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Profile: Thomas Golisano

Thomas Golisano

Thomas Golisano

This story appeared in the RBJ’s commemorative 30th Anniversary section. See more content related to the RBJ’s anniversary here.

Paychex Inc. in fiscal 2017 logged more than $3.1 billion in revenue and has grown at a steady and predictable rate for nearly its entire 46 years. The company, which was founded in 1971, has nearly 14,000 employees, including some 4,400 in Monroe County, ranking it as the region’s fifth-largest local employer.

Last month Paychex announced plans to add 625 new full-time jobs over the next five years and acquire five parcels in Henrietta to move operations from leased facilities throughout Monroe County to a new, multi-building campus. The payroll and human resources services company will keep the locations it owns in Brighton, Henrietta, Webster and Penfield. The $58.4 million project is expected to be completed in July 2018.

Quite a feat for a business founder Thomas Golisano started 
with $3,000.

Golisano grew up in West Irondequoit as the youngest of three children. He had a mindset for business since his early days. After working full time opening packages of cash in the basement of Lincoln First Bank, Golisano decided he wanted something more and turned to SUNY College of Technology at Alfred, where he earned a tuition-free associate’s degree in business.

After graduating, Golisano became a sales representative at Burroughs Corp. and then at a regional payroll processor for larger businesses, Electronic Accounting Systems Inc.

It was there Golisano got the idea for providing payroll services for businesses with 100 or fewer employees. After EAS turned down the idea twice, Golisano left in 1971 to start Paymaster, the company that would become Paychex.

When he founded the company—using his own cash and then consumer loans, money borrowed from friends and his personal credit cards—his initial goal was to get a base of 300 clients. But the startup grew much faster.

By 2000, Paychex was Rochester’s most valuable company, surpassing Eastman Kodak Co., Xerox Corp. and Bausch & Lomb Inc. in market capitalization. The company’s total value—determined by multiplying the share price by the number of shares outstanding—was nearly $19 billion, approaching the combined value of the Big Three.

Many entrepreneurs struggle in the transition to CEO of a large company. During Golisano’s tenure as chief executive, however, Forbes magazine called Paychex one of the best-managed companies in America and Fortune repeatedly ranked the firm among its “100 Best Companies to Work For.”

Golisano also produced for shareholders. In 2003, Forbes named him one of the 10 best-performing bosses in the nation. He had generated a 29 percent annualized return for shareholders since taking Paychex public.

At the time Golisano stepped down as president and CEO in 2004, Paychex had become one of the nation’s two largest payroll providers and had more than 500,000 clients.

Golisano’s impact on the Rochester region extends beyond Paychex and beyond Rochester. When the Golisano Children’s Hospital at the University of Rochester asked him to consider a gift on top of his original $14 million donation, to allow the hospital to give private rooms to all of its patients, Golisano said he needed to think about it.

When it came time to announce his gift, he shocked UR officials by donating $20 million—$2 million more than he had previously promised to jump-start construction of the $134 million facility.

His philanthropy has had other wide-ranging effects on the community, with major gifts to Rochester Institute of Technology to establish the Golisano Institute of Sustainability and contributions to the B. Thomas Golisano Foundation, which benefits organizations working with the developmentally disabled. The foundation, which marked its 30th anniversary in 2015, has more than $38 million in gross assets. It has awarded more than $24 million in grants, some $2 million annually, primarily to nonprofit organizations in a multi-county region surrounding Rochester.

The billionaire this year pledged some $25 million in support of a downtown Golisano Performing Arts Center on Parcel 5 of the former Midtown site.

Golisano has made countless other gifts to fund major initiatives of other groups in the Rochester area and now also in his adopted home state, Florida.

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