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Executive Spotlight

Meet Greg Lafferty, Global Payroll Leader, Trinseo, LLC

By Frank J. Mendelson

GregLaffertyEditor’s Note: Greg Lafferty is Global Payroll Leader for Trinseo, LLC. Starting from the Prudential Insurance Company payroll mail room in 1982, he has remained a payroll professional throughout his career. The variety of industries and types of organizations he has supported includes the First Valley Bank, General Rehabilitation Services, Mercy Health System, and the Comcast Corporation. Most recently, Greg managed the payroll and payroll systems teams for Comcast, which rapidly grew from 9,000 to 90,000 employees through acquisitions. He leads the global payroll operation for Trinseo, LLC, a leading global materials company. Payroll staff located in Germany, the Netherlands, Singapore, Brazil, and the United States pay roughly 2,300 employees in 27 countries. 

What emerging trends or issues have your attention in global payroll? 

The one comment I consistently hear is, “Do you have a global payroll operation?” Many leaders recognize that this idealistic approach may not be the right fit for their organization, but on the other hand, nobody wants a completely local operation. 

Here at Trinseo we are rolling out what we refer to as a global payroll operation with a regional focus—because we really don’t want to lose touch with the local business needs and regulatory requirements, while still recognizing the significant value to a single process, a single data set, and a global staff who knows each other and recognizes the value of a global partnership. 

We recognize certain parts of our business have unique needs that do not fit perfectly into the box but still push hard for standardization of systems and processes with limited exceptions.

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

This is a great question, and one that challenges everyone in the global payroll profession. 

The number and variety of changes that take place globally—from rates, limits, and new reporting requirements all the way to the impact of Safe Harbor and CEO compensation reporting—is numbing, to say the least. 

Unfortunately, the answer is both simple and challenging. I use all the resources I can get my hands on. It starts with building a strong regional payroll staff. I also value a partnership with a good payroll vendor who keeps current on, and is good at communicating, local legislative changes. 

Beyond this, it is critical to leverage a number of online resources such as BNA and GPMI, and to sign up for email alerts from the large accounting firms that provide legislative updates. Finally, I build a strong network of colleagues who are in similar roles and keep in touch regularly. 

How would you advise someone whose company is just beginning to expand to a global payroll with regard to risk management and compliance? 

This is going to sound really strange, but try not to rely too much upon what you feel is “just logical.” I have found that many times my initial perception was based upon my long history of leading a U.S. payroll operation, which is often far from the standard in other countries. 

Instead, listen closely to local resources and do the research. It is critical to get professional guidance for the initial setup, and to partner with a rock-solid payroll vendor who has a local presence. Remember to allow plenty of time. Many countries have processes that take some time to work through, and you may find yourself stuck on what seems to be simple, such as establishing a bank account.

How did you become involved in global payroll? 

A few years back I accepted an opportunity to lead a global payroll operation in 27 countries. Previously, I led a variety of U.S.-based operations ranging from 800 employees to 90,000, although never international. 

Excited and nervous at the same time, I quickly developed an international network of colleagues, investigated the best information resources, and listened very closely to the payroll, HR, and accounting staff globally. Although many of the ground rules are different, it is still getting people paid accurately and on time.

What are the most important qualities of effective leadership?

To be an effective leader, you must be able to listen. Too often we are in a hurry to express our opinion, believing we know what someone is going to say. Secondly, be honest having those discussions about where people are effective and where opportunities exist and why it is important. It is a partnership, and you need to understand each other. Finally, build and take every opportunity to share the long-term strategy so that everyone knows where we are heading. 

What is your leadership style now?

I would describe it as fun, personable, open, and communicative, but still down-to-business, driving hard to achieve our goals. 

How has your approach to change management helped to make a successful organization? 

Change management is critical to all organizations. Too often we try to jump to the end and really miss opportunities to communicate, gain alignment, and all understand the vision. Have regular discussions about what the vision is and the role everyone plays, and then share the business plan and the roles. Then celebrate the success and reward those involved. This approach gets everyone to own the change instead of just fulfilling an assignment.

What key qualities do you look for in people you hire?

Energetic, detail-oriented, diverse payroll background, good communication skills, and a fun-to-work-with personality!

What are some of the unique aspects of running an efficient and effective global payroll operation? 

My first experience of managing someone of a vastly different culture was a failure. He was in charge of the technology upkeep of our application, and we would get together over breakfast once a month and just talk. 

He often told me stories; then one day he resigned. When we talked about why, I began to realize the stories he was telling me had meaning. His culture often communicated this way, something that completely went over my head. I learned a lot from this experience, and I listen more closely to what is being said and often ask more questions to ensure I understand. 

Cultures and heritage will cause people to approach situations differently, so pay very close attention to what is being said.

How do you personally manage to balance work and pleasure?

I work hard, and I also play hard. I love to launch my kayak into the ocean or go on a bike ride with my wife. The biggest challenge with an international role is the meetings that occur at off hours. It isn’t uncommon for me to have a discussion at 7 a.m. and another at 10 p.m. You just need to make the time to hit the gym at lunch, and then, when you are off work, go do something with your family, laugh, joke, and enjoy that time.

What books are on your reading list?

I have little time to read books, which I am certain is due to the number of hours I spend reading emails and regulatory information daily. So when I sit down to read, it needs to be impactful. Here are two completely different books I recommend:

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. If you haven’t read this one, it may change the way you think about why we do what we do.

Lincoln on Leadership by Donald Phillips. This book is a little dry, but what amazed me was the impactful progressive leadership style of President Lincoln and what may be accomplished through leadership.