SAP CEO is telling a winner's story

As a man who built his career as a top-notch salesman and dealmaker, Bill McDermott, 53, chief executive of SAP, one of the world's largest business software companies, has mastered the techniques:

Use the person's name, repeat their phrases, say "and," not "but." And obviously, be a pro at the kind of small talk that connects customer and company.

But in October, he topped it all with the release of an autobiography, Winners Dream: A Journey from Corner Store to Corner Office.

The book, written in first-person, describes his blue-collar upbringing in Amityville, N.Y.; his business start as a deli owner at age 17; and his ability to inspire disheartened divisions of major companies, from Xerox to SAP, even as he coped with his mother's death and his wife's struggle with breast cancer.

"Winners Dream has made a different intro into SAP," McDermott said. "Because now it's like this isn't just the CEO in a corner office. This is a guy who is just like me.

"When people read that book, they see themselves in the story," he said. "People tell themselves their story, not my story."

Question: Why did you write this book?

Answer: I truly believe, especially as a father of two boys, that this is the next great generation. They have this unbelievable, uncanny desire to serve the world. It really moved me to tell them [and other young people] stories. The stories resonated with them.

Q: Any other motivation?

A: The second piece is that I lost my mother in 2010, way too young at 67, and you rethink timetables. In an ideal world, I would have been retired some day and would have been on the back porch writing the book.

Q: By then, though, would anyone care?

A: Right, and who can guarantee that you'll even get the back porch.

Q: SAP has always marketed itself to big businesses, but now, through your cloud applications, you are reaching out more to end-users, including small businesses and start-ups. So, in a way, you have even more customers with whom you must connect. Does the book help?

A: Right, especially in the commercial sense, where [customers] actually [can understand] a guy who is driven to give you what you want. Yes, he never kept it a secret that he wants to win, but he believes that the methodology for winning is to make sure you win.

Q: Any other audience?

A: We have 68,800 employees. At some level, [they] get to know you based on what they think a CEO is or on a CNBC clip they saw at earnings day for 3 minutes and 25 seconds. I thought it would be nice to actually let people know that I'm the underdog. The underdog can win.

Q: You are an American-based CEO of a company headquartered in Germany. What's different there?

A: One of the biggest things you have employee representatives that are actually on the board of directors. Think about an American board with all these external power brokers [also] actually having employees that are voted to board seats [and] they have the same vote as the external directors. You have to really have patience and the temperament to listen.

Q: How does it work out?

A: It's great. If you want to have a happy company, you have to have the voice of the people in the boardroom.

Q: What's your favorite German food?

A: Wiener schnitzel.

 


BILL McDERMOTT

Title: Chief executive.

Homes: Villanova, Heidelberg, Germany.

Family: Wife, Julie; sons Michael, 22, John, 18.

Diplomas: Dowling College, Northwestern University, master's in business administration.

Jump start: At 17, bought and ran a deli. Sold it and bought his parents a beach house.

Resume: Moved up the ladder at Xerox Corp., then on to top jobs at Siebel Systems and Gartner Inc. Joined SAP in 2002 to head SAP North America. Promoted to co-CEO in 2010 and CEO in May.

Holiday duty: Hanging the tree lights.


SAP SE

Business: Business software development, particularly the Hana operating system.

Headquarters: Walldorf, Germany.

U.S. headquarters: Newtown Square.

2013 revenues: $21 billion.

Employees: 68,800 globally; 3,000 locally.

Customers: 263,000 in 188 countries.

Latest: Closed $8.3 billion acquisition of employee expense management company Concur Inc., of Seattle.


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Interview questions and answers have been edited for space.

jvonbergen@phillynews.com

215-854-2769 @JaneVonBergen