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Professional Spotlight

Meet Peter Holland, CEO of Global EMS

Prof Spot Holland

By Frank J. Mendelson

Editor’s Note: Peter Holland is the Founder and Chief Executive of Global EMS Ltd. Headquartered in London with offices in Norwich, U.K., Singapore, and the United States, it supports global and multinational payroll, expense management, and business services in 146 countries. Holland has broad experience in operations and planning in the business services sector, emergency planning, and the military.

What emerging trends in global payroll are demanding your attention? How will they exert impact?

The trend across all global business functions for several years has been centered on automation, requiring better processes, and communication. There has been much discussion on the need for this, but few are able to achieve anything close to the integration required to facilitate automation and good processes. The COVID-19 pandemic has catalyzed the need to refocus, as companies now look at how they do things, their resilience, and their ability to operate remotely. All this will force better coordination between the global payroll professional with other business functions such as HR, finance, tax, and IT.

The answers and systems capability are already here, but resistance to change may create a lack of understanding in areas outside of payroll and prevent many companies from benefiting. Broader education in the business and adjoining functions is the first step to take advantage of these positive global trends for payroll. The rest will follow.

What are the chronic challenges for companies that have expanded or are moving into global expansion?

Managing complexity. With multiple countries, regulations, tax systems, and data requirements, the global payroll world is complex. The challenge is to simplify it where you can, and always, ensure compliance. That simplification needs robust business analysis of the overall processes and interaction with other functions—then automation. Of course, you will run into constantly changing variables, local compliance, cultural differences, internal politics, and a plethora of IT systems. Most enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems have the global information requirements but not the local ones; therefore, you need systems that can do both or be integrated. An in-depth understanding of the broader global payroll process and good communication will diminish the challenges of global expansion but not remove them. This is a people-driven business.

How can a payroll department provide support on a strategic level to corporate finance, HR, and other departments?

The importance and potential of the global payroll team is often grossly underestimated. No one pays them much attention unless something goes wrong, yet they manage the movement of 40% to 60% of most companies’ money. I believe in using a platform-based, service-oriented approach not only to deliver a capability but to create value to the company as a whole. When value creation is strategically embraced and extended to include social and environmental benefits, we create sustainable value. Therefore, companies can take an important and what should be uneventful process, such as payroll, improve other adjoining functions, and initiate a virtuous cycle. So, a few basic actions and good leadership can drive profits and employee engagement and make business better.

Payroll can provide strategic support to a company by better analyzing the cross-functional requirements and seeing how the business functions work best together. We are constantly looking at the latest software, trends, artificial intelligence, and use of best practices, but we do this to be able to define our aims and objectives. I have spent years seeing top chefs on television with their foams and vacuum boiling and note that now during lockdown, they have returned to what is really needed: good, basic ingredients put together with thought and care. We need to look at what is required for global payroll, use an integrated platform, and make it as simple as possible; that is the truly clever bit.

What will the future of business support functions, including payroll, look like?

We are seeing changes in global business and the increasing technology supporting it, although sometimes there is a misconception that adding more technology always makes things better.

I know that as companies continue to focus on their core business and become more agile, business support functions will need to adapt and become more integrated; the manual and coordinating elements will become part of a platform. This will allow people to focus on more skilled work with more time for better communication and improvements, where the urgent does not drive out the important—a smarter approach to work. Companies will likely review the balance between centralization of control and decentralization of delivery.

What emerging trends do you see in meeting the payroll needs and compliance in payroll management for mobile employees?

These days mobile employees, and frankly everyone, want to be able to do what they need to do and see what they need to see on the mobile phone and no more. This saves time for the employee and the company and contributes to efficiency and value creation. Employees want to see their pay slip, submit their expenses, and satisfy their need for self-service.

Companies need to track mobile employees for tax, improve communications with their employees, and focus on employee support and engagement. All these mobile capabilities can be provided securely now but are not well understood in the marketplace and can be a struggle if you are still trying to move away from multiple systems, spreadsheets, and the resulting workload.

What were some of your early career lessons?

With some 35 moves by the time I was 38 years old, resilience was central to coping with my way of life. There are many very capable people out there with brilliant ideas, but it’s all in the ability to implement those thoughts and fight your way across the barriers that life puts in front of you.  Resilience applied to my early career in the military, within a large U.S. corporation, and later as founder of my own business.

Specifically, to business, don’t try to fix a broken process—analyze, simplify, and watch out for the reflective faults in your actions. In a complex business such as payroll, educating the client is of greatest importance, as most want the pain to go away but do not necessarily know how or have the capability to do it. So, we start with understanding and education and not with a list of features and benefits.

What are the most important qualities of effective leadership?

I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to lead large numbers of people in the military, in very different environments, and in all aspects of business as a CEO. There are many different styles of leadership, and knowing which approach to use, and when, is essential. There are times when you may need to be autocratic during a crisis with no time for consensus, although that can only work if you are respected by your team and they already know that you have their interests at heart and the knowledge and experience to make those decisions. Young people starting in this field, while well-educated, need lots of encouragement and mentoring. In company meetings, when I want to encourage ideas, I know that I must take a more Socratic approach, asking questions to lead the team to a consensus. My father told me that people should follow you because they want to and not because they must, and not just out of curiosity!

What is your management and leadership approach today?

I understand that the management and leadership approach has changed with our society over the years and we are now more consensus based. Both the academic and practical approach encourages empowerment and responsibility, but I have found that often people are not properly prepared for leadership and management. This results in reticent managers devolving mentoring and any difficult discussions to HR, being laissez-faire or supervising rather than managing. My style of leadership has evolved from my days in the military where before you get to make the strategic decisions, you must have worked through and understood the details thoroughly. Essentially, your employees must trust that you know their role well enough to direct, encourage, or empower them to do their task well in everyone’s interest.

How do you personally manage to balance work and pleasure?

The short answer is not well. Being in both the military and running your own business is not for everyone. It is vocational and absorbs your every waking moment. The resilience I learned earlier in life has kept me going, and fortunately I still derive pleasure from working with good people I get to choose and watching the company grow and develop. I am just like many other people working in jobs they enjoy, but possibly with a little more stress.

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Frank J. Mendelson is Acquisitions Editor for the Global Payroll Management Institute (GPMI) and the American Payroll Association (APA).