In this episode of The Path we meet Richard Howells, Head of Go to Market -- Supply Chain at SAP. Richard is an engaging speaker, active blogger, and always a great interview.
Dave Hannon: Hello and welcome to this episode of The Path. This is Dave Hannon with SAPinsider. I’m excited to be joined today by Richard Howells, Head of Go To Market -- Supply Chain at SAP. Richard’s a frequent speaker at our conferences and has worked with SAPinsider for quite a while. Welcome Richard. I appreciate your joining us today.
Richard Howells: Thanks, Dave. Pleasure to be here.
Dave: Richard, my first question is you’re obviously not a native Bostonian, which is where you live now, so tell us a little bit about where you’re from originally.
Richard: Yes, sure. I’m actually from the west coast of Wales in the U.K. You get there by getting on a plane to Heathrow, driving for four hours, and stopping just before you hit the Irish space.
Dave: Okay. Not what I picture to be the hotbed of technology. Were you always interested in software and technology when you were younger?
Richard: Not really. I was interested in sports and the outdoors. I was sort of pushed into computer science by my father because I was good at math and he thought it would be a good topic for me to work in so I was actually the first grade in my school to do a course in computer science, and we didn’t even have a computer.
Dave: Oh really? You’ve come a long way. So when you went to college, what did you study in college and what was your, sort of, plan there?
Richard: Well, I actually did a degree in computer science at the Polytechnic of Wales near Cardiff in Wales, and it wasn’t really that I had a plan. Computer science happened to be my best subject in high school, and it seemed like the natural thing to do – an interesting topic where there was going to be lots of opportunities in the future.
Dave: Okay. Okay. So what opportunities presented themselves when you first got out of college? What was your first job?
Richard: Well, I actually got a job working for a college lecturer from the Polytechnic, who had a small software company, and I started off as a computer programmer. And I went out to customers, fixing bugs in the systems, learning about business because I worked at big companies like Gillette, and Colgate Palmolive, and Royal Worcester Spode. And then I moved into doing implementations of the software all over Europe. And I actually worked for a company, or the software that we implemented was for a company just outside of Boston, called Marcam.
Dave: Mm hm. Good. So, is that what brought you here to the Boston area?
Richard: Eventually, yes. I met my wife and I got a job, and I actually got an interview for my job in Boston the day before I got married. I got offered the job on my honeymoon, and I had to tell my parents I was moving to America when we went back home after my honeymoon.
Dave: Wow. That’s a big change. So you were always really working in supply chain solutions, even back then?
Richard: Well, not really. I started off working on ERP systems and manufacturing systems and then I moved into MRP and purchasing and warehousing applications so I moved eventually into the supply chain space.
Dave: Mm Hm. Okay. And now you’re working a little more on the solution management side of things rather than the sort of technical side of things. Tell me a little bit about how that change came about and what drove it really.
Richard: Sure. Well, I enjoyed programming and I enjoyed doing implementations, but eventually I got a little frustrated in that I thought that I could develop systems better than the ones that we were actually implementing. So I thought I’d give it a go. I applied for a job as a solution manager in the Boston office for Marcam and never looked back.
Dave: Okay. So how did you wind up with SAP? Or how long ago did you join them, and how did that come about?
Richard: Well, I’ve been with SAP for almost 10 years. My previous company was in the process of being sold, and I’d been there about 15 years and I decided that I needed a change. And I’d almost been competing against SAP, and had a bit of stick from a lot of my friends at work who said I was going to the dark side. But I soon realized it wasn’t as dark as everyone said, and to be honest, I’ve no regrets since I moved to SAP.
Dave: Okay. Great. Great. So tell me about your role now. What are you doing at SAP now? What does your role entail?
Richard: Okay. Well, I’m responsible for all the go to market activities for the supply chain line of business team. I work with global and field marketing on the marketing plans for the year and execution of those plans. I work with product management and development to make sure that we have launch plans in place for any new releases for solutions in the software area. And I also enjoy giving presentations at events like SAPinsider, writing about business trends, and blogging on social media around the supply chain space. We had my 20th blog published on Forbes.com.
Dave: Oh wow, congratulations. And in addition to all of this, I have it on rather good authority that you’re a pretty good soccer player as well. How long have you been doing that, and how often do you play today?
Richard: I won’t say how many years I’ve been playing, but I think I used to play in black and white.
Richard: I mean, I’ve played a lot of sports since I was a kid. I played rugby and tennis and cricket, and did a lot of athletics and soccer… And when I moved to the U.S., a colleague of mine in work quickly picked up on my accent and assumed that I could play soccer, so within a week I was playing soccer three times a week for a local team. And now I’m still playing. I play in the Over-the-Hill League in New England. It really does exist and there’s about 50 teams, and we’re just about as competitive as I was when I was 15; I’m just a little bit slower now.
Dave: Okay. Okay. Is there anything that you sort of learned or gained from playing sports that you see translating over into your business role?
Richard: Actually, that’s what I was going to say. It’s a team effort, I mean, working at SAP. We’re a very large organization, and it’s always good to find your ecosystem or team to work with because it’s much easier to complete projects, complete tasks, and do well in general when you can rely on others and trust others. So it’s all about team effort and teamwork.
Dave: Okay. Great. Well, one question I’ve been asking folks in this series is advice you might have for somebody, particularly somebody that might be starting out in the SAP ecosystem today. There’s a lot of different directions to go in, a lot of ways people can go. Do you have for advice for somebody who’s just sort of getting started?
Richard: You used the word, “ecosystem,” and I think that’s the key word. I mean there are thousands of people at SAP, there are hundreds of solutions and areas to choose from, and really what I find is the key is building your ecosystem, whether it’s around your job function as an employee or your business challenges and business processes as a customer. Because having that ecosystem in place makes you much more successful going forward.
Dave: Okay. Great. Very good advice. Okay. Richard Howells, head of go to market for supply chain at SAP. Thank you very much for joining us on The Path today.
Richard: Thank you. It was my pleasure.