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An Inside Look at SAP in Silicon Valley

SAP North America’s John McGee Discusses Transformative Opportunities for Customers and Growing Relationships with Partners in the Cradle of Innovation

by John McGee | SAPinsider, Volume 18, Issue 3

August 16, 2017

In a world of constant transformation and reinvention, SAP continues to be a market leader in digital technologies. This holds true in Silicon Valley, where the west coast offices of SAP North America face unique challenges and opportunities from operating in the cradle of innovation. To stay one step ahead of the competition, SAP is focusing on promoting transformational opportunities for its customers.

This is the environment that John McGee, Managing Director, West Region, SAP North America, found when he joined the team in November 2016. SAPinsider recently sat down with him to discuss everything from his experiences with customers to the culture within SAP that powers its success.

Q: Since you joined SAP in late 2016, what has significantly impressed you?

A: I really enjoy the culture here, which is respectful and performance-driven. I’m also very impressed with the talent of the people I work with every day. And I have been pleasantly surprised by the intimacy that I have found within SAP. Initially I was concerned about joining a company that was so large, but I found that you build relationships here very quickly, and everybody has been extremely responsive and supportive.

In our offices, we are creating a culture of being your true self. That means you should feel comfortable being the same person in the office that you are at home. We want to create an environment to support that because that’s how you’re going to do your best work. If you come in as somebody else, you’re leaving aspects of your true self behind — we talk a lot about being a “human first” in the west coast offices.

Q: What is unique about working on the west coast?

A: One of the unique challenges of the west coast is competition with Silicon Valley companies. It’s no secret that we’re located in the cradle of innovation, and there are a lot of new entrants to the market with new shiny toys. So how do we use our resources and the full power of SAP innovation to stay one step ahead of them?

We approach it in a couple of ways. We work closely with our partners, and through them we’re building a virtual team, which is something many Silicon Valley companies take years to establish. Another objective for us is to be able to collaborate with customers that are focused on transformation. This means setting our vision on the possible as opposed to responding to commonplace requirements. We have a wealth of solutions, technologies, and integrated platforms that, when combined, set SAP at a different level from many companies. When we start talking about transformational opportunities, you raise that level even further.

Q: How are these transformational opportunities created?

A: Take the wine industry for example. There is a company that is in the process of evolving from being a regional winery to becoming a true consumer packaged goods enterprise. It started as a producer of wine in a single location and is now expanding not only to locations throughout the west coast, but also to sales of food, gift baskets, and non-alcoholic beverages. We were able to help this company leverage SAP s/4hana Finance along with SAP Ariba and SAP Fieldglass solutions to completely replace its 20-year-old IT technology. SAP S/4HANA Finance stands on its own, but the ability to integrate it with supplier procurement via SAP Ariba and SAP Fieldglass solutions made a big difference for this company. Not only that, but it’s using SAP Hybris to create a business-to-consumer channel, which will probably be the biggest addition to its go-to-market strategy. The openness of the SAP technologies even allowed for a third-party wine-making application to be bolted on for extra value, which is another component that our competition couldn’t touch. As a result, what the company was five years ago is significantly different from what it is today, and radically different from what it will be in 10 years.

Q: Can you expand on SAP’s growing relationship with its partners?

A: Our partners tend to be on the cutting edge of innovation; they have innovation labs and are doing transformative work. In many cases, we are doing client tours at their labs and are collaborating on design workshops. Our partners are all focusing on different areas. It could be solutions, it could be a specific industry, or it could be a market segment. We’re looking at them in terms of determining how we’ll be able to best work together. When we see an opportunity in an area in which a specific partner excels, we consistently make a point to work with them in that area. We also work to establish personalized, trusting relationships.

Q: What are customers most focused on today, and what are they struggling with?

A: Due to the competitive nature of Silicon Valley, our customers are quite often trying to reinvent themselves to stay ahead of the pack. That process creates opportunity for us and for the transformational vision that we discussed earlier. We take great pride in the fact that our customers can tap into SAP technology to achieve a level of true business transformation that they’re unable to get from anyone else in the marketplace. And we enjoy helping those customers understand how we do it, why we do it, and what it can mean for fueling their competitive advantage.

Q: Can you share an example of a customer you have helped with this kind of transformation?

A: We recently worked with an organization that provides industrial doors. This is an extremely fragmented and competitive marketplace without any one clear leader. What this company is doing — and this gets back to the idea of reinvention — is transforming itself from a purely wholesale company into one with wholesale, retail, and direct distribution components. It’s a big leap of faith that they’re taking, but they believe that with SAP as the underlying platform, they can take that step. We’re helping them build full integration with their custom code, and we’re helping them adopt a hosting solution and eventually transition to a full cloud solution. And we’re creating those wholesale, retail, and direct distribution businesses in a way that no other company can.

This company has also grown through global acquisitions, which is important to note because doors are measured and fitted differently throughout the world. Their decision was not necessarily to scale to that need, but rather to acquire companies that are leaders in their local markets. The ability to integrate and have a single platform with local value was another big part of their transformation, and they’re doing that with the cloud and with SAP HANA.

Q: How do you overcome the reluctance some customers may have to move to digital technologies?

A: One of the themes of our west coast offices is that we don’t sell anything — we educate, we anticipate, and we listen. Through that, trust is built. Then, when we use that information to develop a strategy, we have an audience that’s much more engaged. But it really starts from understanding the customer’s perspective first. We have to be right there in the trenches with them as a true business partner. When we aim to understand, educate, build credibility, and then build a strategy — that’s how we’re best able to get them over the hump of digital innovation.

Q: What does success look like for your team?

A: There are the usual numbers and key performance indicators (KPIs) by which businesses measure success, of course, but I’m more focused on the behavior that gets us there. Success to me means very low attrition because people love to work here. Success means broad participation from the sales team. Success means my employees earning bigger roles in the company and being promoted so they can spend long years here being challenged and finding opportunities to grow. And, most important, the overall goal is to enable our customers to solve their business challenges and thrive in the digital economy. That, to me, is success. 

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John McGee

John McGee ( is Managing Director, West Region at SAP North America, responsible for leading the market unit’s overall strategy, business operations, and customer and partner engagements. He joined SAP from FireEye, where he served as senior vice president for worldwide sales and field operations, and was responsible for driving the go-to-market strategy via enterprise, inside sales, channel, OEM, and technology partners. John has held numerous other high-level sales and executive management roles throughout his career, including positions at Informatica, Thunderhead, Adobe, EMC, and Documentum. John has an undergraduate degree in finance from Penn State University in Pennsylvania, and an MBA from Columbia University in New York.

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