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From corner store to corner office

Bill McDermott

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Focusing on customer service is at the core of McDermott's successful journey from a corner store in working class Long Island to CEO of SAP, the world's largest business software company. Since he joined SAP in 2002, the company has delivered unparalleled growth in market share, revenue and customer satisfaction. In this inspirational session, McDermott shares key business, sales and management strategies that helped him achieve the No. 1 rank for every sales position he held at Xerox, turn around SAP's flailing American business unit and re-energize its demoralized culture.


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I consider it a great honor to be among winners like you—true winners, high performers who fight for every inch every day. Please know that I am humbled by your presence, and I’m honored to be your featured speaker today. It’s all about you.

OK, I come from a place called Amityville, Long Island. Anybody ever hear of Amityville? Some people even call it “the horror.” As a teenager, hardworking like many of you, I traded in three part-time jobs to become a teenage entrepreneur and buy my first business at the tender age of 16, a deli. I got lucky. I had no money, but somebody was willing to take a chance on me and give me a loan. It was a simple $7,000 that included interest. You pay me in 12 monthly installments. If you miss a single payment, you lose everything. Very clear. There’s nothing unclear about urgency.

The customer. When you’re the little one, you have to do what the big one is either structurally unable to do or unwilling to do—in many cases because they’re lazy. So I had two corporations on either side of my store with deep pockets and many more capabilities than I had. So I had to figure out my way and segment my market and really understand my customer.

On one hand, there was a senior citizen complex a block and a half away from my store. My competitors didn’t really focus on the customers in that complex, and what do we know about senior citizens? They’d rather not leave the house, so we delivered. The competition didn’t.

Then there were the blue-collar workers like my dad. They’d show up on Friday after they had just gotten paid. They were flush rich in jeans and T-shirts, happy. But by Sunday morning, they were broke. So we gave them credit. They signed in a little notebook. They always paid me back.

But the hard part was getting those high school kids to walk a block and a half past my biggest competitor, 7-Eleven, to my store. So I go down there one day, and I see the kids lined up 40 at a time in line. There were only four in the store. I said, “Why you all waiting out here? There’s a big store right there.” And they said, “Well, they think we’re going to take things.” I said, “Don’t worry about all that. Follow me down to my store.” So I bring them in, 40 at a time. And at that time, I had diversified the business model and built a video game room. Anybody remember Asteroids and Pac-Man? Those quarters pumping in that machine all day. I built them a little video game room, and to underscore this customer-driven strategy, at the end of a long day, one of the young people said to me, “Bill, when we want to be treated with respect, have good food, and play video games, we come to your store. And when we want to steal stuff, we go to 7-Eleven.”

I tell you, you earn trust in drops. It comes real slow—one day at a time, one interaction at a time. And you can lose it in buckets. A whole lifetime of good things can come apart at the seams, so trust is, in fact, the ultimate human currency. Of all the things we trade, the things we must never trade are our word, our reputation, and our honor. I learned that in that little store, and it really helped out.

Once I put myself through college, I wanted to go into Manhattan, the big city. I really wanted to work for a big corporation and be famous like many of you. I wanted to do something with my life. So I get this interview at Xerox Corporation. On the day I get this interview, I had just bought my $99 suit at the mall. We lived in a 1,000-square-foot house in Amityville, and my whole family was stuffed into that house. And this house had a little bit of a problem: Every time there was a high tide or a northeast storm, the house flooded. On the day of my interview, there was 4 1/2 feet of water in the downstairs of the house. That could be a problem on the pants, you know.

So, as I’m coming down the stairs, my brother gets me on the fifth stair from the bottom, puts me on his shoulder, and carries me through the water to the front yard. My dad’s waiting out in the street in his car—the tide is starting to go down now—to drive me to the Long Island railroad for my journey into New York City.

I love my dad. Before I got out of the car, I said, “Dad, I’m going to get this job today. I guarantee you I’m coming home tonight with my employee badge in my pocket.” And my dad said, “Bill, you’re a good guy. Stop putting all that pressure on yourself.” I said, “No, no, no. I guarantee it.” I go up the escalator, get to the railroad, and I’m reading the annual report about this CEO named David Kearns who was reinventing this company on something then called Total Quality Management. You see, Xerox had a problem. It was actually building products at a higher price point than the competition was selling the product. And the competition’s product was at a higher quality.

