In this episode of The Path we hear from Greg Newman, an experienced SAP HCM project manager and the author of the SAP Press book "Discover SAP ERP HCM".
Ken Murphy: Hi, this is Ken Murphy with SAPinsider, and welcome to The Path, a series of podcasts where we explore the backgrounds and career paths of people within the SAP ecosystem. Joining me today is Greg Newman, an experienced SAP HCM project manager and the author of the SAP Press book “Discover SAP ERP HCM”. Greg is currently managing a large multiple country SAP HCM implementation at BP. Welcome to the podcast, Greg.
Greg Newman: Thanks very much.
Ken: Can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself, where you’re from, where do you live, and where did you grow up?
Greg: I’m originally from New Zealand, so right down in the bottom corner of the world. I grew up in a lovely little seaside town called Nelson, and enjoyed one of those great outdoor lifestyles that you get growing up in New Zealand. At the moment, we live in London, England, and we’ve been here on and off since 2001.
Ken: So less surfing in London than in New Zealand?
Greg: Yes, and less Lord of the Rings characters running around, hobbits and all that sort of thing.
Ken: So how did you become interested in computing, and HR in particular?
I think living in Sao Paulo, Brazil, was one of the most influential parts of my life. ... to live in a city of 20 million people where probably less than 1 million of them speak English and there were only 14 New Zealanders out of that 20 million. It was a really big eye-opener.
Greg: The good news is I’m not really interested in computing, which I think is one of my biggest assets. So I’m – though I would consider myself an SAP nerd, I’m definitely not a computer fan, or one of those recreational computer users. I think that’s a pretty good thing though because very few people in HR are hardcore computer nerds, so I think they find it easier to relate to someone who like me takes awhile to understand the more complex and nerdy bits of SAP.
Ken: I’m curious how you broke into the field and particularly how you became involved with SAP?
Greg: So I did an HR degree at university in Australia, and straight out of university I got a job working for a big government payroll company running payrolls for lots of state government organizations. And in what could only be termed a stroke of luck, everyone in that team got trained in SAP HR all in one fell swoop, and we started moving all of our customers onto HR, SAP HR payroll and systems. So I really got a lucky break; I don’t think any of us at the time realized just how influential learning SAP, which was just really another piece of software. I don’t think any of us realized how important that was going to be in our careers.
Ken: So that initial training has served you well.
Greg: Yes, I’m happy to say that that’s the only SAP training I’ve ever done. That was back in 1998. And I think I’ve only been on one SAP course since then.
Ken: And yet you’ve been at it quite awhile, so what is that you like most about what you do?
Greg: I really like problem solving. I think a good day in the office for me is 100 things going wrong and all of them need fixing in one day. I really enjoy that pressure cooker environment of problem solving and error resolution and helping avert crises. The other part that I really enjoy is that moment that doesn’t actually happen on every project, but on a good project when you get that sort of “turn on” moment or that excitement moment from a business person when they actually finally get the difference between a Personnel Area and a subarea, between an Employee Group and a subgroup, and you see that light coming on in their eyes has been made to understand that SAP HCM isn’t really this evil monster and it should make their life a little bit easier.
Ken: Right, just as an aside, is that happening now at BP? A lot of lights turning on?
Greg: Yes. A good question. We’ve got a big 75,000 person population at BP and about 70 countries, so we’ve got I’d say every single mix between where the people where the lights are on and the people where I don’t think the lights are ever going to come on, but we’re definitely working to make it a little bit lighter out there.
Ken: Well that’s good. And a non work-related question here, your LinkedIn profile mentions that you have a cultural understanding from having lived and worked in multiple countries. I’m curious if you can tell us where you’ve lived and do you a favorite place among them, and any interesting stories coming out of developing that cultural understanding, such as language barriers or anything like that?
