Highlight of Madrid SAPPHIRENOW 2011 – meetings with Snabe and Sikka

I am sitting in the flight back home from Madrid, and reflecting on what were the most interesting highlights of the week I spent in Madrid. I am pretty convinced it is the meetings I had with Vishal Sikka and Jim Snabe. Parts of the meeting are under NDA, so I cannot discuss it here.  But that is not the point – despite some execution issues which SAP faces in my opinion, I think the leadership of people like Vishal and Jim is pretty critical for SAP to get their strategy to action.

Vishal is not a large company CTO type – he has the energy and passion of a start up guy. This is a guy who shuttles around the world talking to different teams at SAP, and directly engaging with Customers on a regular basis.When I met him in Madrid, he said he is there only for 20 hours or so. And then in a couple of days, he had to go to China for Teched keynote. And once he started talking – he was like the “energizer bunny”.  I truly wish I had that kind of energy, and I don’t know how his team deals with that 🙂

He does not hold back – he is candid to a fault, and it has been a big learning opportunity for me whenever I get to meet and talk with him. I do not agree with some of his ideas, and I do agree with some. But irrespective of my POV, I always admire the honesty in his position. There is no sugar coating – what you see is what you get.  But then again, it is not just his personality alone that makes him successful – he hired some really good people to work for him, especially on HANA.  Where I think he could do better is to get SAP’s development army to keep pace with him.

I also had the good fortune to meet Jim Snabe twice – once for dinner (here is a photo http://img.ly/afEe ) with few other bloggers, and once again the next day with fellow SAP mentors.  I was quite impressed with how much he listens to feedback, and then builds up on those ideas.  He is one of the most balanced C level executives that I have ever met, although I am forming my opinion after knowing  him only for a short period. Jim does not challenge people per se – he challenges ideas with open ended questions.  And when he explains the rationale – it is very structured, and you can immediately make out that he did not just make something up on the fly. He can also relate to the history of SAP better than most other SAP leaders , which is a unique characteristic which is quite valuable.  And he acknowledges and thanks people when something comes from the other side of the table, that he has not thought through himself.  Last but not least – If I were in Jim’s shoes, I doubt if I would have gone out for dinner with a bunch of bloggers the night before SAPPHIRE keynote 🙂

Unlike Vishal, Jim grew up in SAP. But despite the difference in their backgrounds, I was quite pleased with how they could both explain SAP’s value proposition and future clearly, albeit in 2 rather different ways.  Same destination – just two different roads.  Having also watched Bill McDermott in action, it is kind of interesting that the three top leaders at SAP all bring unique, but complimentary value to the table.

I am looking forward to meeting both these gentlemen in future, and continuing the great conversation.