To be clear, I am not saying that SAP’s executive board doesn’t consist of brilliant minds – it does. Especially new sole CEO Christian Klein is smart, amicable, and determined. But. You don’t have to be a psychic to see that a small, almost entirely German management team is not suited to tackle global challenges.
What happened to the bigger, more diverse SAP management teams of the past? Former CTO Shai Agassi came from Israel, enriching SAP’s product portfolio by bringing TopManage (now: SAP Business One) along. His Indian successor and founder of two successful startups, Vishal Sikka, studied math in Stanford, USA. Rob Enslin from South Africa, Jennifer Morgan and Bill McDermott from the US, Lars Dalgaard and Jim Hagemann Snabe from Denmark – the SAP executive board might not have always been brilliant, but at least it generally was a more accurate representation of the global SAP community.
Now, SAP’s management team has gotten smaller – and more German. Most of the men on the executive board – Christian Klein, Thomas Saueressig, Luka Mucic – grew up in Walldorf, where SAP’s headquarters are located. Juergen Mueller is from Berlin. All talented people, but they’ve rarely had the chance to look beyond SAP’s imperium and gain experience elsewhere.
More executives leaving SAP than joining it
Many SAP executives have left the ERP company in the past few years. For example, then co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe joined Siemens. SAP Leonardo manager Tanja Rueckert went to Bosch. SAP TechEd superstar Bjoern Goerke, after a year-long hiatus, ended up at Volkswagen. SAP manager Marcell Volmer went to Celonis, Edmund Frey to Spryker. Former CTO Bernd Leukert joined Deutsche Bank while Rob Enslin now works at Google. These are only some examples in a long – hopefully not growing – list. However, has it ever been the other way around recently? Did some high-ranking executive in a successful technology company switch sides and join SAP in the past few months? I didn’t hear anything in that direction – if I’m missing anyone, please let me know.
CEO Christian Klein seems to partially acknowledge these problems, as he said after Jennifer Morgan’s departure that he plans to be more actively involved in SAP’s locations in the USA. With a private jet and stylish face mask, he might just be able to bridge the gap between Walldorf and the US. But who will take care of the Asian market, especially India, China and Japan? Who of SAP’s meager executive team will be responsible for marketing, communications and sales? And who will fill Stefan Ries’ shoes as Chief Human Resources Officer?
There might be extreme situations in which a short-term consolidation of power can be beneficial. If that will be the case for SAP remains to be seen. I for one would prefer a more global, international and diverse SAP executive board.