Greg: I grew up in New Zealand, but I moved to Australia when I was 21, so midway through university I got the urge to travel and see some bright lights and big city stuff. So I went to Australia, lived in Brisbane and Melbourne, two bigger cities in Australia, and then we moved, my wife and I, to London in 2001, and we lived here until 2007 when we moved to Brazil. That was a really big lifestyle change to move to Latin America, and after just about two years in Brazil we moved back to London. So I think living in Sao Paulo, Brazil, was one of the most influential parts of my life. We really love travel, and it’s a massive part of our life. I think we’ve been to about 18 countries now around the world, but to live in a city of 20 million people where, I don’t know, probably less than 1 million of them speak English and there were only 14 New Zealanders out of that 20 million. It was a really big eye-opener, a really different culture and a really different way of life. But I learned a lot about myself, and I learned a lot of things that I really love about Brazil and Latin America while we were there.
Ken: Wow. That definitely sounds like you were outnumbered then. That sounds interesting, you’ve certainly hop-scotched the world.
Greg: Yes, we’ve still got to live in North America, and we’ve still got to live in Asia, but that’s hopefully in the future at some point.
Ken: Well, now that they’re bringing NFL games to London there’s maybe less reason to have to come to North America.
Greg: I’ve only touched on a few bits of America. I haven’t had any great, long road trips. But I’ve got a dream to hire an RV and do a big road trip across America.
Ken: That sounds fun. So I’m curious what’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given in your long career?
Greg: So there’s two bits of career advice that’s come back into my head quite often. One of them was an old salty payroll manager from Australia, back in my early days. And he said to me, “Greg, do you know what the best payroll system is?” And I said, “No, honestly I don’t?” And he said, “It’s the payroll system I’ve got right now, thanks. That’s one I don’t need you guys, I don’t need consultants, I don’t need to be trained on. I don’t need to learn anything, I’m already an expert in it. And sure it’s not perfect, but from my point of view, it’s the best one in the world.” And I think that’s a really, for me, a really good way to look at it through a customer’s eyes. Sometimes, especially on global programs, the people in the country can get a bit lost understanding the impacts and the benefits and what’s in it for them and I think it’s a really good way to look at it to say to make sure that what we’re doing is actually going to make someone’s life better. And appreciate that people aren’t experts on a system on that first day of go-live; they’re back to beginner again, they’re back to needing help and needing assistance. And that’s not a particularly fun process for anyone to go through, so it’s kind of keeping that customer view of it all.
The other big bit of advice that I use a lot was from a guy Mark Cooper who was my first project manager, and he told me, “Greg, raise your complaints to me twice and then get over them.” And Mark’s advice wasn’t about giving up, but it was kind of about recognizing that there’s a lot going on, and if there’s something – a design decision or a solution that you’ve got a big belief that you think we’re doing the right thing and no one else agrees with you, that probably in the heat of the moment to step back and realize that there are a lot of experts on every project, and there’s a lot of good opinions, so don’t let your judgment be clouded by enjoying the argument rather than keeping an eye on the overall solution.
Ken: Certainly some good things to keep in mind there. And lastly, what advice would you have for others say some young people just starting their careers and getting into the field, what advice would you have for them as far as how to break into the field?
Greg: That’s a question that a lot of people ask, and I think there’s two parts of it to me. The first is, focus on the business. What are we doing with large-scale HR systems? We should partners to business people who are experts in doing HR, and I think to be a good partner you need to understand the fundamentals of HR, and you need to understand your motivations and you need to understand all the parts of HR; the technology is really the last part. As I tell everybody, all the guys that come up through me, doing config is really the easy part – filling in, tabling trees in the system is pretty easy. The key is to have asked the right questions, to have understood the requirements, and to have translated them into the solution. And I think to do that, you’ve really got to understand why people are doing HR, and why they’re in that business. And I think that’s probably the key thing, is to have that understanding of the business. The system is important, but it’s definitely the second part.
Ken: Greg, thanks for joining us, and good luck with the rest of your BP project.
Greg: Cool bananas, thanks very much.