Tom Golisano is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and civic leader who founded and served as the Chairman of the Board of Paychex, Inc., a leading national provider of payroll, human resource and benefit outsourcing solutions for over half a million small and medium-sized businesses.
He has been consistently recognized by the business, financial and national media and has donated approximately $300 million to various charitable causes and institutions. He was also notably the former owner of the Buffalo Sabres of the National Hockey League.
His commitment to helping those with intellectual disabilities, Western New York, and the region’s economic climate will leave a lasting legacy.
Today, we go delightfully deep into the mind of self-made billionaire, published author, and entrepreneur, Tom Golisano, as he shares the unlikely secrets behind much of his success.
He provides newfound hope to those who might have given up their American Dream by sharing his journey of finding his way into the world. Tom also discusses the challenges along the way as well as the risks he had to embrace to get to where he is right now in his business and in handling his professional sports team journey.
Tune in for a chock-full of nuggets for current and aspiring entrepreneurs on how to start, grow, and operate a successful business.
Why you have to check out today’s episode
- Learn the background of Paychex and how Tom grows it one partner and franchise at a time
- It reveals the secrets behind much of Golisano’s success and teaches you how to apply those same success hacks to your life.
- Emboldens you to see the world differently in terms of what’s possible despite what others may have you believe.
- Entertains and enlightens you along the way, with Golisano’s stories of running for Governor two times, purchasing a failing NHL franchise, the Buffalo Sabres, and a dry sense of humor throughout.
“The biggest thing we did was to have great people working for the team, good people who knew how to do the job and I’d let them do the job.”- Tom Golisano
01:30 Tom explains the double meaning behind the title of his book—The Italian Kid Did it.
03:10 Can the skeptics still count on the American dream and the possibility of becoming a
04:45 How did Tom grow Paychex one partner and franchisee at a time
06:54 Talks about what it takes before Tom sees Paychex succeed
07:44 The challenges Tom faced in expanding his business and how he turned golf buddies into
09:49 The next steps in Tom’s business journey
10:34 Tom discusses the main motivator that propelled his success
11:55 What does the Special Olympics mean to Tom
13:05 The motivation behind the book—The Italian Kid Did it
15:23 Find out about Tom’s professional sports journey
16:45 Advice to those who are looking to create a professional sports team
18:00 Tom’s insight on addressing the crisis leadership situation in America’s political system
19:33 Three things Tom would like you to get from his book—The Italian Kid Did It
Because of technology, there are a lot of opportunities out there, you’ve gotta find it, you’ve gotta look for it.
Some people would admit that the turmoils or difficult situations have a great effect on their life. That applies to me too.
I just wish our people in governmental positions would try working together for once instead of working against each other.
- Built not Born Book: https://www.amazon.com/Built-Not-Born-Billionaires-Entrepreneurs/dp/1400217555
- The Italian Kid Did It: How I Turned $3K into $44B and Achieved the American Dream/; https://www.amazon.com/Italian-Kid-Did-Achieved-American-ebook/dp/B09831XR9J#:~:text=Watching%20his%20father%20struggle%20to,sway%20your%20view%20of%20reality.
- Paychex: https://www.paychex.com/
Connect with Thomas Golisano
- Website: http://tomgolisano.com
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/ThomasGolisano
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thomasgolisano/
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tomgolisano/
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tom-golisano-94937919a/
Full Interview Transcript
(Note: This transcript was created with an AI transcription service. Please forgive any transcription or grammatical errors. We probably sounded better in real life.)
Dr. Katrina Burrus 00:00
Welcome to the excellent international leadership. I’m your host, Dr. Katrina Burrus, and today we have a very special guest, Mr. Tom Golisano.I don’t know
Okay. if I correct. Okay,so it’s to talk about your new book, The Italian kid did it, and how you turn $3,000 into 44 billion and achieve the American dream. So, tell us a little bit about your Italian education. Why the Italian kid?
Tom Golisano 01:28
You got it Well, there is a double meaning when I was 15 years old, and living in suburban Rochester, New York. a kiddy corner from my house was a car dealer, and one night on a Friday night, somebody took one of his new cars for a ride. I I think they kept it overnight. The next morning, I had the police come to my house.,and they took me outside and said, and said to me that somebody had taken the car, and that the owner of the car said the Italian kid across the street did it, and that’s the double meaning
Dr. Katrina Burrus 02:24
How you say?
Tom Golisano 02:26
I had a good alibi. I didn’t take the car.
