Ken Conway: Relishing the infinite variety of global payroll at Expedia Ken Conway: Relishing the infinite variety of global payroll at Expedia

Ken Conway: Relishing the infinite variety of global payroll at Expedia
06 Jan 2018

Although Ken Conway started his career with dreams of becoming a chief financial officer, he caught the payroll bug early on and has never looked back. He is now senior director of shared services at leading online travel company Expedia, Inc. and is in the process of transforming how its global payroll services are delivered.

How did you end up pursuing a career in payroll?

Two years after completing my Bachelor’s degree in accounting, I started working at Westinghouse Electric Corporation as an expatriate payroll administrator. In fact, I held three different payroll positions in three years and it was there that I caught the bug. I spent an additional five years or so working in a range of other finance roles around the company and you could say that the experience I gained there amounted to a mini-MBA.

Subsequently, however, I became a payroll manager for three Fortune 500 companies – Freddie Mac, Aon (formerly Alexander & Alexander), and Hewlett-Packard. But in my 33 year-long career, I’ve also worked on everything from payroll system implementation and HR business process outsourcing to consulting.

The reason that I prefer payroll to accounting though is that no day is the same. It keeps me excited, which is great because when things get too steady-state, I always want to move on to the next challenge. But when I decided to go global, it felt like I was an astronaut walking on the moon – I had the opportunity to do what so few others have done. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and it’s a great challenge. You get the chance to work with people around the world, to come up with solutions, build operations and make everything as efficient as possible.

When did you join Expedia and what is your remit there?

I joined Expedia at the end of September 2015, and took on a newly-created role here. The company was growing hugely internationally and needed a seasoned global person to help drive its payroll strategy and ensure it could support continued growth both organically and via acquisition. But after a couple of months, my role also expanded to cover shared services, which includes HR operations and IT.

My first job was to interview 50 or so people internally to understand the lay of the land and develop a strategy around people, processes and technology in order to work out what the most effective organisational structure and technology option would be.

To give you some insight into Expedia, it has a portfolio of notable travel brands and employs more than 18,000 staff in more than 50 countries. The payroll department sits within the HR shared services function.

Of what does your strategy consist?

The aim is to address the company’s growing pains and provide consistently accurate, efficient, scalable and cost-effective payroll services to enable us to scale the business more effectively.

The challenges that we faced were:

- A lack of integration between too many diverse systems. This situation leads to too much manual data entry, which is time-consuming and results in errors
- HR spending too much time on payroll-related tasks
- Payroll spending too much time on clerical work rather than data analysis in order to spot trends that could help the function improve service delivery.

So the goal is to standardise our payroll processes around the world, implement a single time reporting, absence management and global system and integrate it with our Workday HR environment.

What benefits will this approach bring?

It should eradicate the need for HR personnel to manually type information into our payroll systems about everything from new hires and promotions to changes of employee address. Therefore, they should be able to focus on more strategic activities that will help them support staff and managers more effectively.

As part of this process, we’ve also hired local payroll staff in each of the regions where we operate, so North America, Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and Latin America In the past, all payroll operations were run centrally out of our US headquarters in Bellevue, Washington State, which made it difficult to respond in a timely fashion to queries coming in from different time zones.

Payroll staff, meanwhile, will no longer have to spend lots of time chasing down data input sheets, but will be able to focus on improving service quality. Employees are also able to see their pay slips and other related HR and finance information online as well.

Another innovation will involve us setting up a customer service organisation specifically to support our workforce. To this end, we’ve already started piloting a ticketing tool from ServiceNow, which will enable us to set up global standard case categories. So if someone has a problem with their pay cheque, for instance, they can choose a number of pre-defined categories such as tax, overtime, bonuses etc. to register their payroll queries.

This means we can start seeing just how many queries we’re getting on different topics and how quickly we’re resolving them, which should help us set service metrics around how swiftly to respond. We’ll also be able to do customer surveys in order to get a better view of the customer experience.

What advice would you offer other payroll professionals keen to follow in your footsteps?


Always take whatever opportunities present themselves to broaden your horizons and experience. Ultimately be willing to go the extra mile as you always learn the most when you’re involved in tackling issues outside of your normal responsibilities. The more you’re exposed to, the more you’ll grow.

Also whether you’re in a meeting or presentation, constantly self-evaluate. Ask yourself, how did I/ we do, how could I/we do it differently or better? It’s about looking for the lessons and learning from the people around you, especially leadership, to see what works and what doesn’t in terms of their behaviour.

And remember professional relationships are important too – in fact, they’re 95% of the battle. If you can figure out how to work well with other people in the organisation and build a positive relationship with them, they’ll want to support your efforts. If you don’t get on with them, it can make matters more challenging. But if you can get the relationship bit right, the rest is a piece of cake.

