Women in Tech: Alison Sellar, CEO of Activpayroll

‘Scotland’s best kept secret’

Described by those in the know as ‘Scotland’s best kept secret in global payroll’, Alison Sellar is the CEO of Activpayroll, an innovative award-winning global payroll service to over 1000 companies in more than 146 countries worldwide. Alison was one of three people from the North-east of Scotland to be honoured with an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List. She is set to collect her OBE this coming July, 2018.

1. How did you become a tech leader?

Alison founded activpayroll in 2001. After holding 7 part-time jobs when she was younger, Alison spotted a niche in the market for a leading global professional service organisation, providing integrated global and domestic payroll solutions; expatriate taxation services and online HR people management tools.

2. Can you give me a brief summary of how you got to this stage?

Prior to starting activ, Alison was an accountant. Here she saw that payroll was heavily linked with technology, and that in order to stay at the forefront of the industry technology must be developed to keep up with demand. Technology plays a major part in our Global Payroll solution in over 146 Countries, whether this is our in-house developed products such as activ8, connecting to our Customers Global ERP applications or continual investment and development of our IT infrastructure. It is key as part of our growth to continually invest in technology, be innovative and leading edge.

3. What would you say has been the biggest challenge?

Alison says one of the biggest challenges they face is the need to keep abreast of cutting-edge, market-leading technologies. Particularly when a client’s technology doesn’t match up – Alison says some still want to use floppy disks! Another challenge which Activpayroll are currently facing is the uncertainty brought about by Brexit. Alison says that they don’t know what will happen as a result of any possible changes to legislation and this is something they must bear in mind for the future.

And, given how global Activpayroll are, something else which can prove difficult is keeping track of legislation in 146 countries!

4. What’s been the highlight/biggest achievement?

Alison is rightly very proud of her achievements over the last 15 years at Activ, she said that one of her highlights is the fact that they have grown the business with no external funding and the company is still privately owned. Activ has grown the number of people in the company by 55% in the last two years.

Alison also won Scottish Business Woman of the Year in 2015 – as seen here in this photo alongside Judy Murray.

5. What advice would you give to a woman starting out in the tech industry?

Alison says you must: “Believe in what you can achieve”

Believe in what you can achieve

She says there will be barriers along the way – but if you are strong and focused, you can overcome them. She also said that doing your research was paramount – “don’t underestimate the cost of tech”. Do your market research and invest in and build something useful. Alison says there will be good days and bad days, but if you believe you can be successful and don’t let people undermine you, the good days will outweigh the bad.

6. What do you think the future looks like for women in tech?

Just like Katz Kiely, CEO of Beep, and Abigail Rappoport, CEO of Emoquo, Alison was positive about the future of women in technology. She says there is a massive opportunity for women to lead and to be innovative; for them to display they have the skills and really shine.

Activpayroll’s website: www.activpayroll.com

Alison’s email: Alison.Sellar

Alison’s LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/alison-sellar

For an introduction to LACE’s ‘Women in Tech’ series, compiled by Kathryn Evans, please visit our first ‘Women in Tech Series: Be brave!’ article.