Dr. Katrina Burrus 02:30
Tom Golisano 02:30
But stayed with me it was sort of a voice from the past of the 1950s and 60s, in upstate New York, wasn’t unusual for a person to say something like that.
Dr. Katrina Burrus 02:41
So,how did it affect you personally?
Tom Golisano 02:44
Well, the irritated me, obviously
Dr. Katrina Burrus 02:47
Tom Golisano 02:47
The fact that he accused me of taking this car, and then the way he did it to the police. He was the VP and I was, of course, Italian. So it stayed with me a long time, I never forgot it, and when I got around to writing this book, and decided that we have to have a title for it, I thought the double meaning of the Italian kid did it was very appropriate.
Dr. Katrina Burrus 03:10
And it’s also about the American dream. So for the skeptics that don’t believe there is any more than the American dream, what would you say?
Tom Golisano 03:20
I would say they are dead wrong. Today because of technology and other changes, there is so much opportunity and it’s just you’ve got to find it, you got to look for it. But I’ll tell you, there are a lot of opportunities out there. I also on a part time basis, do venture capital investments and we have no short supply of companies or people coming to us looking for venture capital because they have a new idea or a new concept and they want to start a business. I think it’s everywhere in this country,and the opportunities are still great, if not greater than before.
Dr. Katrina Burrus 03:56
And what is it about the American Dream that is highly motivating that you don’t find so much in another country?
Tom Golisano 04:05
Well, I think it it appears in this country because the opportunity is there. What’s motivating about it? Well, it says a lot of things. Money is a great motivator motivated. Secondly, the ability to pick who you work with, and when you work with them. Secondly, or thirdly, how much time you want to get away from the office or stay in the office? I mean, that type of freedom is very important, and the idea of the concept of doing something creative and having a product or a service that people want and need those things are all great motivators as far as I’m concerned.
Dr. Katrina Burrus 04:45
And so tell us a little bit because you founded Paychex, how what were the conditions at that time, that allowed you to start it and then thrive?
Tom Golisano 04:59
Well, I don’t know if the conditions were great at the time, when I started the company, I had $3,000 in my bank account, I was hoping that I’d sell enough clients from a direct mail campaign to support myself and that number was about 60 clients, and the first three months, I sold six clients. Okay, so it was a very difficult time for the next two or three years. I went four years without getting a paycheck. Fortunately, my spouse at the time was working, and that made a great deal of help.
Also, I had some friends that used to combine buy me lunch and buy me dinner and that type of thing. I borrowed as much money as I could from banks, and, and from some relatives, eventually, of course, they got it all paid back,but it was tough. It was a tough four years, but after that for years, I reached, actually a client base and 300 clients in Rochester, New York, I was doing okay, and then a friend of mine who worked together with me, and another company came into my door one day, and said, it looks like paychecks is gonna make it can I get involved?
And I said, Well, what do you mean? He says, well, can we start wandering to another city? and what ended up that he and I started one in Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany, and upstate New York, and we went partners a few months later, an employee of a client team in the door to pick up his payroll, and he was telling me how much he loved the service, and he’d like to move to another part of the country and start a similar service,and I said well Chuck, I think I could be your partner, his name was Chuck, and he says, well, I want to be your franchisee that your partner.I thought about that concept for a while and decided, well, let’s give that a try. He moved down to Miami, Florida, and opened up a similar operation.
After I got those two people going, I decided it might be a good idea, to build a national organization to do it through partnerships and franchises. So, over the next five years, I ended up with 10 partners and six franchisees, and all of them but one, but one lived in Rochester, New York, it moved to another city in the United States, somewhere.
We operated that way for five years, then we got a great idea, let’s consolidate into one company, really grow the salesforce focus on profitability after that, and then either sell the company or take a cover, and after five years, we decided the right route was to make it a public company, because we thought there was tremendous growth, you know, there are millions and millions of small businesses in the United States, which is the market we serve. So, we went public, our market value in 1983, when we went public was 65 million, and today, it’s in the 40s of billions.
Dr. Katrina Burrus 07:44
So, it sounds so easy when you say it that way, but what were some of the challenges you had in the growth process? that’s one question, and the other thing is you needed to develop leadership, for people to be entrepreneurs, and take it to the next level as well.
Tom Golisano 08:03
Well, that was one of the great challenges that I had before we consolidated into one company. I had 16 individuals with who we operated more like friends or fraternity, okay, but when we decided to consolidate now, there was new challenges.We needed to have the different assignments of territories for responsibilities, we needed to have management reports. One of the reasons we wanted to consolidate is for eventual liquidity because we had none at that point. So, bringing those people together and having them operate. Oh, and I had to promote some of them of the 16, I had to promote, you know, five of them over the other 11,and before they were golfing buddies, and now they were boss. Oh, my support, that’s a challenge.
