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Singled Out

Tom Golisano picked up the phone. His brother-in-law, Nyhl Austin, an engineering student at RIT, wanted some advice.

"He came over to the house - it was a Friday - and we sat down at the kitchen table and he said, I got my first co-op job offer from Sybron Corp., but I don't know if they're paying me enough,' " Golisano recalls. Sybron was offering $107 per week - a goodly sum in 1964 and, to Golisano's surprise, somewhat more than he was making in a management position for a Rochester bank.

Golisano told Austin to take the job. On Monday, he went back to the bank and resigned.

Then B. Thomas Golisano, with this sideways glance at RIT, began a journey to make himself master of his own fate. He ultimately founded Paychex Inc., the phenomenally successful Rochester-based national provider of payroll, human resource, and benefits services for small- to medium-size businesses. The company posted earnings of $190 million last year, up 37 percent from 1999, marking the 10th straight year of record earnings.

Such enviable performance has made Paychex one of the safest bets on Wall Street. In January 2001, the company made the A-list in the Business Services section of the Forbes Global rankings for the second year in a row. The company's consistently high price-per-earnings ratio (the price of a stock divided by its earnings per share) demonstrates tremendous investor confidence in Paychex' future prosperity. The company's market capitalization (the share price times the number of shares outstanding - in other words, the total value of all stock) is now equivalent to $15 billion.

It's been quite a ride, and it all started 30 years ago on the streets of Rochester.

At that time, Golisano was working in sales for Electronic Accounting Systems, a payroll processing company serving large companies.

"I was just driving down a commercial street one day and I thought, you know, most of these businesses are very small," he recalls. "And I went to the library and confirmed that 98 percent of all businesses in the United States have fewer than 100 employees."

Small companies, he reasoned, need even more help handling payroll than large

companies because they tend to be less sophisticated in dealing with complex administrative issues. Here was an untapped - and potentially huge - market.

Golisano put together a plan for serving those businesses and took it to his employer - twice. EAS wasn't interested. So, in 1971, he took his good idea and $3,000 and started Paychex.

Overnight success eluded the determined entrepreneur.

"I sent out 1,500 pieces of direct mail," he remembers. "I needed about 75 clients to break even. I think I sold six. I had to beg, borrow and steal for the next three or four years."

Tough times indeed for a married man with two small children.

"Payroll processing services for small companies, when we first started, were unheard of," he explains. "People were very shy and conservative relative to sending that kind of information out of their office."

It's a tribute to his perseverance and the quality of the fledgling company's work that he reached his original goal of 300 clients in less than five years. As the company picked up momentum, he arrived at another crossroads. A friend and former co-worker wanted to get involved. They decided he should open a business in Syracuse.

"The major decision that was very important was that I decided to expand geographically rather than to expand the product line." In a five-year period, he formed a network of 17 operations around the country, each a separate corporation with Golisano as franchiser or partner.

Then the light went on again. "I woke up and realized we had the opportunity to build a national company," he says. But he also realized that wouldn't be possible with 18 separate companies. In a six-month period, culminating in an all-important meeting, he persuaded the 17 partners and franchisers to go along with his plan for consolidation in 1979. As a unified, larger company, Paychex achieved a stronger financial position. Four years later, the company went public.

In subsequent years, Paychex has expanded its services, helping clients with human resources functions such as retirement plan record keeping, workers' compensation services, flexible spending accounts, and other offerings. Also, the ever-expanding web of state and federal regulations employers must follow, and the wide array of benefits now offered to employees, have made payroll a much more complex function.

The growth potential remains enormous: There are 5.7 million businesses in the markets served by Paychex today, Golisano says, and Paychex' 360,000 clients represent only about 6 percent of the total. So far, the company does business in more than 100 cities in 36 states, so there's still plenty of untapped domestic geography. And there's been talk of expanding overseas.

At age 59, the chairman, president and CEO of Paychex hasn't lost his passion for the business.

"I enjoy it," Golisano says, "and the leverage is huge. Let me explain: Paychex has 375 million shares outstanding. If, by doing a good, quality job our stock price increases by 20 or 25 percent, think of the financial impact that has on people. It's huge. A 25-percent increase in our stock is $10 a share today, times 375 million shares, that's almost $4 billion in financial impact to a lot of people, including a lot of our employees.

"Conversely, if the company doesn't do well and goes down 25 percent, it's a huge financial impact for everybody involved. Negative impact.

"So it can be intense," Golisano says, "which makes it fun."

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