Subscribe to access world-class global resources and education: Subscribe
Subscribe to access world-class global resources and education: Subscribe

Professional Spotlight

Meet Carolyn Hayden-Garner, CPP, CPM, MBA, Director of Payroll for Tesla


By Frank J. Mendelson

Editor’s Note: Carolyn Hayden-Garner, CPP, CPM, MBA, is Director of Payroll at Tesla. She is a recognized leader in the payroll industry with more than 25 years of experience. Hayden-Garner is former Director of Payroll, Northrop Grumman. At Northrop, she was responsible for the strategic leadership for payroll and timekeeping in North America, Canada, U.K., Australia, South Korea, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Belgium, and Poland. Her payroll acumen led her to CBRE, a worldwide leader in real estate services. She was responsible for payroll reporting and operations for North America, including Canada. She focused on process improvement, strategy, and building cross-functional relationships. She led major system upgrades and was the SME for the global implementation of payroll in APAC. Hayden-Garner was a key partner and provided strategic direction that contributed to the success of the Shared Service Center of Excellence for HR and Payroll in Poland.

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

The challenges are in data security and cloud systems, specifically around privacy, data security, and data processing requirements.

What resources do you use to stay current on the latest trends and legislation in payroll?

My main resources are the American Payroll Association (APA), Global Payroll Management Institute (GPMI), and Bloomberg BNA. I am an active member on LinkedIn, and I have connected with several global groups that consistently watch for updates. I serve on a human capital management (HCM) board, and I leverage this board to connect with other peers, vendors, and thought leaders throughout the industry.

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

Corporate decisions can no longer be made without receiving strategic insight from payroll. Payroll has to have a seat at the table. The cross-functional knowledge that payroll professionals share as corporate leaders to make key decisions is key to ensuring alignment of key processes and for seamless deliverables of the company’s number one asset: People.


What are the biggest challenges for payroll teams and what is emerging to address these challenges?

Several come to mind, starting with talent. As demands continue to grow, there is a shortage of talent, especially among millennials who are sometime hesitant to accept the “calling” of payroll. Payroll is not a degree from a university, although I have advocated that a payroll course should be taught in every business track at the university level. This profession is often, “I just was at the right (or wrong) place at the right time.” The hours are long, the learning is intense, and the need for accuracy prevails. The field of payroll, especially global payroll, comes with discipline and flexibility. Many millennials who enter the profession are looking for an eight-hour job, holidays off, and ad hoc vacation. I recently attended the annual APA Congress in Long Beach, California, and was concerned as I scanned the audience. We must get busy and start attracting talent that can focus and take organizations to the next global payroll level. Secondly, skills and training are a challenge. As organizations continue to look for places to make budget cuts, the training budget is sometimes at the top of the list. Without access to solid training and being able to network among peers, payroll professionals will find themselves trapped within their four walls of a conference room trying to solve problems with the same people around the table. New perspectives, input, access to education, and networking provide for a well-rounded environment.

What strategic advice would you give to a company moving from a domestic to a global payroll?

Create a global roadmap and ensure that the organization is supportive of the move. Ensure that the organization’s budget can sustain the move. Develop in-country relationships (trust) with key stakeholders, and understand your system constraints and capabilities. Provide reasonable timelines for the transition. These timelines cannot be similar to the aggressive timelines during an implementation in North America. Aggressive timelines lead to failure. Finally, understand data privacy early on.


What would you like to see payroll vendors address in the next three years?

It is imperative that vendors be able to provide a one-stop-shop and not a global liaison relationship. Organizations are looking for solutions and deliverables that are managed by the vendors, not in-country providers.

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

As demands for mobile employees increase, organizations are faced with ensuring that state taxes are allocated based upon where the work is being performed. In addition, proper taxation on trailing compensation is key. Having the tools and resources to track and report has become a significant task and responsibility within payroll tax departments. There is a strong appetite among payroll professionals to share best practices and tools that will enhance accountability.


What are some of the considerations a company should take into account to determine if there is a good fit with a prospective vendor?

Evaluate the vendor’s compliance team to ensure that the vendor has the in-house knowledge or contacts to ensure that their systems are compliant. Understand the pros and cons of a cloud-based system. If an organization is highly customized, a cloud-based system is often configurable but not easy to customize.

Understand the vendor’s solution related to in-country providers and interfaces. Evaluate the culture of your organization and its ability to adapt, and understand its change management methodology. Determine the knowledge and bench strength of your global compliance team. The GMO team is a key partner in a vendor selection. This is helpful to help guide organizations through complex taxation scenarios. Ask how much strategic direction the vendor has with in-country providers to ensure that the deliverables are seamless.

How did you get started in your career?

I started in my career as a payroll accountant. Because of my curiosity and always raising my hand to take on the stretch assignments, I later found myself being asked to move into a leadership role.

What career and life advice do you give to a new employee in payroll?

Be excited about learning. There are many aspects to payroll (i.e., payroll processing, tax, global mobility, global payroll, compliance, etc.). Find your niche, become an expert, and continue to expand. Your payroll certifications, both in North America and in global payroll, will alert hiring managers that you are serious about payroll.

What have been the professional and personal challenges you have faced as you moved into global payroll from domestic payroll?

Compliance, deadlines, taxation, communication barriers, and the ability to understand cultural diversity.


What is one of the most difficult payroll situations you have been in?

My most difficult situation was being hired in a new role and sent to fix the payroll department in Canada, but I had no Canadian experience. This experience led to my immediate Canadian certification, building some quick but lasting relationships, becoming an active member of the Canadian Payroll Association, and positioning my team to transition the work to a local office in the United States.


What is a challenging professional situation that you dealt with successfully?

In a previous role, I led a systematic overhaul of payroll systems, targeting 68 areas of improvement. Within 30 days, I had assessed the challenge and come up with a path forward. In 18 months, this included having redesigned staff and process realignment, implementing a rigorous development and training regime, and leading a cross-functional finance team to address staffing, compensation, and mobile workforce redesigned for all 50 states.

I had increased engagement scores, stabilized payroll tax (reduced Forms W-2 errors by 30%), harmonized reporting in their enterprise resource planning (ERP), and increased productivity while decreasing payroll head count by 25%. Afterward, I was awarded the 2017 Quality Award.


What are the most important qualities of effective leadership?

Lead by example. Be willing to get in the trenches to help the team succeed, stand up for your employees, and praise them whenever the opportunity presents itself. Impress upon them the benefits of being an educated payroll professional. Be available, be consistent, and provide constructive feedback for growth, and know when it is time to coach someone out of payroll.


What is your management and leadership approach?

My approach is to be fully transparent and to provide coaching, teaching, and an environment for employees to take risks so that they can grow in the profession.


What books are on your recommended reading list?

  • The Holy Bible
  • “Lean In”–Sheryl Sandberg
  • “A Great Place to Work for All”–Michael C. Bush
  • “Who’s Got Your Back?”–Keith Ferrazzi
  • “Never Eat Alone”–Keith Ferrazzi
  • “Click”–George Fraser
  • “What Makes the Great Great”–Dennis Kimbro, Ph.D.
  • “Your Brain at Work”–David Rock


What stress management techniques have you found useful?

I talk to a mentor. To be successful, you need a coach and a mentor who is willing to be transparent and forthcoming—someone who can help you analyze the most stressful situations and send you back in with full armor to tackle, challenge, and conquer the situation.

Do you like our content? Join the GPMI community to get free education and articles straight to your inbox!