Dr. Katrina Burrus 08:53
And also, don’t underestimate this one, before they had their business card. They were the president say of the paychecks it’s an Heti, but now it said they were branch managers and that was a real mental thing for them to overcome. So, those were the types of challenges. We also borrowed a lot of money to expand our sales force, and we had to go in six months.
I think it was without getting paid, or cash under control. But we did it and ended up coming out for the best. Of course, the thing that always drove us is such an open market, so many small businesses in America that can use our services, and today we have over 700,000 companies that use the paycheck service, either the payroll processing or HR products, human resource products. Now you’ve gotten so thick and so wide. So what’s the next step?
Tom Golisano 09:49
Well, the next step, I guess the next step is I have yet another adventure. It was called a safe site. It was records management. off-site records management. We quarry bickering type of revenue business, and I ended up with about nine partners in 15 cities, and we eventually consolidated but with that one, we actually sold the company to a company called Target mountain, of which I became a board member for several years. So, that was another thing that happened, and now most recently, as I mentioned before, I do make investments in small venture capital situations,and that’s gone really well for us.
Dr. Katrina Burrus 10:33
Excellent. So we’ll come back to the Italian kid, what do you think is some of your backgrounds that that has helped you through your business journey?
Tom Golisano 10:44
Well, I think some people would, that turmoil or difficult situations have a great effect on your life,and I think that applies to me too, and I don’t mean to get people to feel sorry for me,but when my sister was 15 years old, she lost her right hand, working in the meat section of a supermarket.
I had a brother that was 21 years old, got killed in the Korean War. I had a son, who was born with developmental disabilities and one of my motivations in life is to make sure I had enough resources, money, if you will, to make sure that he was well taken care of, because he could never take care of themselves. So it was those types of things.
Plus watching my father, my father was, when I was 16 years old, my father went through a bankruptcy,and that was a very tough time, you know, you watch the guy come and get the car, and almost losing the house. So there were some real moments in my background, I think drove me not to ever get put in those positions again.
Dr. Katrina Burrus 11:55
I, and also, as you mentioned, you have the your last name called Golisano Foundation, and you’re a big donor for the Special Olympics. Tell us how you came to that point.
Tom Golisano 12:12
Well, as I said, my son is developmentally disabled,and he participated in the special Oh, sure, and it meant a lot to him. It was it was quite important to him at the time,and one day I was in New York City, and I happened to meet Timothy Shriver. Tim Shriver is the son of Eunice Shriver, who started the Special Olympics,and Tim kind of courted me for an appointment to make a presentation to me,and so why I should help the Special Olympics and he came to Rochester to see me and we had the appointment. I really believed in what he was saying and what he planned to do with the funds, so forth. So, I became a philanthropist towards the Special Olympics, and then that’s grown over the years has been two or three other events where it made big contributions to the Special Olympics.
Dr. Katrina Burrus 12:17
Really? Well, wonderful,and I thank you on all of their behalf as well. So I let’s go back to your book, The Italian kid did it. What motivated to that you write this because you’ve written other books? Why this one?
Tom Golisano 13:21
That’s true. I wrote another book called Build not born, which has to do with running the small business.It was sort of a small business Person’s Guide. I wrote, The Italian kid did it because a lot of people were urging me to write the story, because it not only included paychecks, but including owning the Buffalo Sabres hockey team, included the other business ventures, it included the philanthropy, and so forth,and oh, and also, my three Independence Party runs for governor on the New York.
So, that’s illustrated throughout the earth to the book. So, all of those things, people just encouraged me and encouraged me. and I got such a good response from built not born the first book and decided I would do the second one, that’s interesting. The first book only took me about six weeks. You know, it was information very close to what I was doing every day. The tear you get did, it took about four or five months, because there was a lot of detail, and there’s a lot of history in it. So, that took a lot longer time.
Dr. Katrina Burrus 14:23
And what was the personal experience? What did you get out of it? It’s like a catharsis of writing a book like that or not.
Tom Golisano 14:30
Oh, it gives you a lot of personal satisfaction because you know, some copies have sold. It made one of the best seller lists, I think, the Wall Street Journal, and I get letters almost every week from people or phone calls, and they read the book, especially built that morning and got such good ideas out of it, and I’ve tried to run their business using that as a basic principle. That’s very satisfying to me them so maybe very glad I did it. It’s interesting. I started the autobiography first showed the publisher the first six chapters,and he said to me, why don’t you write a business book instead? and I said, well, what will I write about? while I’m talking I did the Table of Contents right on my desk while I was talking.
