Alison Seller OBE

20 August 2018

This article was featured in the September 2018 issue of the magazine.

The CIPP is delighted to honour Alison Sellar, chief executive officer at activpayroll, on her award

Alison was one of three people from the north-east of Scotland to be honoured with an OBE (Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in The Queen’s New Year’s Honours List in December 2017. Alison attended the Investiture which was held in July in the Great Gallery at the Palace of Holyroodhouse with her husband, son and daughter. 

The following summarises a recent interview with Alison, conducted by the CIPP.


What was your reaction when you learned that you were to receive the OBE?

In November 2017, a very official letter arrived, which I thought was a parking ticket or speeding fine.  

I remember saying to my husband “I don’t deserve this”, but he told me to think about everything we’ve done as a business, the awards, and charity work. When he said he’d buy me a new dress that was the seal I suppose to say “okay, I’ll take it”.

When picking my new dress I thought about the brilliant team I have around me.  Our people are part of the recognition – the staff know that. And looking at my family there’s had to be some sacrifices in terms of me not being around as much. 


Tell us about the day at the Palace

On the day, it was just so good to be there.  On getting into the Palace I said goodbye to my husband and two children and met others who were getting awards. OBEs are next down from Knighthoods. Standing in a corridor hearing the band playing God Save The Queen, made me realise this is really happening.

My name was announced – Alison Sellar OBE for services to business in Scotland and abroad – and I walked up to Her Majesty the Queen and curtseyed. She pinned the medal onto my dress and talked for a couple of minutes about the business, about activpayroll – I think somebody whispers in her ear as each medal is handed – and said many congratulations, well-deserved. She shook my hand, I curtseyed and walked out.  

My husband and children were immediately to the left of the Queen so I could see them grinning like Cheshire cats.  It was a pinch-yourself moment, how it happened, and it was some experience.


Are there any duties, downsides or responsibilities that go with getting an OBE?
The OBE doesn’t require me to do anything, but I have access to places that I wouldn’t have had before; for example, access to St Paul’s. I don’t have any superpowers.

Quite a lot of people are interested in hearing my story about what I’ve achieved: the good, the bad and some of the hard things I’ve had to do.  I’ve had several magazines wanting to interview me, and people wanting me to do business awards, public speaking, presentations and things like that.

I’m doing a charity cycle across India in November and my son was telling me to remember I’ve got to behave myself as I’m in the spotlight now.

I do a lot of cycling challenges – like 290 kilometres in two days across Scotland and stuff like that – so I get myself involved in these things and then wonder how I’m going to have the time to train.


Do you think that this recognition will have an impact moving forward?

Some of the emails I’m getting from customers say: “your team is brilliant”, “love working with them all”.  I’m sending these to the teams telling them “this is what it means to you guys as well, not just me”.  I’ve been trying to create a newsletter for the teams to see they do excellent work and that people recognise it.


What will you do with the medal?

I’m going to place it in a glass awards box in the head office reception. We’ll get some pictures and send them to the various offices we have as well. Being on display, people can ask about it.  Putting it in reception emphasises that it’s for everybody in the business and not just me. 

I’ve got pictures in the offices with me winning Scottish Businesswoman of the Year which George Clooney, Judy Murray and Rob Brydon gave to me, so I think it’s quite appropriate to have the Queen around about these pictures as well. 


And, finally, just to say thanks to the CIPP because the Institute has been a part of this journey with the qualifications for our team and making us a key partnership as well.