Fifteen years in business is no small feat in today’s transforming and sluggish economy.
That’s why when Payroll Network, Inc.—the workforce management solutions company George A. Whitehouse cofounded with longtime business partner Charles J. Wolf II—approached the 15-year milestone this year, the duo decided to celebrate.
The celebration, at the company’s offices on Gaither Road in Rockville, reflected both the personal approach the expanding company offers clients and the technology they use to do it, said Whitehouse, the company’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer.
The 750 people at the Sept. 13 celebration also were evidence of a double meaning behind the company’s name, Whitehouse said.
“Network” refers to the computer network the company uses to manage clients’ payroll, timekeeping, credit card processing, human relations and tax filing. It also refers to the network of friends, partners and associates, Whitehouse and Wolf have built, Whitehouse said.
Whitehouse and Wolf, the company’s chairman and CEO, have been friends and colleagues since 1968.
“Back before firms had computers we were the computer guys” who did work for financial firms and other clients, Whitehouse said.
In 1997, the duo sold an accounting/data process firm. A year later they launched Payroll Network with about 25 clients. The company now claims 50 employees and nearly 1,000 clients in the Mid-Atlantic.
While Payroll Network’s partners and clients are regional and in some cases national companies, most are based in Montgomery County.
“It’s where we grew,” said Whitehouse, a northeastern Pennsylvania native who has lived in Montgomery County since 1968.
Clients include nonprofits, congregations and associations, such as St. Mary’s and St. Elizabeth Catholic churches in Rockville and the Maryland Chamber of Commerce. They include businesses with a small number of employees, such as Addie’s restaurant, to those with hundreds, such as the law firm Shulman Rodgers.
“We get most of our business from CPA firms, benefit brokers, bankers, HR consultants,” Whitehouse said.
As the business has grown, so has its network of clients and prospective clients, he said.
“Technology really has helped us continue to network,” he said. “We’ve become Linked In buffs.”
Whitehouse and Wolf got turned on to the business-centric social network by “young people working for us” soon after Linked In launched online in May 2003, Whitehouse said.
The results weren’t exactly instant. As a networking site, Linked In seemed “dormant until three or four years ago,” Whitehouse said.
Now, Whitehouse and Payroll Network are "linked in" to more than 2,000 people, he said.
“Many of them have reached out to me,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I know them well.”
The networking opportunities afforded by Linked In have helped with marketing Payroll Network, he said. The 28,000 email addresses Payroll Network has on file also helped with turnout for the anniversary celebration, Whitehouse said.
So is it difficult to use technology and keep personal touch?
“Not if you try,” Whitehouse said. In fact, Payroll Network has used technology to enhance its personal connections to clients, he said.
Payroll Network’s products are “100 percent Internet based,” Whitehouse said. Clients can access accounts and data from anywhere. The products include features such as a green button that clients can click to chat or instant message with a live client service person about issues such as how to write a check.
“Technology has helped us stay in touch personally,” Whitehouse said.
But technology has its limits. Enter last month’s celebration, which gave clients and service people a chance to meet face-to-face.
“Some of them have been talking with and chatting with each other for 10 years and they’ve never met,” Whitehouse said.
Payroll Network connects with the community in other ways. The company contributes financially to more than 40 nonprofits each year and provides free service to professional organizations such as the Greater Washington Society of CPAs. The anniversary celebration featured a raffle to benefit So Others Might Eat, the homeless in Washington, DC.
The nature of the business has allowed Payroll Network to survive the economic downturn.
“Everyone out there has a payroll that’s got to get done,” Whitehouse said. “We’re fortunate to be in that kind of business.”
While prospective clients “have been slower to make decisions,” he said, “we’ve grown throughout this bad economy. We haven’t had to lay off anybody.”
Payroll Network is looking forward to many more anniversary celebrations, Whitehouse said.
“We’re excited about our business and the clients that we have,” he said.