Richard Koh knew he had hit rock bottom when he realised he could no longer pay his workers. A Series-B financing deal in 2012 for his fintech start-up M-Daq had fallen through due to disagreements between investors ASX and Citigroup. This caused its funding levels to fall to near zero. With a heavy heart, Koh broke the bad news to staff, his dream of a world without currency borders seemingly all but dead and buried. 

Still, 14 out of his 25 employees then made the surprising decision to stay on for no pay. Even more amazing was that many those who did leave continued to help the firm in other ways — some even interviewed new job candidates long after they had left the company. In normal circumstances, most workers would be unwilling to continue engaging with their former employer. 

How did Koh manage to inspire such great loyalty? When asked, he attributes most of his success to his philosophy of servant leadership. “Whenever there are tough things happening, we take on the hits from the top-down,” explains Koh, noting that the firm’s management had slashed their pay packets as the company drew down its cash reserves. The higher the position one occupies in an organisation, the earlier one gets hit and with a bigger quantum to boot. 

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