Published March 16, 1998
Volume 6, Number 3

An Entrepreneurial Attitude and Strong Customer Service Add Up to Success for ProBusiness CEO Tom Sinton

Tom Sinton
Tom Sinton founded ProBusiness in 1986.
He currently serves as the company's president,
CEO, and chairman of the board.

ProBusiness has a record of achievement that any business would be happy to equal. Founded in 1986 by Tom Sinton, the payroll and employee services company moved to Hacienda in 1991. With revenues doubling every year since 1991, the company built a new headquarters on Hopyard Road and had a successful stock offering last year. They now provide payroll services for over 400 companies with an average of over 1,000 employees per business. It would be tempting to see their current position as the culmination of years of hard work, but that would not be entirely accurate.

"I tend to think we're at the beginning," says Sinton. "The way I look at it, there are a lot of opportunities out there."

Sinton clearly knows how to recognize an opportunity. After working in a number of family-owned businesses, he decided he wanted to change direction. He returned to college, receiving an MBA from Stanford Business School in 1984. 

"I started with a focus on providing a range of services to small business, to help them succeed through the outsourcing of administrative functions," he says. "I saw that there was a lot of opportunity to apply computer and chip developments in Silicon Valley to the automation of a number of tasks that previously were paper based. It looked like, long term, there was just a tremendous opportunity to make an impact in this area."

ProBusiness currently offers a host of employee administrative services, including its traditional core of payroll processing and tax filing, in addition to human resources software and health and welfare administration. Services are based around the company's proprietary, PC-based payroll system.

More than Technology
Technology may be at the core of the company's business model, but it's customer service Sinton emphasizes. 

"It's always been my objective to keep the organization as close to the clients as possible," explains Sinton. "You have to consistently deliver quality service."

This emphasis on service means that Sinton takes extraordinary interest in the company's personnel.

"There was one point where I interviewed every new hire," he says. "I can't do that anymore, but I do hold a training class for each new hire.

"There's a lot of respect for individuals and in a service business, if you don't have great people, you can't get great service. That's a fact."

Sinton's philosophy is to make every hire count. He also encourages employees to take an almost entrepreneurial attitude towards serving their customers. 

"We are very big on employees taking ownership of the client relationships," he says. "The whole emphasis here is to find a way to solve the client's problem. We've made a big effort to hire people who want to take responsibility for these relationships, who have the skills to make the decisions and who are motivated to do that.

"That's been the driving philosophy of the service organization here." 

Continued Growth
What may be most impressive about ProBusiness is that Sinton has structured the company in such a way that growing the business goes hand-in-hand with doing business. In placing a strong emphasis on both learning and meeting the needs of current customers, they learn more about the requirements of potential customers. 

"Our clients are probably our single best source of information," he says. "We get a continual stream of information that rolls into a logging system, and we log all those requests here and pass them on through product management and into R&D."

Their core technology strategy requires them to know exactly what their customers need from their payroll or benefits systems. ProBusiness sets up their own data centers to run on a system identical to that which each customer uses. 

"If a client has an issue, they can call up an account manager, and we can replicate the problem here using exactly the same configuration they've got: the same hardware, the same software, the same data," explains Sinton. "That allows us to offer really high levels of support and service." 

New Challenges
With the infusion of capital that came with ProBusiness's stock offering, Sinton sees several opportunities.

While payroll processing and tax filing is about 85 percent of what they do today, ProBusiness has added some services around that core, such as a human resources system and health and welfare administration. 

"We're working at expanding these core services so that we can outsource a complete set of applications that support employee administration," he notes. 

He also sees an opportunity to expand. "We have sales operations across the U.S. now, but we'll have to add implementation and training facilities as well," he says. "Growth is always a challenge." 

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