Balancing the Grind with Peter Hadley, President – Asia Pacific at ADP

Peter Hadley is the President – Asia Pacific at ADP, a global company specialising in HR, payroll, and tax software and services.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

Next year marks my twentieth anniversary with ADP. I first joined the business back in 2002 as Director for International Tax in their London office. In the almost two decades I’ve been with ADP, we’ve emerged as a global leader in HR and payroll solutions. During this time, I’ve been very fortunate that my ADP career has taken me all around the world. 

After seven years in the UK, I moved to Paris to take on a senior finance role in ADP’s international division, before becoming CFO of the division in 2012. 

After Paris, I made the jump to ADP’s global head in the USA, working in our New Jersey HQ as CFO for Global Enterprise Solutions, a newly formed division which combined ADP’s international operations with its enterprise client base in the United States. 

In 2017, I was offered the role of President – Asia Pacific, based in Singapore. It felt like the right time to move to a role that was more hands on and completely business-orientated.

In terms of my life before ADP – finance has always been a passion of mine. I studied economics at the University of Sydney before landing my first role was in professional services at Arthur Anderson, working in distressed consulting and insolvency, and tax advisory. In the late 90s, I joined KPMG, initially in Sydney but moving to their UK team, specialising in cross-border tax.  

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

As President for a region, my remit is vast, so no two days look quite the same. 

Each day, our clients trust us to help them effectively manage, deploy, compensate and serve the payroll needs of their workforce with cutting-edge solutions, while compliantly handling and protecting their most sensitive data. With this trust comes great responsibility – a role ADP takes very seriously.

Broadly speaking, my typical workday will jump between client needs, operational situations, product decisions as well as business development to ensure the business remains healthy and continues to grow in the future. 

This role is different from my previous positions as future scanning is as important as keeping a handle of the day-to-day. I have to make sure I’m always looking at the bigger picture, looking both down and upstream when making decisions, and considering how everything comes together for a wide range of stakeholders including employees, customers and shareholders. 

Having visibility on all the moving parts inevitably requires a steady stream of meetings and briefings with my team. However, I avoid booking in back-to-back meetings in the diary if I can, as this is mentally exhausting and fundamentally counter-productive. No one can constantly absorb new information all day long, and it means you never have the time to actually get the work done. 

While I keep abreast of everything that’s going on in the business, I try to only insert myself where I’m needed. I’m a detailed person by nature, so I am conscious to ensure that I am not micro-managing. I am fortunate to have a strong team of senior leaders and doing so would be very detrimental to them, as well as for me. A strong leader trusts and empowers their team. Furthermore, with the size of my remit, it isn’t possible to be across every detail all of the time. 

I try to make sure I’m not tied to my desk all day. During COVID-19 while we’ve been working from home, I’ve enjoyed going for runs or cycles during my lunch break or in between meetings. I always encourage my team and the broader organisation to do the same. 

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine? 

Absolutely – flexible and remote working is a necessity in roles like mine. When I first took on the role as President for APAC, my transition to permanently relocating to Singapore took six months as my children needed to end their school year in the US, rather than pulling them out halfway through a term.

This meant I was split half and half between the US and Singapore. There’s a twelve-hour time difference, so while I was working in the US on APAC matters, it was usually when most of my team were asleep! It was challenging but we made it work – early starts and late finishes here and there kept everything ticking along.

Even now, while I’m permanently based in Singapore, I’m responsible for a region spanning thousands of people across many countries. The ability to work “remotely” from the people that you are dealing with, as well as the need to be flexible to different needs and time zones, is important.

Further, the nature of what we do at ADP, managing payroll for more than 8,000 clients across Asia Pacific, is a very time-sensitive, deadline driven activity. The need to be flexible, adapt and get things done is critical.

While this has been my experience for many years now, the pandemic has extended this concept to businesses more widely. The past year has proved flexible working does work. Many of the perceived barriers to the wider rollout of flexible or remote working proved to be largely artificial. 

The majority of the ADP business worldwide have been working remotely for over a year. I’m so proud of everything that our associates have accomplished while juggling home-schooling, family needs, work-life balance and the uncertainty of these challenging times. 