Dr. Katrina Burrus 14:31
Wow. That’s its great
Tom Golisano 14:51
That’s how easy it sort of came to me. So, that was a lot of fun. It was easy. The other book was a little more difficult hard work, but it certainly paid off.
Dr. Katrina Burrus 15:23
Alright, so I’m going to ask you about your sport. Yeah. You manage the Buffalo Sabres hockey franchise, and you took it
Tom Golisano 15:32
I manage it, owned it
Dr. Katrina Burrus 15:33
You founded it, thank you for the correction,and you made it into the best run sport franchise in professional sports by ESPN, ahead of 122 major professional sports teams in the US. Tell us about that. What did you do to make it very special,and well run
Tom Golisano 15:54
We bought the team. When we bought the team, we had 5500 season tickets in the stadium that holds 19,000 people. So consequently, it was money loser. We turn the team around from being a mediocre or losing team to a winning team,and we’ve made playoffs almost every year.We made we won the Presidents Cup one year, which is a team that won the most number of games,but I think the ESPN honor was basically based on the fact that we turned it around financially. It was losing a lot of money,and by the time we had it for three or four years, it was now a money maker,and that’s very unusual, professional sports,and we also enhanced our season ticket holders from 5500 to 16,000, plus a waitinglist.
Dr. Katrina Burrus 16:45
Okay, Tom, just tell us a little bit more. How did you do that? because yes, you did it. We know,but if somebody else we’re trying to take a team and make it you know, operationally very efficient. What advice would you give?
Tom Golisano 17:02
Well, first of all, we were very creative. We did things like price, there are tickets in a competitive way.
We priced some games so that it costs less money for a family to come to a game, which also brought in a lot of fans. We managed the financial statements professionally.
We kept our payroll in order. We also got to, we also got a break and the league started a revenue-sharing program, which we were benefiting from because we were a smaller market. I think the biggest thing we did though was I had some good people working for the team, the general manager, both and the Vice President of Administration, and so forth, they were good people, and they knew how to do the job, and I’d let him do the job got my nose and they were away once in a while,but they did it.,and they did it well, and that was the reason.
Dr. Katrina Burrus 17:59
Excellent. So I’m going to ask you another question about one of your activities. How would you address the crisis leadership situation in the political system? I know, we could, we could take it out if you want.
Tom Golisano 18:18
You have an hour and a half. Hey, we could talk about this subject for a long time. I just wish our people in those responsible governmental positions would try working together for once instead of working against each other. Everything is a competition between the two parties,and it’s not doing the country and he could not at all the lack of cooperation, the lack of understanding the lack of mutual respect, are of mine, it seems like and we have chaos, what would I do about it?
I’ll tell you one thing I’d like to do about it,and this is on the light side. I’d like to take the US Congress filled the aisle up with concrete and put the senators in the House of Representatives in alphabetical order. So they have to make friends with the guy next door instead of Republicans on one side of the building Democrats on the other side that never the twain showed me,and it sounds kind of stupid, doesn’t it? Put him you know, but getting rid of that island, I think would be a big help.
Dr. Katrina Burrus 19:26
Yes, I think so. That would be definitely. Anyway, thank you for answering that question. So what? So I wanted to ask, if if someone were to read your book, because what would they get out on? What, what would their learning be? What would their takeaways be?
Tom Golisano 19:47
Dr. Katrina Burrus 19:49
Tom Golisano 19:50
It’s a good book. First of all, I’d like to think they were entertained. Secondly, I would like to feel that they’ve learned something take from it. Okay,and third I think it would be great if it motivated people to maybe try a little harder, be a little more creative, work a little smarter that would make me very, very happy those three things.
Dr. Katrina Burrus 20:16
Wonderful,and where can they get a hold of this book?
Tom Golisano 20:19
Well, I think most of the bookstores are carrying it. If not, you can always do it through Amazon. They sell the book and they inventory it. So, that’s probably the easiest way.
Dr. Katrina Burrus 20:32
Well, thank you very much for your time and sharing your knowledge and I recommend all the listeners to buy the book. It is great entertainment and so knowledge, knowledgeable. So, thank you.
Tom Golisano 20:47
I appreciate the comments. Thank you.
Dr. Katrina Burrus 20:50