Now, that’s a problem, but I didn’t care because I wanted my dream job. So we’re going into New York. I get to Top of the Sixes, a restaurant in one of those pristine Manhattan buildings on the top floor, and this is the hiring center. Now, here I am from Long Island, that $99 suit proudly around my body, and I look around the room. There are beautiful women and men like you dressed to the nines. You could see they had that pedigree—Greenwich, Connecticut; Princeton, New Jersey; New York City. I’m looking around. I’m like, Man, I might have overdone it a little bit with that guarantee to my dad.

But you know that moment when you’re in the heat of it and the pressure kind of mounts on you? I said, “Well, I have a choice here. I could panic, but it won’t help.” So I just do what I do. I talk to 500 people a day in the deli. I looked out that window, and that was my CRM system. I could see them coming, and I knew who they were. So I figured, just let me start conversations with these folks.

I said, “What are you in here for? What are you trying to accomplish? What are your goals?” And they would look at me and say, “Well, I’m interviewing at IBM. I’m interviewing at Burroughs, at Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley. I’m playing the field. I want to see how it goes.” And you know what happened to me at that moment? I got my superpower. And you know what my superpower was? I wanted it so much more than they wanted it. And that’s when I knew it was going to be my lucky day.

I had nine interviews. For the last one, I’ve got to go uptown to 9 West 57th Street, the building that looks over Central Park. I’m waiting on a little bench next to another fellow. I go to JoAnne Siciliano, the secretary, and I say, “I just want you to know I’ve been waiting for a while. Tell Mr. Fullwood I’m happy to wait all night. I just wanted him to know that I’m here.” Immediately, JoAnne gets an inquiry from Mr. Fullwood and says, “Send that young man in.” I go in. I’m looking at his office. He’s a gentleman, very professional, 38th floor overlooking Central Park. As I cross the hearth of that doorway, do you know what I thought in my mind? This isn’t a job interview. This is a fight for my life because if I get this job today, I control my own destiny. My destiny is then in my hands.

So we sit down. We have a fantastic conversation, really inspirational. At least it was for me. At the end of it, he said to me, “Bill, I really enjoyed the conversation. All your life experiences were completely interesting to me.” And guess what he said then? “The HR Department will get in touch with you in the next couple of weeks.” And what do you think I said? I said, “Mr. Fullwood, I don’t think you completely understand the situation, sir.” He kind of tilts his head as if to say, What’s up with this kid? I said, “I haven’t broken a promise to my dad in 21 years, and I can’t start now. I guaranteed him I’d have my employee badge in my pocket when I get home tonight.”

Now he really tilts his head. It’s getting quiet in there. You know what I mean? I don’t say anything. I let it go silent. And he said, “Bill McDermott, as long as you haven’t committed any crimes, you’re hired.” I said, “Well, Mr. Fullwood, I certainly haven’t committed any crimes. Does that mean I’m hired?” He said, “Yes, it does.” And then you know what I did? In true Bill McDermott fashion, I walked around the table, picked him up, started carrying him around bear-hug style, and then I put him safely back in his chair. I blow past JoAnne Sciliano on my way to the elevator, go down 38 floors, shoot out onto Fifth Avenue, go to the Bun N’ Burger at 57th and Sixth Avenue, and I put quarters in the machine. You know, you used to have to put quarters in telephones. Did you know that? I called up my mom and dad and I said, “Mom and Dad, I’ve got great news for you. We got the job. Break out the Korbel; we’re going to celebrate tonight.” For those of you who don’t know about Korbel, it is the cheapest and worst champagne in the whole world. But let me tell you something, when you’re from Amityville, Long Island, that is sweet nectar, believe me.

You’ve got to want it more. That’s it. It’s got to run through your veins. You’ve got to want it more. But then you get the job. That’s when it all begins. So I go into this training curriculum, and I want to get the best grade in training. Why? Because I want to get the best territory so I could be like you—come out with a good territory, make some money, win. Anyhow, it wasn’t all that easy.

I was the designated trainee who had to carry the copy machine on my back, the electronic typewriter in one arm, and the briefcase with brochures in the other. And I’m with the senior guy who’s going to mentor me. You ever hear that one? It’s 95 degrees in August, 100 percent humidity. We get the lead. We’ve got to go two avenues and 10 blocks, and we’re rushing to the appointment. You’ve got to follow up on leads very quickly.

So we get to this brownstone, and there’s no elevator. I go up four flights of stairs to the top. There she is. Chanel suit. Sharp. I know she’s the CEO. Everything’s good—good eye contact, everything’s locked and loaded. I’m happy. She seems happy. Then what happens? A giant cat jumps on my shoulder and puts its claws through my $99 suit. Hey, I was 21; I knew the skin would be OK, but I was worried about the suit when the claws came back out the other side. So what do you do? No PowerPoint is going to help you here. You drop the briefcase and the typewriter, and you hold the cat. Good kitty. Love the kitty. She looks at me and says, “Wow, you really like animals don’t you?” And I said, “Especially cats.”

