Michele Honomichl: Encouraging collaboration at Celergo Michele Honomichl: Encouraging collaboration at Celergo

Michele Honomichl: Encouraging collaboration at Celergo
31 Jul 2014

Michele Honomichl founded Celergo ten years ago from her basement. One month later, she gave birth to her first child.

Since then her global payroll company has set up shop in Chicago, London, Budapest and Singapore and has grown an intricate network of service delivery partners in 100 plus countries. Late last year, she stepped up from CEO to executive chairman to concentrate more on strategic development, ‘thought leadership’ and "to take a vacation once in a while".

HOW DID YOU GO FROM FORD TO FOUNDING CELERGO?

When I started at Ford motor company I started as an international auditor – I’ve always loved everything ‘international’ and travelling, so as an international auditor I travelled to Europe and in Latin America. Then I was recruited to help build their international service centre to manage their expats. There were over 2,000 expats at that time and you can imagine how intense processing was.

We built centres in the US, UK and Germany and then launched a client server system from one of the ‘big eight’ accounting firms firms - so a really long time ago. We were managing the entire expatriate process. Every month we were running around trying to get payroll out.

One day I thought “Ford is world class and payroll is still chaotic, so there’s got to be some opportunities out there”. So I went back to graduate school at Indiana University and studied the industry. When I graduated, I founded GPSLink.

GPSLink was an application service provider (ASP) technology in the age of client server, so we were very cutting edge. Nowadays everyone calls it ‘cloud’. We took care of the whole process of an expatriate assignment - everything from managing the vendors to doing the calculations and getting it all the way to payroll.

During that time, we had 9/11, a ‘tech’ bust and a recession and what did people do? They brought their expats home. So we rolled the company up under the investors that we had at that point and took the team forward to start Celergo.

This is our 10th year anniversary. We ran our first payroll in June 2004 for Dubai, one of the easiest payrolls in the world back then. In June 2004, we had our first customer (who is still a customer today). In July, I had my first baby. The company has been growing ever since. My oldest son is going to be 10 in July.

HOW DID CELERGO GROW TO THE SERVICE PROVIDER IT IS TODAY?

It started out in my basement. Then we moved into our own space in Northbrook in 2006. About 18 months later we had nine or ten people and we kept growing and growing.

Europe has been ‘international’ for thousands of years. We are an island in the US. When we send someone to another country it’s a huge deal because a lot of companies don’t understand the culture or complexity of doing business in another country.

In the US it is a big deal just to open an office in a different state. So we cater very heavily to American clients who have operations abroad and have to manage the complexity of local and expatriate payrolls.

WHO IS CELERGO’S CLIENT BASE?

We are mid-market. At Celergo we concentrate on ‘the tail’ - we don’t do very many payrolls over a 1,000 people in a given country. Once you get over a 1,000 in one country you need a different service, a different technology and a different partner.

When you are under a 1,000 people, particularly under 500 (which is really where we excel) companies don’t have a local payroll person, and often they don’t have local expertise. They are usually managed centrally at HQ or in a regional shared services centre and need an expert to manage those payrolls and that’s where we help.

TELL US MORE ABOUT CELERGO’S COLLABORATIVE CULTURE?

We don’t think of ourselves as Celergo Budapest or Celergo Singapore – it’s Celergo Global. Our clients are spread out across all of our centres because we are dealing with Europe, Asia and America and we have collaborative teams that work together.

Even if we are working on a technology project, the lead for that project might be in Budapest or Singapore, so we don’t think of ourselves as separate offices. We’re very cohesive and that’s our entire structure as an organisation.

At Celergo we speak 30-plus languages because we hire for diversity. So if you walk into one of our offices here in the US you’ll hear many different languages.

We have a lot of Spanish speakers here because in Latin America it is less common to have English as a first language and it’s easier for our team to speak to local teams in Spanish: it’s cleaner and ‘quicker to resolution’. Even in Africa and Middle East we speak Portuguese and French, when English might be the third language.

We have a local partner on the ground in each country to ensure compliance. We work within that network, so we gather the changes from the client, review those changes and make sure they are accurate. Then we send the data to our local partner network which has already been integrated into this process.

They perform the gross to net or net to gross calculations and return them to us for review and audit. Then we send consolidated pay registers, reports and GLs to the clients for review and approval. Finally, we manage all compliance filings and funding for both employees and statutory agencies. I bring the passion and the fire to those teams.

WHAT ARE YOUR CORE VALUES?

Our culture is a lot about people, as I’m sure you’ve already guessed, because at the end of the day payroll is about people. We are very diverse, we have almost every major religion and 30 languages - we have awesome ‘pot lucks’! We still have the core values that we set up in 2007.

We took all the people that we initially hired and they built them together – passion, integrity, team work, entrepreneurship and work-life balance. That’s what we prize as an organisation – we’ll hire to that and we’ll fire to that. It’s our DNA and we project it onto our customer base

WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR CELERGO AS EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN?

The vision for us is to continue to be the trusted partner for our clients, our partners and their employees - and of course, we’re going to continue to grow. We’re staying focused mainly on payroll versus HR related functions or entity set ups. Payroll is an art not a science and we do the best when we work within our ‘sweet spot’ of providing expertise and visibility to our clients with complex payrolls.

During the Arab Spring, we got all of our clients’ employees paid. That was a feat. Japan had a tsunami, Chile had an earthquake and we had mudslides in the US, but we still had to get payroll out. We all worked together, our clients, our employees, and our partners to make that happen. After all, payroll is all about people.

