Driven to help those with little education

Driven to help those with little education
Mr Jim Koh (front), his six staff from Gao Express Towing Services, his wife and his new-born baby.

He had just $10 to his name and he knew the odds of having a good life weren't promising.

Mr Jim Koh, then 18, had just come out of a reformative training centre that ran programmes to rehabilitate youth offenders.

He had been sent there after his second brush with the law for rioting when he was 17.

"I had a very rough group of friends when I was younger," 28-year-old Mr Koh told The New Paper, as he recollected his teenage years. "I got into trouble and was sent to Boys' Town and later, the Reformative Training Centre.

"I had no education. I had $10 and I was left to fend for myself. I knew I had to do something for myself.".

Mr Koh spent three years in a succession of lowly paid jobs - as a waiter, dishwasher and helping out at a billiards centre.

"People didn't want to hire me. The few job options I had (paid) super low (salaries) and definitely offered no future," he said.

But he kept his chin up, saved up and eventually got his motorcycle licence.

He was employed by a motorcycle dealership where his job was to repossess bikes when buyers defaulted on instalments.

He said the more bikes he repossessed, the more commission he earned.

"I was grateful because no one else would take a chance with me," Mr Koh said.

"I started taking home about $3,000 a month. It was an amount I never thought I would ever earn.

"I kept wanting to learn more about the business so my boss (also) taught me how to repossess and tow cars."

Two years later, in 2006, armed with experience, Mr Koh was able to join a car-towing company.

"(The) money was better - the more cars I towed, the more I earned."

Things were looking up.

His girlfriend had also agreed to marry him.

The pair saved as much as they could for their wedding.

RISK

But after they had scraped together $10,000, his then fiancee and now wife, Ms Felicia Tay, an administrative assistant, surprised him by suggesting that they hold off the wedding and use the money to start a company.

"I was shocked, (but) I took the risk and bought my first tow truck," he said.

In October 2009, he started Gao Express Towing Services.

It now has eight tow trucks and six employees. Last year, the company raked in $1.2 million.

"If that lady boss (at the bike dealership) hadn't given me that chance, I probably won't be where I am today," he says.

Now he tries to do the same for others.

"I know the life I came from and that's why I hire mostly ex-convicts, or people with close to no education. I immediately say no to people with degrees. I want my company to be a place of opportunities for those in need.

"I guarantee them $3,000 every month but they usually earn more, especially if they work hard".

Mr Koh's staff say they earn between $4,000 and $5,000 every month.

"When hope isn't freely given to these ex-convicts, it only pushes them to fall back on a path that lands them in prison again," he said.

"Someone believed in me and now, I want to believe in as many of them as I can."

The other person he repaid for his good fortune is his wife, who helps him with the company.

She got a $110,000 "wedding of her dreams" when they tied the knot in 2011.


This article was first published on June 16, 2015.
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