Garfield has nothing on this cat. So I’m loving on the cat. We’re having this very human moment. Everything’s perfect. And the senior guy who is mentoring me says, “Hey kid, isn’t it about time to plug in the machine and do the demo?” I looked at her; she looked at me, and I said, “Do you need to see a demo? See, because with a copy machine, you plug it into the wall. It has a green button that says ‘start.’ When you hit the button, it makes a copy. And the electronic typewriter? It’s a lot like that old one over there. When you plug it into the wall, it just goes faster because it’s electronic. Do you need to see a demo?” She said, “No, honey, I’ll take two.”

We get down to the ground floor. The mentor, the senior guy, says to me, “Bill, you’re either going to be the CEO of Xerox or you’re going to jail.” What’s with you people and jail? Meanwhile, I’ve never told this story publicly. He actually called me years later to be a character witness for him in a sting operation he got caught up in in New York. True story.

So what’s the moral of the story? Read the room. The room will tell you what to do. All the preparation, all the scripts, all the talk tracks and PowerPoints don’t matter. When you make contact with the human condition, everything has to evolve in real time. Read the room. The room will help you to the finish line.

There are two types of people in the world. One type of person wants the perfect job, the perfect comp plan, wants to live where I want to live. I want to drive what I want to drive, and I want my company to give me, give me, give me what I want.

And then there’s another type of person who thinks, If I give it everything I have, and I do the job really well, just maybe there’s somebody up there who will keep me in mind when there are big opportunities. See, those are the people who think long term. They’re thinking dreams. They’re thinking big. I got confronted with such a situation.

I’m in New York City, newly married with a newborn baby boy. I’m about to get everything I ever wanted in my career in New York with the then Xerox Corporation, which was easily the Google of today. Then the big boss says, “Bill, we’d like you to go to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to be the general manager to oversee this business. Because you know, Bill, this business has been dead last, number 67 out of 67 operations in the company. And we need somebody who can go turn it around.”

So I’m thinking, Are they exiling me or is this a promotion? Either way, I go for it. I’ve got to take chances. If you want to rise, you have to take the opportunities when they present themselves. So I go to Puerto Rico, and they’re all expecting the American with the vision to tell them what to do.

But instead, I spent two weeks meeting every single person in the organization and listening to them tell me what they think they need. I would say to them very simply, “Look, you have taken being dead last to an art-form level. I mean, you’re really good at it. You do it every year. It’s a best practice, how to be last. So what is the key? What’s the secret to this thing?”

After doing all the interviews, they came out with three things they needed. “Bill, we want motivation. We want to be happy when we go to work. We want a vision for where we need to go. And third, we want our Christmas party back because the other guy was a cost cutter, and he took away the Christmas party.” So of those three, which do you think was most important to them in terms of inspiring the organization for change? The Christmas party.

So I asked them, “What would it be like? Who would be the entertainment?” They said, “Well, it would be Gilberto Santa Rosa; he’s the No. 1 salsa singer in Puerto Rico.” I asked, “Where would we do it?” They said, “The Old San Juan Hotel, the best hotel in Puerto Rico.” I asked, “OK, what would the event be like?” “The women would wear gowns, and the men would wear black tie, and we would dance, everything, good.” “What would the men wear?” “Black tie.” “What would the night be like?” “Well, we would party until 3:00 in the morning until we couldn’t stand.” I said, “Perfect. Let me go home and think about it.”

I call up Bill Bertito, and we cut the deal. I go back the next day with very bad Spanish, kind of Spanglish. At the time, I’m reading Berlitz; I’m listening to Berlitz. I always start it out phonetically in Spanish and then switch to English because there was at least one other American. I said, “I need to switch now for the benefit of my American friends.” We get to the point where it’s like “I’ve got some really good news for you all. I got you Gilberto Santa Rosa. We’re going to do the Christmas party at the Old San Juan Hotel. And we’re going to dance until we drop. What do you think?”

What do you think happened? They stand up. “Yay, señor, you’re the greatest.” Rocky pushups, everything’s good. The place is elated. Then what happens? I mess it all up. I basically say, “I just have one catch to the deal. There’s nothing noble about dancing to Gilberto or anyone else at number 67. We’re going to do it as the No. 1 business in the world for Xerox.” What do you think happened then? Dead silence.

