The path to building a highly successful business does not usually start with a career ending injury, but as a testament to Ian and Maria Lindgren’s vision they both saw an opportunity arise out of misfortune and took brave steps towards it.
Ian and Maria are the founders of PayMe, now one of Australia’s leading contractor payroll and salary packaging consultants.
Both originally from the Riverina, the couple met in Narrandera and moved to Canberra with their two sons in 1994 when Ian was posted to the capital as an Army officer.
During a 21-year career in the armed forces, Ian developed his skills in technology and business systems until an injury in Egypt in 2002 brought his time in the Army to an end.
It was a significant life change, but one that ultimately led the couple into entrepreneurship and business leadership.
Ian established a small consulting firm of twelve employees providing IT project management and business analysis services to the Department of Defence and quickly realised that paying contractors correctly took a lot of effort.
“Contractors usually have an uncertain pay cycle, so we made sure that everyone got paid on time, every time,” Maria says. “That way, they would have a guaranteed pay day and could confidently arrange direct debits for loans and other payments. Before long, we ended up having other contractors who worked for other companies ask, ‘Can you pay me too?'”
By late 2005, with Ian unable to maintain full-time work due to his injury, the couple decided to start a payroll business from home. They developed a specialist system for paying contractors and PayMe was born.
“The intent at the time was that I would work from home and perhaps earn enough income to help Maria who was by then the main bread winner,” Ian says.
Those early days laid the foundation for their success.
“Our primary motivation was for clients to receive an experience of unquestionable integrity, rapid support and good old fashioned service. That hasn’t changed,” he says.
PayMe saw a turnover of $600,000 in the first six months, which skyrocketed to $9 million in the next financial year.
Maria and Ian now work at their head office in Deakin and employ over 25 people nationally across three companies in what is now known as the PayMe Group.
Ian is the Executive Chairman while Maria holds the role of Chief Executive Officer of PayMe Australia.
When asked how they negotiate business within a marriage they immediately turn to each other and smile.
“We are both leaders,” says Ian.
“But we are different,” Maria says.
Maria looks after the operational side and customer service delivery, creating the face of the business.
“We are here to help people. Contractors do not usually know exactly when they will be paid but if you are a client of ours and you go to the ATM on payday, the money will be there,” Maria says. “I feel personally responsible for every client we have. ‘Has everyone been paid?’ gets asked around here a lot. I don’t rest unless the answer is: ‘Yes’.”
Sales and compliance are Ian’s domain.
“Ian looks after everything behind the scenes, ensuring the integrity of the business. Compliance is a minefield and he spends a lot of his time keeping up to date. Government agencies and recruitment companies seek our knowledge these days,” Maria says.
The increased complexity has required a gearing up of their team.
“In the early days we got by with our own research but 11 years on we have a team of lawyers, accountants, financial advisers and business partners,” Ian says. “In order to grow we needed to be more compliant and we needed to have the business resources to assess risk. You need knowledge if you want to grow.”
Ian and Maria attribute their success to being honest and providing the level of care they would want to receive themselves.
Maria’s dedication to professional development and her ability to plan, lead and manage a multitude of activities at one time are also key, according to her husband.
“Maria has helped to build a culture of team work within the group. We would not be here without that commitment to the team,” Ian says.
For Maria, the dedicated staff deserve the credit.
“Ian and I are the team leaders but it is the individuals in the teams in each of our companies who are the ones that truly make it all work,” she says.
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