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Executive Spotlight

Meet Ann M. Schwemler, Senior Vice President, Business Services, Capgemini

The Canadian payroll executive shares her views on coming changes, managing risk, and serving as a mentor.

 

 

By Frank J. Mendelson

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Editor’s Note: Ann M. Schwemler is an accomplished executive based in Toronto with deep business-   and technology-related experience, constantly motivated to drive change and create business value. Since joining Capgemini in 2002, she has progressed through a number of leadership roles overseeing various business operations in Canada, North America, and globally. She is known to drive closed-loop, innovative, and integrated business solutions and champion continuous improvement activities. Her recent focus is on designing and delivering transformational business processes and services supported by process automation and enabling technologies for the energy, manufacturing, and engineering and construction service sectors. Prior to joining Capgemini, Schwemler held a number of senior management positions at Hydro One and its predecessor companies at the corporate level as well as at two of its subsidiaries

What are the emerging trends or issues that have your attention in global payroll?
There is a heightened awareness and need for accelerated change in global payroll.Nothing is constant. I’m seeing a focus on integrated,end-to-end/hire-to-retire processes and platforms in our ever-increasing digital environment.

At the same time, we’re seeing an increase in automation to drive faster, accurate, and more efficient processes, and an ability to address worker mobility tracking requirements. These include safety as well as taxation requirements. With that, there is increased monitoring for compliance, fraud awareness, and emerging changes in compensation packages. These include an increased focus on creative incentives, including outcome-based compensation and equity ownership.

What changes do you foresee in the coming year, as more and more companies become involved in global payroll?
I anticipate more organizations will make investments in integrated platforms, enabling them to manage multiple activities, including but not limited to HR, payroll, recruiting, learning and development, safety and certifications, performance management, compensation and benefits, and time and expense reporting.

I also see more organizations consolidating their HR pay functions to drive more standardization and harmonization so that regional hubs can focus on local legislation and statutory requirements. A stronger focus on cloud-based payroll systems will streamline processes and practices for global organizations.

What changes, if any, do you envision in regard to managing regulatory compliance in the coming year(s)?
As global payrolls grow, there is ever more focus on governance and risk and compliance relative to employment contracts, compensation and benefits packages, and corresponding learning and developmentassociated with employee safety. In addition, there is a heightened awareness and an increased focus on privacy and confidentiality.

Increased intervention from tax authorities adds to a focus on compensation, benefits, employee business expenses, and ongoing changes in employment labor laws, particularly in emerging economies. Other areas include employee vs. contractor relationships and stricter policies as a result of the changing landscape and the larger digital footprint of employers.

How would you describe your present strategy with regard to managing risk and compliance on a global basis? Are there different approaches you’ve taken over time, before adopting your current strategy?
I have five components that serve as the foundation for compliance and risk management strategy. They are:

  1. A defined quality management system
  2. Efficient communication processes
  3. Processes for monitoring and identifying changes and risks (from process, IT, and compliance perspectives)
  4. Preparation, review, and updates to the control framework, including internal and external audits
  5. A monthly review and risk evaluation

 

What are the key considerations in managing risk and compliance across your annual timeline?
Considerations include a defined management system with prescribed processes for review of policy, procedures, practices, governing legislation, revenue, and tax changes. I recommend subscribing to professional organizations and bodies (e.g., APA, CPA, etc., as well as accounting and tax authorities) within the countries for which payroll accountability applies (taking into account where employees work, reside, etc.) for regular updates and communications regarding emerging and legislated changes.

When you attended college, did you have an idea what you wanted to do with your career?
While in college, I came to realize I wanted to pursue a job in the corporate finance field in a highly technical environment.

I completed my degree, majoring in accounting with a computer science minor, and participated in a variety of internships spanning corporate finance, accounting, and HR business systems. Those experiences enabled me to secure my first full-time position as a corporate accounting and financial systems analyst.

How did you become involved in global payroll?
Payroll was a function I became intimately familiar with in my first role as a corporate accounting and financial systems analyst. My job focused on refining the processes and system environment requirements for payroll. It provided me an opportunity to design new blueprints for hire-to-retire and other payroll-related activities and play key roles in multifaceted HRIS and payroll implementations involving multiple providers, such as SAP and PeopleSoft.

What has been your level of involvement with The Canadian Payroll Association (CPA)?
I have been engaged with the CPA for the past 10-plus years, supporting memberships for my business services teams that process payroll for both our clients and our own organization. I like to stay informed of all CPA news and take advantage of the resources it offers its members.

Did you have a mentor in your career development? As a mentor yourself, are there particular areas that you find most important to share?
The project manager for my first payroll system development project is someone I’d consider my first mentor. She emulated a number of traits I saw in my parents, including ambition, drive, and a strong work ethic. I was also fortunate to have another mentor in a senior management role who was able to show me how to achieve a feasible work-life balance. I have since played the role of mentor to a number of individuals aspiring to grow into senior management and leadership positions. Some of the key characteristics of any mentor are an ability to listen and provide guidance and insight while enabling individuals to formulate their own positions based on objective data.