 

 

Michele Honomichl founded Celergo ten years ago from her basement. One month later, she gave birth to her first child.

Since then her global payroll company has set up shop in Chicago, London, Budapest and Singapore and has grown an intricate network of service delivery partners in 100 plus countries. Late last year, she stepped up from CEO to executive chairman to concentrate more on strategic development, ‘thought leadership’ and "to take a vacation once in a while".

HOW DID YOU GO FROM FORD TO FOUNDING CELERGO?

When I started at Ford motor company I started as an international auditor – I’ve always loved everything ‘international’ and travelling, so as an international auditor I travelled to Europe and in Latin America. Then I was recruited to help build their international service centre to manage their expats. There were over 2,000 expats at that time and you can imagine how intense processing was.

We built centres in the US, UK and Germany and then launched a client server system from one of the ‘big eight’ accounting firms firms - so a really long time ago. We were managing the entire expatriate process. Every month we were running around trying to get payroll out.

One day I thought “Ford is world class and payroll is still chaotic, so there’s got to be some opportunities out there”. So I went back to graduate school at Indiana University and studied the industry. When I graduated, I founded GPSLink.

GPSLink was an application service provider (ASP) technology in the age of client server, so we were very cutting edge. Nowadays everyone calls it ‘cloud’. We took care of the whole process of an expatriate assignment - everything from managing the vendors to doing the calculations and getting it all the way to payroll.

During that time, we had 9/11, a ‘tech’ bust and a recession and what did people do? They brought their expats home. So we rolled the company up under the investors that we had at that point and took the team forward to start Celergo.

This is our 10th year anniversary. We ran our first payroll in June 2004 for Dubai, one of the easiest payrolls in the world back then. In June 2004, we had our first customer (who is still a customer today). In July, I had my first baby. The company has been growing ever since. My oldest son is going to be 10 in July.

HOW DID CELERGO GROW TO THE SERVICE PROVIDER IT IS TODAY?

It started out in my basement. Then we moved into our own space in Northbrook in 2006. About 18 months later we had nine or ten people and we kept growing and growing.

Europe has been ‘international’ for thousands of years. We are an island in the US. When we send someone to another country it’s a huge deal because a lot of companies don’t understand the culture or complexity of doing business in another country.

In the US it is a big deal just to open an office in a different state. So we cater very heavily to American clients who have operations abroad and have to manage the complexity of local and expatriate payrolls.

WHO IS CELERGO’S CLIENT BASE?

We are mid-market. At Celergo we concentrate on ‘the tail’ - we don’t do very many payrolls over a 1,000 people in a given country. Once you get over a 1,000 in one country you need a different service, a different technology and a different partner.

When you are under a 1,000 people, particularly under 500 (which is really where we excel) companies don’t have a local payroll person, and often they don’t have local expertise. They are usually managed centrally at HQ or in a regional shared services centre and need an expert to manage those payrolls and that’s where we help.

TELL US MORE ABOUT CELERGO’S COLLABORATIVE CULTURE?

We don’t think of ourselves as Celergo Budapest or Celergo Singapore – it’s Celergo Global. Our clients are spread out across all of our centres because we are dealing with Europe, Asia and America and we have collaborative teams that work together.

Even if we are working on a technology project, the lead for that project might be in Budapest or Singapore, so we don’t think of ourselves as separate offices. We’re very cohesive and that’s our entire structure as an organisation.

At Celergo we speak 30-plus languages because we hire for diversity. So if you walk into one of our offices here in the US you’ll hear many different languages.

We have a lot of Spanish speakers here because in Latin America it is less common to have English as a first language and it’s easier for our team to speak to local teams in Spanish: it’s cleaner and ‘quicker to resolution’. Even in Africa and Middle East we speak Portuguese and French, when English might be the third language.

We have a local partner on the ground in each country to ensure compliance. We work within that network, so we gather the changes from the client, review those changes and make sure they are accurate. Then we send the data to our local partner network which has already been integrated into this process.

They perform the gross to net or net to gross calculations and return them to us for review and audit. Then we send consolidated pay registers, reports and GLs to the clients for review and approval. Finally, we manage all compliance filings and funding for both employees and statutory agencies. I bring the passion and the fire to those teams.

WHAT ARE YOUR CORE VALUES?

Our culture is a lot about people, as I’m sure you’ve already guessed, because at the end of the day payroll is about people. We are very diverse, we have almost every major religion and 30 languages - we have awesome ‘pot lucks’! We still have the core values that we set up in 2007.

We took all the people that we initially hired and they built them together – passion, integrity, team work, entrepreneurship and work-life balance. That’s what we prize as an organisation – we’ll hire to that and we’ll fire to that. It’s our DNA and we project it onto our customer base

WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR CELERGO AS EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN?

The vision for us is to continue to be the trusted partner for our clients, our partners and their employees - and of course, we’re going to continue to grow. We’re staying focused mainly on payroll versus HR related functions or entity set ups. Payroll is an art not a science and we do the best when we work within our ‘sweet spot’ of providing expertise and visibility to our clients with complex payrolls.

During the Arab Spring, we got all of our clients’ employees paid. That was a feat. Japan had a tsunami, Chile had an earthquake and we had mudslides in the US, but we still had to get payroll out. We all worked together, our clients, our employees, and our partners to make that happen. After all, payroll is all about people.