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Lessons from the Co-CEO: McDermott Addresses Chief Executives in Boston

by Lucy Swedberg

February 7, 2014

I’ve seen Bill McDermott, SAP’s co-chief executive officer, take the stage at many a SAPPHIRE keynote, press conference, and analyst briefing. He always delivers, presenting SAP’s vision with conviction, passion, and polish. This week, I had the pleasure of listening to McDermott deliver the keynote address at a Boston College Chief Executives’ Club of Boston luncheon. In this forum, I saw a different side of the co-CEO — a softer side, perhaps, but an equally passionate one. McDermott spoke to fellow executives — his peers — about management topics that mean a lot to him: talent development, team building, entrepreneurship, customer focus, leadership, and innovation.

Here are three key takeaways from McDermott’s talk.

Engage millennials. Those born between 1980 and 1995 will continue to have a huge impact on companies, how they run, what they produce, and how those products are perceived in the market. McDermott is committed to engaging millennials, listening to their ideas, and elevating their viewpoints throughout the organization. He noted that “to make Bill happy,” senior leaders at SAP will need to have a millennial running a big part of their team, ensuring that fresh thinking and innovative ideas remain core to the company.

Collapse complexity. McDermott asked executives to take a long, hard look at the complexity that’s likely running rampant through their companies and figure out a way to collapse it. He espoused the value of technology here, noting how it should “simplify everything so executives can do anything.”

Rethink how you win. With a constant, laser focus on your customers, and inspired thinking around how to elevate their experience, companies will beat out their competitors, McDermott noted. Here, he used professional sports as an example of what’s possible. Imagine real-time feedback and performance analysis on individual athletes, thanks to sensors, biometrics, and high-speed analytics. Imagine stadiums that can personalize offers to fans in their seats based on how long they’ve held season tickets. Imagine smart technology that could alert you when the line for the restroom has died down, so you won’t miss out on any highlight-worthy plays. Your customers deserve a transformed experience, McDermott noted, and you have to figure out how to deliver it.

The esteemed audience applauded McDermott’s advice.

Bill McDermott becomes SAP’s sole CEO on May 1, 2014. McDermott addressed over 250 chairmen, presidents, and managing partners at Boston College’s Chief Executives’ Club of Boston luncheon on Thursday, February 6, 2014, at the Boston Harbor Hotel. The event was hosted by Joe Tucci, Chairman and CEO of EMC Corp.

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