SAP’s history is characterized by the coexistence of continuity and disruption. SAP co-founders Professor Hasso Plattner and Gerd Oswald have been pillars of stability, trust, and success for many years—first on the Executive Board, and currently on the Supervisory Board. Both executives have shaped SAP’s successful image over many years and, in some cases, have built personal relationships with customers. For example, at the SAP headquarters in Walldorf, Germany, a certain story is still in circulation: Hasso Plattner not only introduced SAP software at Porsche, but was also involved in discussions on how to improve the car itself— after all, Plattner himself drives a Porsche.
An analysis of executive careers at SAP nevertheless paints a surprising picture: many successful SAP executives chose not return to SAP after a cooling-off period. The prominent exception in the recent past is Gerd Oswald—a fortunate circumstance for all concerned! Professor Henning Kagermann, Claus Heinrich, Jim Hagemann Snabe, and Michael Kleinemeier all left the ERP company on good terms. However, they did not make an appearance on the Supervisory Board and, with the exception of Snabe, were obviously not up for discussion.
Snabe versus Renjen
In an interview for the German Handelsblatt magazine, Hasso Plattner indicated that one of his preferred candidates as successor had been ex-SAP co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe. Snabe apparently turned down the offer early on because at the end of last year, through SAP CEO Christian Klein’s mediation, Plattner approached Punit Renjen, the departing Global CEO of Deloitte. Punit Renjen is to be elected to the Supervisory Board at the upcoming SAP Annual General Meeting in May and will become its head a year later.
Punit Renjen was Global CEO of Deloitte from 2015 until his retirement on December 31, 2022. As Global CEO, Punit Renjen developed and implemented the strategy that grew Deloitte’s revenue from $35 billion USD to more than $59 billion USD in just seven years. Today, Deloitte is one of the leading professional service firms and is said to be one of the best places to work in the world. Deloitte employs 415,000 people in 150 countries and also has a successful partner ecosystem, which SAP has been a part for over 30 years.
Renjen is a member of the Leadership Council of the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the International Business Council. In 2022, he was named “Global Indian of the Year” by the Economic Times and “Great Immigrant, Great American” by the Carnegie Corporation of America. Born and raised in India, Renjen moved to the United States on a Rotary Foundation scholarship to study at Willamette University, graduating with honors and a master’s degree in management. Upon retirement, he was awarded the honorary title of Deloitte Global CEO Emeritus.
Next year, Punit Renjen, at the age of 62, will usher in a new era as SAP Supervisory Board chairman. Next year, the new CFO Dominik Asam will also have successfully settled in at SAP, which could allow an old SAP tradition to be reinstated: joint leadership!
It is an unusual management model for a German DAX company, but SAP has had some successful moments with Kagermann and Apotheker, and Snabe and McDermott. The last joint leadership with Jennifer Morgan and Christian Klein was short-lived and does not bear consideration. The Harvard Business Manager magazine, February 2023 issue, states on page 39: “Power sharing can help leaders keep their egos in check.”
The authors in Harvard Business Manager point out an important circumstance that will be a given again at SAP starting in 2024: “At Oracle and SAP, the co-CEO model was supported by a strong supervisory board head who could arbitrate emerging disagreements and provide needed focus.” Next year, SAP will have a strong supervisory board chairman in Punit Renjen and two strong SAP board members, Christian Klein, and Dominik Asam—things can only get better, right?
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