 



Although Ken Conway started his career with dreams of becoming a chief financial officer, he caught the payroll bug early on and has never looked back. He is now senior director of shared services at leading online travel company Expedia, Inc. and is in the process of transforming how its global payroll services are delivered.

How did you end up pursuing a career in payroll?

Two years after completing my Bachelor’s degree in accounting, I started working at Westinghouse Electric Corporation as an expatriate payroll administrator. In fact, I held three different payroll positions in three years and it was there that I caught the bug. I spent an additional five years or so working in a range of other finance roles around the company and you could say that the experience I gained there amounted to a mini-MBA.

Subsequently, however, I became a payroll manager for three Fortune 500 companies – Freddie Mac, Aon (formerly Alexander & Alexander), and Hewlett-Packard. But in my 33 year-long career, I’ve also worked on everything from payroll system implementation and HR business process outsourcing to consulting.

The reason that I prefer payroll to accounting though is that no day is the same. It keeps me excited, which is great because when things get too steady-state, I always want to move on to the next challenge. But when I decided to go global, it felt like I was an astronaut walking on the moon – I had the opportunity to do what so few others have done. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and it’s a great challenge. You get the chance to work with people around the world, to come up with solutions, build operations and make everything as efficient as possible.

When did you join Expedia and what is your remit there?

I joined Expedia at the end of September 2015, and took on a newly-created role here. The company was growing hugely internationally and needed a seasoned global person to help drive its payroll strategy and ensure it could support continued growth both organically and via acquisition. But after a couple of months, my role also expanded to cover shared services, which includes HR operations and IT.

My first job was to interview 50 or so people internally to understand the lay of the land and develop a strategy around people, processes and technology in order to work out what the most effective organisational structure and technology option would be.

To give you some insight into Expedia, it has a portfolio of notable travel brands and employs more than 18,000 staff in more than 50 countries. The payroll department sits within the HR shared services function.

Of what does your strategy consist?

The aim is to address the company’s growing pains and provide consistently accurate, efficient, scalable and cost-effective payroll services to enable us to scale the business more effectively.

The challenges that we faced were:

- A lack of integration between too many diverse systems. This situation leads to too much manual data entry, which is time-consuming and results in errors
- HR spending too much time on payroll-related tasks
- Payroll spending too much time on clerical work rather than data analysis in order to spot trends that could help the function improve service delivery.

So the goal is to standardise our payroll processes around the world, implement a single time reporting, absence management and global system and integrate it with our Workday HR environment.

What benefits will this approach bring?

It should eradicate the need for HR personnel to manually type information into our payroll systems about everything from new hires and promotions to changes of employee address. Therefore, they should be able to focus on more strategic activities that will help them support staff and managers more effectively.

As part of this process, we’ve also hired local payroll staff in each of the regions where we operate, so North America, Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and Latin America In the past, all payroll operations were run centrally out of our US headquarters in Bellevue, Washington State, which made it difficult to respond in a timely fashion to queries coming in from different time zones.

Payroll staff, meanwhile, will no longer have to spend lots of time chasing down data input sheets, but will be able to focus on improving service quality. Employees are also able to see their pay slips and other related HR and finance information online as well.

Another innovation will involve us setting up a customer service organisation specifically to support our workforce. To this end, we’ve already started piloting a ticketing tool from ServiceNow, which will enable us to set up global standard case categories. So if someone has a problem with their pay cheque, for instance, they can choose a number of pre-defined categories such as tax, overtime, bonuses etc. to register their payroll queries.

This means we can start seeing just how many queries we’re getting on different topics and how quickly we’re resolving them, which should help us set service metrics around how swiftly to respond. We’ll also be able to do customer surveys in order to get a better view of the customer experience.

What advice would you offer other payroll professionals keen to follow in your footsteps?


Always take whatever opportunities present themselves to broaden your horizons and experience. Ultimately be willing to go the extra mile as you always learn the most when you’re involved in tackling issues outside of your normal responsibilities. The more you’re exposed to, the more you’ll grow.

Also whether you’re in a meeting or presentation, constantly self-evaluate. Ask yourself, how did I/ we do, how could I/we do it differently or better? It’s about looking for the lessons and learning from the people around you, especially leadership, to see what works and what doesn’t in terms of their behaviour.

And remember professional relationships are important too – in fact, they’re 95% of the battle. If you can figure out how to work well with other people in the organisation and build a positive relationship with them, they’ll want to support your efforts. If you don’t get on with them, it can make matters more challenging. But if you can get the relationship bit right, the rest is a piece of cake.