at the Singapore Youth Festival. Fashion design was taught by a professional illustrator engaged by the school. She was better in watercolour and gouache than oil and acrylic painting. The school was equipped with a firing kiln for ceramics and her Art teacher taught them basic pottery.

 

During the school holidays in 1998 & 1999, she worked as an admin assistant at an office in Suntec City, and sold her handmade beaded jewellery and second-hand clothes from her wardrobe renewal process (purchased at popular boutique chains) at the weekend flea market in The Cannery at Clarke Quay, earning over SGD 250/day. The value of these early work experiences amounted to more than pocket money for spending. From that, she learnt much about: what customers are looking for, how to display products, how to negotiate and sell, why they’re buying or not, etc.

 

She received a letter from the Ministry of Education to be a Chinese language teacher by enrolling at the National Institute of Education and fast-track her teaching career pathway when she attained outstanding grades for Chinese subject at O-Level (overall – A1 and oral – distinction).

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