Graham McKechnie

Be dynamic: don’t sit back and assume your current business situation will last. Get up and seek opportunities, or be ready to grab them when they present themselves. Before you know it, your small start-up could be trading on the other side of the world.


Graham McKechnie has over twenty five years of global mobility experience and heads up activpayroll’s Global Mobility Division. He is a qualified tax professional and a member of the Association of Tax Technicians (ATT).

Prior to becoming a global mobility specialist, Graham worked for HMRC for nearly ten years, learning about the intricacies of taxation, eventually specialising in expatriate taxation providing guidance, support and advice to Fleet Street journalists. He then worked for The Royal Bank of Scotland as a Tax Manager in the Private Trust and Taxation department, advising major organisations upon their tax affairs. He continued to build his experience in complex taxation policies, including managing tax affairs of corporate executives based in Jersey and Guernsey.

Graham then moved into private practice, spending a number of years working for Deloitte and latterly PwC, delivering global mobility solutions to blue chip organisations across numerous industry sectors.
Graham’s expertise lies very much in managing clients’ internationally mobile employee population in order to deliver process, cost and administration efficiencies together with employment tax guidance, support and advice covering all areas within the global mobility arena including immigration, employment law, international benefits, income tax, social security and payroll.

During his career with activpayroll, Graham has gained extensive expertise in relation to the specific global employment tax challenges that arise in the Oil & Gas industry in addition to enhancing the company’s financial services, technology, aerospace and engineering global client base.

In his spare time, Graham is a keen golfer and season ticket holder at Tynecastle so he is a big Hearts fan. He also loves travelling and is aiming to visit all 50 states in the US.

Where did the idea for your company come from?

Our CEO Alison Sellar came up with our company name. As she is a cycling enthusiast, one day whilst working out at the gym she noticed that the gym bikes were branded “ACTIV”, which was then combined with one of our main services “payroll”. Our brand name underlines how proactive and energetic we are as a team in delivering our services to customers.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

A typical day will start with a quick check of e-mails first thing over breakfast to see if anything urgent needs dealt with and a review of my diary for the day to see what client meetings or calls are arranged. A morning catch up with the team to discuss priorities, issues and other items will happen on arrival in the office and then the rest of the day takes care of itself.

Trying to stick to your to do list, avoiding any unnecessary meetings and working smartly all help to make the working day as productive as possible.

The evening is family time with the occasional glance at work e-mails!

How do you bring ideas to life?

Teamwork, energy and positivity all contribute to bringing an idea to life. Discussing the idea with colleagues and peers is critical to get balanced feedback on the vision and then mapping out the key milestones that need to be hit in order to make the vision a reality is fundamental to the success of any project. Keeping positive when you come upon the inevitable hurdle is also really important and if you (and others) believe in the idea then retain focus and you will deliver.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Social media! Like all technology platforms there are downsides (excess usage, lack of human interaction etc.), however applications like LinkedIn are excellent for spreading news, connecting with people and building relationships quickly and efficiently.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

My wife and children tell me I can be obsessive when I have an idea and whatever the current idea is (whether work or personal related) tends to be at the forefront of my mind, sometimes to the detriment of other things! In lots of ways I see that as a positive habit as having focus and drive to deliver on something should mean the project comes to fruition. However I do also recognise that I need to listen more and spread my attention around!

What advice would you give your younger self?

I would remind myself that patience is a virtue and that feedback, providing it’s constructive, is actually very useful!!

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

That Heart of Midlothian FC is the greatest football team in the world bar none!

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Continually re-evaluate your business model, your strategy, your people and yourself. Other businesses don’t stand still and any organisation able to evolve and adapt to changes in practice, business and consumer requirements is better placed to continue to grow.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Don’t over promise and under deliver. As with any growing business there is the urge to take on more and more work to experience the highs of expansion and hopefully increased turnover and profit. However, from experience growth has to be managed, controlled and ultimately aligned to your business strategy as this allows all of the back office functions, talent and structure.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Linked to the above, early in my career we struggled with our first international expansion due to a lack of knowledge and understanding of the challenges that lay ahead in terms of business practices, cultural differences and simply operating a business in an overseas location. After a turbulent start to our international journey, we sought local guidance and support and took time to understand the key requirements of operating in the local market and have applied that methodology to all subsequent expansions internationally.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I’m hoping to invent a golf club that hits the ball dead straight all the time no matter your ability! I’m prepared to give the idea away if any of the readers can actually invent the product!

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

A portable charger for my iphone/ipad as it saves the stress of trying to make sure my technology is charged when on the road for business. Gone are the days of only having 2% battery left and knowing you need to answer calls and e-mails.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

It has to be “Go To Meeting” which we use daily to arrange calls and virtual meetings to deliver presentations to clients globally, discuss and review commercial proposals internally and ultimately helps us to run our business. For a web service it has to be google – who doesn’t use it!

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

It’s a pretty safe answer but has to be “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck. It’s a classic story and a book everyone from any walk of life should read.

What is your favorite quote?

Without doubt it’s the following quote from one of the greatest football players ever to play for my team Heart of Midlothian FC. Dave Mackay was an exceptional player who played for his country and was courted by many big English teams but his lifelong goal was to play for his hometown team. The quote – “For as long as I can remember all I wanted in my life, nothing else, was to play for Hearts which is my dream team. And to play for Scotland. I had no other ambition for anything else, always Hearts”. The quote just rests with me as underlining an individual’s dream – which came true, through a combination of tenacity, hard work and a positive attitude. I try and emulate what that quote means to me every day.

Key Learnings:

● Be dynamic: don’t sit back and assume your current business situation will last. Get up and seek opportunities, or be ready to grab them when they present themselves. Before you know it, your small start-up could be trading on the other side of the world.
● Learn how to prioritise your time: from addressing small, crucial work chores, to tackling larger, long-term challenges, success is built on structure and discipline, which means managing your time meticulously.
● Make yourself aware of the exciting innovations and trends which are changing your industry: not everything will work for you or your business, of course, but when you find the things that do, explore their potential.
● Don’t be afraid to seek advice: the best business environments are those in which everyone has something to say – so there’s no harm in taking advantage of the expertise and insight of colleagues in every part, and at every level, of your organisation.
● Know when to turn off: if you’re going to perform at your best for your business, you’ll need to make sure you’re refreshed and ready when you walk into the office. Switch off the professional side of your brain when you get home, and make sure you concentrate just as hard on family and social time as you do your work time.


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Company Twitter Handle: @activpayroll
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