I said, “Look, one day at a time. You trust me. I trust you. As Robert Kennedy said, ‘Some men see things as they are and say why; I dream things that never were and say why not?’ Let’s give it a shot.” Each quarter we make a little progress. Second quarter a lot of progress. Third quarter we’re coming around the turn like Seabiscuit going for the gold. In December that year, that business became No. 1 in the world.

So why? If enough people care, you can do anything. Anything. Just be the type of person who takes the tough assignments because those are the ones that get all the visibility. So if you want to be great and you want to turn something around, go for the hard ones. Anybody can do the easy ones. The greatness is in the leverage that comes with turning things around.

Anyhow, I’ll tell you a funny story.

At the end of that night, everything was fantastic. I went up to Gilberto. I said, “Gilberto, how much does it cost to keep you singing for another hour? I’ll pay you myself.” He said, “Señor, no money. This is the closest I’ve ever been to death. I’ve got to get out of here.” That’s how hard we partied. Pageantry matters.

Look at this Round Table of winners. Pageantry really matters. Somehow it’s a lost art.

In 2010, I became CEO of SAP, and I want to give you a quick scenario. Does everybody remember the financial crisis of 2008? In 2009, the world was kind of like in a slow recovery. The board, by unanimous consent, takes this American to be the first American ever to run a German company, certainly a high-tech company of this stature. It’s not really a common practice in Europe either, to take an American and have him or her run a big business.

So, you ask, How did you get that in the first place? Trust. Performance. Beyond expectations. Performance. I get the job. The big chairman calls me up. I’m excited beyond belief. Now here’s the key. What did we do to take an organization that had real potential? It had a great brand, but it was underperforming. Innovation had slowed dramatically. There were problematic relations between management and the people. The people weren’t happy, and the customers really weren’t that happy.

So here’s the idea. First things first. You have to have a vision for where you’re going to go. We spent two weeks thinking about a vision that would matter for this generation and beyond, a purpose-driven vision. People have a deep, human need to see themselves in the picture of purpose. Ours was to help the world run better and improve people’s lives. So if it didn’t help the economy, it didn’t help society. And if it didn’t help the environment, we weren’t investing in it. Very clear.

The second thing is that you have to have a winning strategy. Many of you run businesses, and you know this. Without an effective strategy, the people simply work harder, and they dig themselves a deeper ditch to nowhere. You have to build a strategy not only on today’s addressable market, but you have to think, What’s the next big market?

What’s the next adjacency to my core where I can create new magic? It’s a little like that video game room back in the deli. Well, we had a business software company that did applications and analytics, and we had a leadership position in that. Unfortunately, that’s not where the growth was going to be. Data was doubling in the world every 12 months. Everybody is mobile. Everybody is social. Businesses are moving to the cloud, and more and more business was going to be conducted in networks between companies.

So we changed the entire strategy. This is the important thing. We were addressing a $150 billion market when I took over. We’re now addressing a multitrillion-dollar US market—with business networks, cloud computing, mobile, social. And the big thing, and this is very relevant for you, is the idea of the single view of the consumer. She’s very community oriented, extremely social, very mobile, and on the move with that device.

Now, this device will take you into every channel. Sometimes it will be direct to consumer on the internet. Other times it could be a wholesale relationship or even a retail relationship. But she expects you to know everything about her in meticulous levels of detail—her prior history with you, prior transactions, likes, and preferences. And not only so you can sell stuff, but more importantly, so you can begin to be thoughtful and predict what she’s likely to need based upon heuristic techniques that your systems, and the knowledge of your company, can provide to her. And then, ultimately, you have to fulfill.

Let me give you a real example. I’m on the board of Under Armour. Anyone hear of Under Armour? So think about this. You’ve got the apparel. You’ve got all the tracking tools now for how many steps you take and what you eat. Not only does the shoe have a GPS in it, but it also has a chip that has a memory and can actually predict how many steps it can take before you need a new shoe.

So just think about the consumer. Let’s say she is in LA, but she lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She’s jogging this morning. She’s got one mile left on the shoe. She’s within a block of a retailer who knows that. So now there’s a real-time offer because she said, “I’m allowing you to see my data, because if you can make me better, I’m in.” A real-time offer can be applied. Hey, you’re jogging around a certain park. You’re within one block of my store. You actually have a loyalty credit because of all your past history. The shoes are waiting for you in the color we think you like. Why don’t you come by?

She comes by. The transaction is taken care of. So these new databases now have to be geospatial, right? To know everything about the locations. And ultimately, the sale is made, but the supply chain is immediately refilled, and the next transaction is prepared to go on again. This is the world we’re in where everything, whether you’re wearing it or not, is attached to your body, and it’s going to be a component of the single view of the consumer and how you offer your products and your services.

