I have had a writing block for a couple of months now. Then I saw the news of Marilyn and Mark moving on from SAP and that reminded me of the two year hesitation I over came in 2008 to write my very first blog.
That blog was written almost exactly 7 years ago on SDN http://scn.sap.com/people/vijay.vijayasankar/blog/2008/03/10/bi-and-esa-driven-approach-to-sap-project-implementations–part-1 . The first time I felt like I should blog was probably two years prior to that – but I was scared, and rather clueless on how it is done. Finally I mustered the courage (mostly with endless encouragement from friends at IBM and SAP who said something like “its going to be great – but you go first” :) ) and wrote it – and it got read by a couple of thousand people or so. Some kind folks even took time to post some encouraging comments. I liked that first experience enough to write two more to finish my thought process on that topic . Next thing I know, it got featured on SDN home page and I was moved to “expert blogger” status – which meant my content needed no further reviews before publishing. That was not really me being a great blogger right off the block – it was all Marilyn working her magic behind the scenes to encourage a newbie :)
While blogging was new to me – SAP community itself was not. I had been in the field since the mid 90s and was commenting on forums and blogs for a while. I was also a regular at Techeds, mostly as a participant but also occasionally as a presenter. And that is how I first ran into Marilyn Pratt. Looking back, it was a turning point in my life and career. Marilyn, as she had done for several others, took me under her wings and nurtured my interest in blogging. She has the most facilitative style of anyone I know – never once did she tell me that there was a better way of doing things (I was pretty bad – I know it, but she never made me worry about it), but would just keep encouraging me to blog more, talk more at events, develop my network within the community and so on. My confidence grew sufficiently to be a regular blogger on SCN and then a couple of years later – I started this blog to rant about non-SAP stuff.
What I learned the most – and continue to learn – from Marilyn is the concept of paying it forward. There is a second lesson too – she is a wizard when it comes to connecting people with common interests. There was not a lot that I could do for her for everything she has done for me. She in fact constantly tells me she did not do much for me ( that is dead wrong – but she is way too modest). I learned from her , and later from others too, that all I should make sure is that I pay it forward by helping the people who come after me. It is not just about blogging – I have certainly helped others get started on blogging , but it is just as important in every aspect of life. I can’t say I have mastered it at all – but I have indeed been trying. It has made a big impact on how I look at life and I mostly have Marilyn to thank for that. I am sure I am not the only one who thinks that way.
Soon after I started blogging and presenting at SAP events, I started meeting some interesting people across the world . No two were alike – what exactly is common between Thorsten Franz, Dennis Howlett, Jon Reed, Sue Koehan, Tammy Powlas, John Appleby and Vitaliy Rudnitsky ? And I met more than a 100 such unique souls and many became close personal friends. That is the beauty of community – random individuals come together due to some common interest, and they stick together for a long time and develop new set of interests together. Its very rare that I talk about SAP topics with any of these folks I met through SCN – but each have enriched my life in meaningful ways. And that would not have happened without Marilyn.
I had already seen Mark Finnern from a distance at that time. And a little while after I became a regular blogger on SCN, I got a phone call from him to say I have been selected as an SAP mentor. I literally got a feeling similar to winning the Nobel prize or something of that magnitude. He would not tell me who nominated me. I tried asking Mark Yolton and Chip Rodgers – and they would not tell me either. It was only after I joined SAP that I figured it was Marilyn Pratt who nominated and nudged Finnern into taking me into the mentor wolf pack . For a second time, my life (and career) took a meaningful turn. I now had access to some of the most interesting leaders like Vishal Sikka, Jim Snabe, Bjoern Goerke, Sanjay Poonen et al at SAP and knew a lot more about how decisions were made on many products and programs. I knew many of these SAP execs from my time at IBM – but being in the mentor program made it a much stronger relationship and many of them became friends and mentors for me.
Mark and I became good friends and I was very active in mentor program. I always knew that he was working hard to make it easy for mentors to add value to SAP. But I did not realize the extent of his challenges till I actually joined SAP myself couple of years ago. It is a large and complex organization – and at any point there would be someone in the executive team who thought mentors added a lot of value. Unfortunately, many of those executives moved on from SAP too from time to time. So Mark had to rebuild his relationships constantly to make sure the program continued to have sponsorship at the highest level all the time . Mentor program is under SAP marketing from an HR reporting line – although its intent is not to be a classic marketing initiative. I have always admired how Mark managed to keep the program thriving because a good part of the ROI of mentor program is intangible , or at a minimum cannot be measured in classic marketing KPIs. A lesser man or woman would have thrown in the towel and walked away from leading this program. But then Mark is not ordinary – he is as extraordinary as someone can get and he made it work. And a lot of us who are mentors (or are alums like me) are grateful to him and SAP for the opportunities it gave us.
I have no doubts in my mind that Mentor program has served SAP really well over the years – more than anything else, it is a much needed and invaluable reality check on how the ecosystem perceives SAP. Each and every mentor does something unique that adds value to the SAP community and to SAP the company. Mark’s shoes are really big to fill – but SAP is not short on talent . Whoever has taken over Mentor initiative – I wish you well and I hope you will keep the flag flying high and take it to its next level. The brand of mentors is intertwined with the brand of Mark – and rightfully so for everything he has done. But as he leaves for his next adventure, I am excited to see how the program evolves.
Marilyn and Mark – I wish you the very best in the next phase of your personal and professional lives. You have made a dent in the universe and I will be cheering for you all the way. Godspeed my friends ! I look forward to grabbing a drink with you real soon.