SAP America's Enslin is optimistic amid challenges

For Rob Enslin, there could have been a better time than February to start as the new president of SAP America.

As we know now, the U.S. economy shrank at an annualized rate of 6.1 percent during the first quarter. That was worse than economists had expected.

The German business-software maker that Enslin works for also had a challenging first quarter. Yesterday, SAP AG reported net income fell 16 percent to 204 million euros (or $269 million) compared with 242 million euros. Total revenue decreased 3 percent.

Enslin, 47, got the job of overseeing all SAP businesses in North America about a month after the company announced that it would freeze salaries and cut more than 3,000 jobs worldwide by year’s end.

Given that SAP software and systems are used in 26 different industries, Enslin has seen how the global downturn has affected all parts of the economy.

When I met with him at SAP’s Newtown Square headquarters recently, Enslin said chemicals, financial services and commodities have been under particular stress.

But he was also optimistic about business conditions. Yesterday, the Federal Reserve indicated that it, too, sees signs that the worst of the recession may be over.

Before his recent return to the U.S., Enslin had been chief operating officer of SAP’s Fast Growth markets for its Global Field Operations unit. That put him in the blast furnace of some sizzling economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and other nations generally tagged as “emerging.”

“Emerging is a strange word,” said Enslin. “These countries have emerged.”

Still, implementing an SAP enterprise resource planning system can take six to 12 months. The financial shockwave that hit in September caused boards of directors everywhere to hesitate to greenlight such massive technology transformations.

Now, Enslin said, the economic-stimulus plan holds potential for SAP in areas such as construction, energy and emissions control.

And if one aim of all that spending is to encourage a more sustainable global economy, Enslin has a new building in Newtown Square he’d like to show off.

Tomorrow: SAP’s green headquarters.