April 2023

Meet Kathleen Neiley, CPP, Global Payroll Manager at AgroFresh

By Frank J. Mendelson
Editor’s Note: Kathleen Neiley, CPP, is the Global Payroll Manager at AgroFresh, a global leader in preventing food waste/loss through scientific solutions. Neiley has 25 years of payroll experience combined in various industries including non-profits, biotech, and healthcare. She obtained her Certified Payroll Professional (CPP) certification in 2014.

How did you get your start in payroll?

My career in payroll began by assisting with time collection for a company that only operated in the state of Pennsylvania. I had recently graduated from college and was doing accounting work but also assisting the payroll manager, since he was always so busy. I quickly moved into other payroll duties within that company. Then, I moved into working for companies that had multiple state payrolls, and then ultimately to positions in companies that have multiple countries. 

What is the changing role of the payroll professional?

When I first started my career, I used in-house payroll processing software. That meant I was doing everything from manually updating the IRS Circular E tax tables at the beginning of the year to processing and printing Forms W-2. It was great experience to have done those tasks manually, and it helped me to build a good foundation of knowledge. However, it was not an efficient use of time. After the company implemented a vendor’s software, I had time for other things. So, I have experienced all the miracles of technology in the last 20 or so years. 

With the continuous improvement of technology freeing up time, payroll now often manages the human resources information system (HRIS), provides reports/data regarding labor for budgeting purposes, accounting accruals, and HR reporting. Also, if the payroll person has accounting knowledge, they are processing the payroll journal entries or at least helping with account reconciliations. 

My experience with payroll people is that they are meticulous and highly organized, so they do well in their partnerships with other departments. System efficiencies free up time for these partnerships.

What are some emerging trends in global payroll operations?

In the last few years, it seems like there are more opportunities for global payroll positions in the United States. There always were some, but not as many as there are now. With technology making it easier to work anywhere and with the pandemic putting that into practice, the opportunities to work in global payroll are endless.

I have also noticed the emergence of more global payroll vendors providing strong competition and selection choices in the last couple years. Competition will push vendors to continuously improve service and features. The platforms and vendors are continuing to evolve. It is exciting to see what systems or services will be like in the next five years.

Any preference as to which department payroll should report through?

I have spent a good deal of my career reporting through accounting but in my last few positions, I have been reporting through HR. While we do partner closely with both departments no matter what the reporting lines are, I feel with global payroll that there is a need for more synergy with HR, given the additional complexities and different employment laws that complicate matters in a global company.

Do you have advice for work/life balance working for a company with employees in multiple time zones?

In a global environment, depending on what is going on, there are going to be early mornings or late evenings at times. I work for a company with operations in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA), Latin America, the United States, and the Asia-Pacific (APAC). Sometimes it is better to be online early in Europe to be able to connect with a coworker or payroll vendor to be more productive versus sending an email. Things frequently come up that are time-sensitive. 
Walk away from your computer to give yourself time to do other things not related to work. This is not always possible to do but it is good to be mindful.

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

There is a definite need for continuous learning with global payroll. Other than reviewing the latest news, there are times that something comes up that requires further research in managing the company’s payroll. For the United States, the American Payroll Association (APA) is a reliable resource. For non-U.S. countries, we have support from our payroll vendors and the Global Payroll Management Institute (GPMI), specifically their Country Spotlight columns, which are a very concise and informative tool.

What are the challenges for companies that are globally expanding?

Conducting an implementation for a new country expansion while learning about that country’s payroll at the same time can be a challenging task. You are trying to get everything in place so you can run the payroll while also learning about this new country you are operating in. This is where hopefully you have a great vendor, and you lean on your training resources and publications. 

I believe it is a skill to know what questions to ask when you do not know something or if it is new to you altogether. You may not know something fully but prior experience in payroll with other countries leads you to know the types of questions to ask. 

What is the importance of effective communication with a global company?

Communication is important in any company whether it operates in one country or globally. It can be more complex with different languages and cultures, so it is important to be clear and concise. Also, it is important to communicate with the employee population in a way they are most comfortable with. At AgroFresh, some employees like to talk to you directly. Others like email or chat via instant messaging. Some like to speak through their local HR manager. Multiple means of communication are quite helpful with a global company.

What advice would you give to someone beginning or considering a career in global payroll?

I would suggest a similar progression to the one I followed, which is to make the move from local/multi-state jurisdiction payroll to multiple countries as you can build a strong career that way. The kind of knowledge you develop from expanding into various parts of the world creates highly sought after skills. Also, consider earning a payroll certification, whether it is through the APA or within other countries where you live or work.

What are the most important qualities of effective leadership?

Great leaders encourage their staff to learn more and do more for their professional development. They tell their employees when they do an excellent job and let others in the organization know too, so their staff receive recognition. They are proud when their staff does well.

More than anything else, they show kindness. As a leader, you have the power to create the tone of your department. A good leader creates an environment where people feel valued, respected, and comfortable bringing ideas to the table. I think most everyone has had that awesome manager who created the best workplace that was fun and productive. Unfortunately, many have experienced the direct opposite. As individuals, we all know where we would prefer to work. Of course, everyone is still held accountable for their work responsibilities. Kindness goes a long way in getting the best out of people and retaining staff.

What stress management techniques do you find useful?

There is something about walking that I find clears my head and refreshes my mind. If you have a dog or two, or more, it is even better! I work from home and when I close my laptop to take a break, the happiness of my dogs when I grab their leashes is so joyful to see. I may not be quite as excited as they are to go for a walk but going outside and getting fresh air is something enjoyed by all living beings.

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