What are some of the lessons you’ve learned from your first role in management?
The importance of leading by example. This is supplemented by planning, prioritizing, learning to delegate, and, most importantly, listening in order to provide guidance while enabling individual contributions.

What was your most important developmental experience?
Taking on a project leadership role in selecting an IT/ERP strategy for a large company and driving the end-state business processes (finance, HR-PAY, and supply chain) built on leading best practices.

What have you learned about world cultures, similarities, and differences that impact your work in global payroll?
What makes global payroll unique and complex are the underlying labor laws and tax rules within and across countries, particularly as enterprises share more operational resources across geographies.Drawing from my experience supporting global payroll operations in multiple markets around the world, I’ve come to find there are some key similarities. They include the need to secure employee data in a secure and confidential manner; the need to capture employee time, including exceptions, to accurately process payroll, and the ability to capture the underlying accounting data; the need to accurately calculate statutory obligations (various taxes, benefits, union dues, garnishments, etc.) and process these remittances in a timely manner; the need to accurately report on payroll and related obligations from a financial, management, and statutory perspective; and the importance of not paying penalties for violating any of the above.

What are the most important qualities of a leader?
I believe there are six fundamental qualities found in every successful leader: 1) effective listening and communication; 2) effective decision-making; 3) leading by example; 4) willingness to take on risk; 5) being flexible; and 6) passion, drive, and determination.

What is your leadership style now?
One of conviction and empathy. I like to define a strong and clear vision (one that might just be outside the norm), and ensure that I see it through to completion while having the patience and desire to listen to team members’ points of view. Along this journey, I strive to lead by example with effective communication and ensure that team members’ input is secured. Honesty and integrity are integral to my leadership style. Just as integral is the ability to surround myself with strong team members who can offer different perspectives as well as skill sets to complement my own.

What strategies do you use in team-building?
Before any strategy is conceptualized, the foundation begins by seeking individuals with the right competencies, including a strong willingness to learn.

How has your approach to change management helped to make a successful organization?
Communication is key. Having strong and visible leaders to espouse change and its importance is critical to success (it is essential that leaders of change can “walk the talk”). Where required, effective and timely training will help make strides in adoption (just in time and refresher training as needed).

How do you hire? What are some key questions you ask potential hires?
I always look to evaluate whether candidates have any of the core competencies found in the role for which they’re being considered, as it’s the easiest baseline for commencing the interview process. When it comes time for the interview, there are several key questions I pose to candidates that include:

  • What is the top reason you’re seeking this new position, and how does this tie to immediate and longer-term goals?
  • What motivates and de-motivates you?
  • How do you deal with difficult situations? Describe a situation that you encountered. How did you deal with it? What would you have done differently?
  • How do you introduce continuous improvement into the processes that you are engaged in?
  • Where do you see yourself in one year, three years, and five years?
  • How do you engage in continuous learning and development (both professionally and personally)?

 

What are key qualities you look for in people you hire?
I look for five key qualities—honesty, ambition, flexibility, willingness to be a team player, and an effective communicator.

What are areas of additional education and training you think will be important to global payroll professionals?
These include a clear understanding of the business, including underlying policies, procedures, and practices (particularly the workforce and underlying employment contracts, employee compensation and benefits programs, and/or collective agreements).

We’re also seeing increased training on changes to employer/employee statutory and/or legislated changes.

Finally, payroll certification programs and associated training and development offers, local accounting standards related to payroll, and procurement standards and reporting obligations related to non-regular employees (e.g., independent contractors) are three areas where I think it’s important for payroll professionals to have additional training.

What advice do you give new college graduates?
Always remember that change is constant. You need to always be flexible and willing to learn; never hesitate to ask questions or offer suggestions.

What were some early influences for you?
The two people who had the most profound influence on me were my mom and dad.

My mom instilled the importance of learning, getting an education, and building confidence to ask tough questions. My father taught me to create a great work ethic and look to constantly improve oneself.

The biggest influences have been my immediate family, friends, leaders, and colleagues.

How do you personally manage to balance work and pleasure?
I adhere to my personal mottos: “Work hard and play hard,” and “Perfect practice makes perfect.”

What do you like most about your job?
There is never a dull moment. I’m always looking to expand the footprint of my service offerings. One day my focus is global, while the next it is local. Change is a constant, and I personally embrace change. In fact, I look forward to it, because it means that I am doing and learning something new.

What’s something you’ve always wanted to do but never had the time for?
Skydiving is at the top of my bucket list, followed by scuba diving.

Upon what do you take most satisfaction for in your professional career or personal life?
The fact that I continue to learn and explore each and every day with the support of my personal and professional families. More important, my family has benefited from the opportunities afforded me in leading global teams across a number of countries and continents, enabling them to experience history and culture.