SAP Town Hall

SAP launched a new release of the Business Suite this week, and as a result there were a number of SAP executives in the US.  After the launch in NYC, they made their way down to the Newtown Square offices, where they held a Town Hall meeting.  It has been many years (in the opening remarks I learned that the last one was in 2005) since I’ve seen so many of our highest ranking executives together on campus, and it was great to be a part of that team spirit and energy at headquarters.

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The turnout was great, as you can see from the shot above.  The ground floor (not shown here) was packed, and employees are crammed up against the balcony on the upper two levels of the cafeteria.  The cafeteria seating area was re-organized, and although I got there early there were very few seats available.  Fortunately, members of my team were even more excited than I, and they got there so early that we had three rows a few rows back from the stage, enabling me to capture these paparazzi-style shots from my seat before the Town Hall began.

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From left to right here are Ernie Gunst (COO), Jim Snabbe (head of Business Suite development), Werner Brandt (CFO), and Bill McDermott (now head of Sales worldwide).

In addition to questions about the launch and ongoing concerns about the global economy, there were a lot of questions about whether the US  would get hit harder with layoffs because our labor laws make us easier targets.  Ernie (in addition to being the new COO) has also taken over as head of IT and Human Resources as Claus Heinrich prepares for retirement.  Ernie was clear that the layoffs would be handled through a combination of attrition and job elimination, and that the distribution would be equitable across regions and functions.  SAP will lose about 6% of its workforce – about 3,000 people – in the coming months.  Those changes will hit sooner in the US because labor laws permit it, but in reality SAP offices all over the world will be affected by the first layoff in company history.  The rationale behind the cuts (besides the obvious fact of the global economic conditions) is that SAP has experienced double-digit growth for the past 19 quarters.  As a result, we have consistently hired ahead in anticipation of continued future growth.  With the future growth trajectory uncertain, it is no longer possible to maintain the same hiring strategies and staffing levels.

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Here on the left is Henning Kagermann (co-CEO, he will retire in July), with Leo Apotheker (former head of Sales, now co-CEO).

Towards the end, Leo reminded us that we might not see Henning again before his retirement, and he used the opportunity to thank him for his many contributions to SAP.  The audience clapped and clapped and clapped, until finally Henning asked us to stop so he could make a few remarks.

Along with the other members of the management team, these two also had plenty to say about the health and future of SAP.  It is always impressive to see our executives speak and address questions from the audience in real-time.  While there was lots of good news associated with the Business Suite launch, there was lots of tough news too.  It’s clear that they have a keen understanding of the economy and our market conditions, as well as what’s going on internally.   In spite of the challenges we face, I left the meeting feeling confident in our executives’ ability to forge a trail for us.  In spite of all of the challenges that SAP faces in the months to come, it was clear that the members of our executive team enjoy mutual respect for one another, and that they appreciated the opportunity to interact with the employee base here in the US.  And we appreciated it too!

There are a few additional photos posted on Flickr here if you’re interested – http://www.flickr.com/photos/ndhanthro/sets/72157613451038796/.

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