How does a company with the vision of “making the world run better” run itself?
We asked Jennifer Morgan, president of the global software provider SAP’s North American branch. In the U.S. and Canada, the company has more than 20,000 employees and 110,000 customers across 25 different industries. Morgan was named president in May 2014, and has since led SAP North America’s rapid shift to the cloud while helping customers achieve growth in the digital economy. Known for helping customers to keep their edge, how does SAP keep its own?
“We’re a forty four-year-old software company that’s helped businesses large and small to tackle their most difficult challenges with technology,” explains Jennifer. “Forty years – that’s a very long time for a software company to be around. And we’ve done that by following the same basic advice that we’re always giving to customers – by staying alert, never getting complacent, and being able to reinvent and reimagine ourselves. Over just the last decade or so, we’ve invested about $50 billion in acquisitions and organic development to build a portfolio of products and solutions that is unrivaled in the marketplace. Our software does everything from helping a start-up scale its business and manage its financials, to helping complex global businesses manage hundreds of thousands of employees, to providing a platform for growth and innovation for the world’s largest companies.”
She points out that SAP spent nearly 3 billion euros in R&D last year, and the company has thousands of the world’s best and brightest engineers and development professionals on the team. “Here’s the reality,” says Jennifer. “In our industry, it’s a war for talent. And you’ve got to make talent feel welcome. If you want to recruit the best people, you need to provide an environment for professional growth – a place and culture where people feel appreciated and respected. Culture can be everything in a business, or really in any kind of common enterprise. If you’re investing and building a culture that encourages people to learn, take professional risks, and give their best, then the entire enterprise will be dynamic and forward-looking. And that’s how you keep offering the highest quality, most innovative products. I think any leader would tell you that we spend a lot of our time focused on our people strategy, and making sure we’re building the right talent pipeline and creating a culture that fosters innovation.”
What makes for the best culture in a business? “Inclusiveness is a big part of it,” Jennifer believes. “It’s a culture where everyone has a sense of his or her possibilities, and everyone is valued both as a person and as part of the team.” Under her stewardship, SAP North America has become an industry leader in the area of diversity and inclusion, and was recently the first technology company in the United States to be awarded the Economic Dividends for Gender Equality (EDGE) certificate – a recognition launched at the World Economic Forum and known as the leading global measurement of gender equality in the workplace.
“That’s not to say we don’t have more to do in terms of female representation in technology and in business – especially in leadership positions and the boardroom. We have to keep moving in that direction,” says Jennifer. “It’s the right thing to do because it’s fair, because it makes the fabric of your organization stronger, and because it’s good for your business and your bottom line. And, by the way, the same holds true for diversity of all types, not just gender.”
Jennifer grew up in a small business family, and often cites her father as an example. He was an orthodontist who ran his own practice. From him, Jennifer says, she first learned the importance of knowing and caring about the customer, in ways that can set a business apart from competitors.
“I was interested in business from an early age and so I ended up majoring in finance at JMU and got my first job at Andersen Consulting, now Accenture. It’s interesting that what motivates me now leading a region for SAP, home to 20,000 employees, is not all that different from what made me interested in business in the first place. It’s people – leading them, motivating them to pursue a shared vision for the future, and helping our customers reach their own goals.”
Looking to SAP’s future, what are the biggest challenges today? “It’s speed – everything comes back to a question of speed. Are we moving fast enough and executing flawlessly enough for our customers are the questions I’m constantly asking our team. I like to say that the world has never moved this fast, and it will never move this slowly again. That’s true for most every industry, and for the technology industry most of all. The cycles between setting a vision for the future and executing on it have never been tighter. That’s the reality in the digital economy. We are constantly assessing ourselves against this benchmark.”
A frequent public speaker and business commentator, Jennifer also serves on a number of non-profit and academic boards, including the National Academy Foundation, the James Madison University College of Business, and GenYouth, an organization dedicated to improving health and wellness among the next generation of young leaders.
With all that going on, how does a busy mother of two young sons maintain the work-life balance that so many professionals are trying to reach? Jennifer says she gets the question all the time, but she believes there’s no such thing as an answer that suits everyone.
“Being in leadership or having a demanding job means you sometimes have to make sacrifices or miss moments – and that can be really hard. But I’m fortunate to have an incredibly supportive husband and family, and that has made all the difference,” she said. “I guess my only advice is to recognize there will be periods or moments of imbalance – but if you and your family are conscious of the career choices you’re making and the trade-offs that might be necessary, then you’ll find the right balance more often than not.”
“I’ve always tried to learn from my experiences and mistakes, but I’m not much for second-guessing or looking in the rearview mirror,” Jennifer says. “I’m always looking ahead and believe the best is truly yet to come. I think if I had two minutes with twenty-something Jen, I would just tell her: Don’t be so caught up in day-to-day crises, or worrying about how your career is playing out, that you lose sight of the individual moments and how much they really matter. Stay focused on the future, be bold, and live for the moments – especially the ones that might not come around again.”