In this episode of The Path we hear from SAP executive Kerry Brown, whose path to the SAP ecosystem and eventually to become a vice president at SAP makes for an interesting tale.
Dave Hannon: Hello and welcome to the Path. This is Dave Hannon with SAPinsider. Joining me today is Kerry Brown, Vice President of Enablement at SAP. Welcome Kerry.
Kerry Brown: Thank you very much.
DH: Kerry’s had an interesting path to the SAP ecosystem. Kerry, first off, looking at your background I’m going to guess you didn’t plan or expect to be working in enterprise software when you were younger. Tell me a little bit about what you were interested in when you were younger, say in high school for example.
KB: It’s interesting, yes, but no, I can’t say I even knew this career existed when I was in school. When I was in high school I was a bit of a math geek so very good in sciences and math particularly the sort of algebra side of things. And then when I went to university I originally was going to be an engineer, and I decided not to follow in my father’s footsteps and then I would be an accountant and then I got to accounting and realized that wasn’t really me. And actually I switched from that I decided that I wanted to go into sports marketing. I got heavily into sports when I was in school so I actually did a combined degree of sports administration and business and so that was how I ended up I actually ended up doing marketing so again not quite getting to where I am now but that was what I wanted to be and my goal was really to end up running the Olympics so that was what I thought I would do when I came out of school and here I am. I’m not quite running the Olympics, but there is certainly a lot going on.
DH: Sure. Sure. So you graduated college with a sports marketing degree. What was your first job out of college? I’m curious to find out how that led to your career at SAP.
KB: My first job out of college was actually with the sport governing body. So it was provincial sport governing body, and I was doing marketing for them and as the world does different people come into your life and I had dinner with the president of a subsidiary of an Australian multi-national called CSR. Longer story than that, my father passed away and I ended up having Christmas dinner with friends because I encouraged my whole family to go away so we didn’t have the missing chair and I had dinner with and I ended up not going away. So I had dinner with good friends and this other couple was at the dinner and that’s how I met this gentleman. And then about three months after I had dinner with he and some family friends, he called and said, “We have this marketing position open I think you did marketing and you should apply.”
And so I ended up going from marketing swimming to marketing drywall finishing products which was certainly a departure and interesting and learned a lot about sort of business. It was actually a manufacturing location as well and that company was very heavily investing in quality and TQM (total quality management) at the time and so I ended up having the good fortune to be selected as the
And so I ended up going from marketing swimming to marketing drywall finishing products which was certainly a departure and interesting and learned a lot about sort of business.
representative from my subsidiary to go on a team that was looking at quality for all of North America. And we looked at business process improvement and reengineering and cycle time reduction and new product innovation and all of those reengineering-type activities and that company did that as the precursor to introducing SAP to their organization. And so actually, very naturally, I went from that activity on to their SAP project and was focused on owning change management for that organization and at the time frankly I didn’t know what that meant nor did they. I knew how to use a computer, I knew how to do training and I had been doing a lot of things around change and in truth frankly it was really a fantastic preparation for where I am now. And so that was my first foray into an SAP project and like many people who get on projects, I got addicted and hooked to being on projects and all the impact you can have on an organization and so continued from there with other SAP initiatives and other organizations before I joined SAP.
DH: Okay. So how did you wind up making the jump from working as an SAP customer to working at SAP?
KB: I actually continued to work for a number of customers so I was in oil and gas, I worked for Baker Hughes, I worked for Coca Cola Enterprises and led their change and training globally on their initiative and so I actually really worked with a few different companies. I also worked for a startup that did technological support for SAP and like some startups, it did what startups did, it started up and it stopped. And then I went to Coca Cola Enterprises and I segued from Coca Cola to SAP. And what was exciting and interesting about the opportunity at SAP is that really it gives you the opportunity to touch every customer. So you’re really getting to see the breadth of how best practices and how processes are done across the spectrum whether it’s with our help, with a systems integrator, or with us. And so you really get to shape and be a part of what’s always changing. One of the things I think when you’re working with one organization that’s challenging is to understand what’s happening everywhere else or when you’re working on a particular project. And so from here, not only are we challenged internally but also challenged by our customers to help look ahead and help you know forge the path forward.
