German magazine ‚Der Spiegel‘ reported on a Heidrick & Struggles study analyzing and evaluating typical (and successful) careers of Chief Executive Officers (CEO). A simple question about a complex topic: How does one become CEO? Reading through it, one could think they are talking about SAP CEO Christian Klein.
Christian Klein’s career is almost exactly the ideal that the Heidrick & Struggles study describes. For example, the study recommends to pick a company and stick with it as many promotions to CEO are given to long-time employees. Christian Klein has been with SAP since the start of his career, attending university on the side. This lack of experience could be disadvantageous in other aspects, but it apparently makes him perfect CEO material.
The study also recommends becoming Chief Financial Officer (CFO) if CEO seems too far out of reach for the moment. And if CFO isn’t a viable option, either, snagging the position of Chief Operating Officer (COO) can also mean a higher chance of becoming CEO one day. Coincidentally, Christian Klein has been both CFO (SuccessFactors) and COO (SAP) before becoming CEO.
However, there’s one aspect in which the study’s recommendations and Christian Klein’s career diverge: Candidates under 45 years old have a harder time becoming CEO than their older colleagues. Klein is the exception that proves the rule, then.
Christian Klein’s biggest challenges
In all seriousness, Christian Klein seems to be a prime candidate for the CEO position. SAP employees confirm his ERP competency, and he never shies away from open, honest discussion. One of the primary challenges he faces (apart from a global crisis, of course) is cloud computing. On the one hand, SAP has made many different cloud acquisitions over the past few years that have yet to be consolidated and integrated – not an easy task. On the other hand, there’s Hana. On premises, Hana is great, but Hana’s underlying concept is not compatible with the idea of an endlessly scalable cloud solution. And, on top of that, SAP is still reeling from losing invaluable know-how in a massive layoff under former CEO Bill McDermott.
Christian Klein is capable, smart and determined, and I think he might just be able to solve SAP’s biggest challenges – I wish him all the best in his second year as CEO!