On many aspects of work, we can be as productive at home as we are in the office, and we can still work as collaboratively over a video call as we do face-to-face. However, for other activities, there is no substitute for face-to-face proximity so it will be interesting to see how the world of work evolves once the pandemic does start to recede.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

Work-life balance is a state of wellbeing; achieving your professional goals whilst being able to enjoy time with family, friends and your passions. 

Flexible working has been great for improving my work-life balance. For example, I love golf – although I’d like to be better at it than I am! The rise of flexible working has meant I’ve been able to take a few golf lessons during what was previously blocked out as the “traditional” working week.

I take client meetings around 8am, and then have a golf lesson mid-morning on a day where my schedule allows it, before returning to work. This would have been inconceivable a few years ago. 

I encourage my team to follow in my footsteps with this flexible working approach. If you want to go for a lunchtime run, or mid-afternoon walk, and it won’t disrupt your outputs for that day, then do so.

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

Working from home has definitely allowed me more time for exercising. There weren’t many highlights last year, but improving my health and fitness is a fond memory during a turbulent time. 

I’ve also been eating a lot better – less hotel or plane food and late night dinners. I hope as we transition back to working in the office that it’s possible to maintain these good habits I’ve picked up in lockdown. 

Flexible working has also allowed me to contribute more at home with domestic duties and family responsibilities that were sometimes a challenge when I was spending whole days in the office.

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

I’m not a huge book reader but I’ve recently been enjoying The Frenchman by Jack Beaumont. It’s inspired by the experiences of a former member of the French Intelligence. I’ve always been interested in the inner workings of the secret service – it’s a bit of escapism. 

I turn towards the business newspapers to keep up to date on what’s going on, especially the Wall Street Journal, Economist Magazine, BBC and Sydney Morning Herald.

At this stage of life, I’m less into ‘classroom learning’ so I don’t tune into business podcasts much. I find the most effective way for me to take information in is through observing and emulating. Mentoring has been the most powerful source of inspiration and guidance for me – both being mentored by senior peers, but also in the act of mentoring those coming up the ranks. 

When I took on my current role, one of the first initiatives I set up was a mentoring program. We currently have 55 mentors – it has been wonderful watching this grow. 

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

Honestly, I’d be happy to throw them all in the sea! 

I try to limit my screen time where I can. I’d always pick a print paper over the online edition but I do check out the Wall Street Journal and BBC apps most days. I use LinkedIn from time to time, it’s useful for updates on colleagues and industry news.

It’s pretty old school but I’ve created my own spreadsheet to log my exercise. I try to go for at least four runs a week. If I skip a day, I have to manually enter the zero. I find this keeps me far more accountable than an app ticking away silently in the background – I really hate to enter too many zeros in a row.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?   

Bill Gates. A business magnate, he maybe wasn’t renowned for achieving a strong work-life balance. I think many perceived him as a genius, but a workaholic.

What I always found interesting about Bill Gates was that during the Microsoft heyday, he used to engage in solo ‘think weeks’. During this time, Gates would take up residence in a cabin, deep in the woods and cut off from society, to just think. I read that he would sit and read without distractions, to come up with the next brainwave idea for Microsoft. I sometimes daydream about doing the same thing!

The way that Bill Gates has been able to professionalise his passions is really inspiring. His recent transition into philanthropy has been rooted in using tech and innovation to solve the world’s most pressing problems, such as eradicating polio or curbing the impact of climate change.

It’s helpful to have a distinction between work and life, but work is certainly more enjoyable when it’s rooted in something you care deeply about. 

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

External factors will always be at play, but I do ultimately believe finding balance in your work-life is a personal responsibility. You can have a difficult manager in your way, or need a helping hand to resolve a problem that is throwing the balance astray, but the onus is on the individual to take the first step. 

Take ownership where you’re finding a blocker, and seek help to remove it if you can’t fix it on your own. Not only is this the quickest way to find a resolution, but the sense of freedom and empowerment that comes from taking charge of your wellbeing shouldn’t be underestimated.

Lastly, check-in with your wellbeing. We’ve all struggled this year, and it’s important to give yourself permission to be human. Our Chief Human Resources Officer, Sreeni Kutam said, “While we’re here to provide exceptional service to our clients, none of that happens without each of us taking care of ourselves and being there for each other”.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.