DH: Okay. Today your title is Vice President of Enablement. Tell me a little bit about what you’re responsible for in that role.
KB: It’s a good question and when I give people my card they always ask because it’s not the most natural and obvious answer and it’s really come out of wanting to look for a better term around the enablement of people. And so when you think about SAP, it’s people, process, technology. And if you think about the full aspects of SAP, which is originally applications, but now looks at so much more in terms of HANA and mobility and so forth and so regardless of what it is, my litmus test is does it change the way people do their jobs and if it does, how do we help them? And so enablement is really all around enabling people whether it is through devices, through training, through change management, but it’s looking at how do we make sure that the value that an organization is trying to get out of investing into SAP that they’re getting by virtue of the fact that their employees can perform well.
DH: Now I know that you’re also a competitive rower. Tell me a little bit about when that started. Was that in college that you first got into that?
KB: It was. That takes me back to the start of that story and actually how I ended up going from accounting really to sports marketing. I was in accounting and not enjoying it and I was recruited and joined the rowing team at University of British Columbia and I ended up on the Presidential Advisory Council and so I really found myself drawn to that aspect of university and of college and teaming and so forth and so I got heavily into rowing at that time and I rowed very competitively through college and a little bit beyond trying out for the National team in Canada and then I actually retired for a number of years and went back to it probably now about 10 years ago and have been enjoying competitive rowing for some time now. It’s fantastic.
DH: I’ve heard crew described as the ultimate team sport. I’m wondering whether that background has helped you in your professional career. I’m guessing in terms of projects and building teams and
KB: I think it does. I definitely think that team sports and all sports frankly are some of the best preparation for being on a team, being a leader, being a coach. I think my best managers have really been coaches. I certainly try to bring my best learnings as having been an athlete and having had some great coaches to being a manager and to being a coworker. I also think that certainly for the competitive level of rowing I was in that same kind of drive that we have in our industry to be the best, to seek
the next best alternative, to really refine and hone your skills while has high expectations I think certainly also has high rewards. And so that same kind of discipline and focus and commitment I think that brings great results in business is the same thing that brings great results in sports as well.
DH: Lastly, do you have any advice for maybe a younger professional that might just be starting out in SAP? There’s obviously a lot of directions to go in.
KB: I do. I do. And I do quite a bit of mentoring within SAP and there’s a few key things that I would say in this network and also in this organization and the whole ecosystem at large. The terms that I gave to my team for this year or the challenges really were be proactive and be curious. And they are probably the things that I would pass along most quickly to somebody looking at how to grow either within this organization or the community. It’s ever changing. The industry is and in particular this organization over the last five years has really transformed quite dramatically and I think that being curious keeps you current. So, what’s happening somewhere else? What’s interesting somewhere else? What might that mean to my area of focus? How can I adapt, grow, change, evolve, and add the most value? And then I think in being proactive, it’s also how do I seek out how to contribute? SAP is a very networked organization and so while they’re we certainly have structures to have discipline around the organization, we’re very much a customer service oriented company and so by virtue of the fact that so many people work virtually, you need to be proactive and you need to be responsive. And that allows you to connect and network across the organization across the various matrices to be successful. The other thing I would say is think out of the box. You know the curiosity side of things really you know in this industry things become a commodity so quickly that you need to be looking ahead so the more curious and the more interested you can be, the more innovative you can be and bring those ideas to your team and to the company as well and to your customer .
DH: Very good advice. Kerry Brown, Vice President of Enablement at SAP. Thank you very much for joining us on the Path today.
TB: You’re welcome. Thank you very much. I appreciate being here.