It’s a massively important change in the information technology industry, but also one that gives you chances to make sales and reach new markets that never existed before.

Now, when you think about that, I think about your purpose. I think about your leadership. I think about your businesses. Think about your addressable market today and the bigger one that you can build tomorrow. And think about how you’re going to help the world run better, differently, and improve people’s lives. Think about the loyalty effect. A 5 percent improvement in customer satisfaction and retention is equivalent to a 95 percent improvement in profit. So that’s where it is. The customers come in. Once you get them, you make them so happy that they never want to go anywhere else. You can upsell, cross-sell, and keep them forever loyal. It’s a beautiful opportunity. And information technology will be at the forefront of helping you achieve your vision.

Now, like everybody, you’re going to get hit along the way. In July 2015, I was with my dad on his birthday. What a wonderful day. I stayed at my brother’s house, a new house. I hadn’t been there before. It was the middle of the night and, with a glass of water, I slipped down the stairs, and rest is history. All alone, it was an extremely difficult injury. I was unconscious. You just know you’re bad. You know you’re hurt. Out of the clear blue. It could have never been predicted, probably couldn’t have been replicated in a billion scenarios over and over. I woke up on a cold, concrete floor, semiconscious. And my mind is very fair; it wants what’s best for me. Our minds want what’s best for us. Bill, lie down, go to sleep. You’ve done enough. Because you know if you decide to get back up, things are going to get a whole lot more difficult for you.

But then there’s that other part of you, the you that makes you special. I’ve got a wife, sons, beautiful friends, 91,000 people in my company whom I care deeply for, and I’d like to think they do too. A 2.5 million–person ecosystem. And I’m like, No, no, no. It can’t end here like this. It can’t end tonight. So I basically, without being able to see a darn thing, felt around, got to a door handle, and crawled out to the street. I lay in the middle of the street and said, “Please call 911.” Some wonderful citizen in the middle of the night heard this cry for help. The first responders got there, and then we were on to the rest of all the things that go along with surviving a crisis.

What did I learn? People would say to me, “Man, Bill, that kind of a setback really builds character.” I said, “No, it didn’t build character, but it revealed character. It revealed every time I had to fight for every inch. It revealed every day that I pushed it a little harder to make that one more call, send out that one more letter, work a little bit harder to keep that promise, get back for that birthday, that soccer game. Fight for every inch. It revealed all the character inside of me.”

And you know what I learned? Will finds a way. The power of your will will always supersede the common terms of your mind. So you, as I think about your great future, just remember every day to be audacious with your dream. Be tenacious with that day-to-day grind and fight for every inch. And be courageous in the decisions you get to make to make your life, the people around you, and your company a masterpiece. Because by doing so, you personally change the world. You help it run better. And you fundamentally improve people’s lives. After all, the true measure of a leader is not what we take from this world; it’s what we give it.

So for all those whose cares are our concern, the work continues, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream will never die. That’s why winners do dream.

Questions and Answers

Question: As you moved through these changes and as you took on Xerox, how many times were there people telling you that you couldn’t do it, and how did you overcome those negative thoughts? Because we all find ourselves surrounded by those people who try to drag us down.

Answer: It’s so true. I’ll just give it to you how I experienced it. Everybody is different. The main thing is this: I just had to find out what I was good at or what I felt comfortable at. I’m not good at a lot of things. I choose to do the things I do well often, and I don’t choose to do the things I don’t do so well at all.

I learned that I like to work. I enjoy the interaction with the customer, and this is my passion. And I just try to stay very true to who I am. And therefore, when somebody would say, “You can’t do something” or “You’re not qualified,” I would always go out of my way to prove him or her wrong.

I’ll give you an example. I was 24 years old, and I wanted to be a sales manager. People said to me, “How can you be a sales manager; you’re only 24?” Those were the days where you had to touch every flag on your way to the finish line. I said, “Well, why not? I’ll just teach them what I do.” “But you’ll make so much less money. Why would you ever want to do that?” I said, “Because I’m getting my high at helping them anyway. And give me a chance; I think I might even be able to figure out the comp plan.” I competed for the job to be a sales manager against many people who were more qualified than me, much more qualified, much more senior.

Why did I get the job? I wanted it so much more than they wanted it. So the top boss said to me the next morning when I came into the office, (I was the first in the office, by the way; I think that was an important thing back then too.) She called me into her office and said, “Bill, I haven’t told the others they didn’t get the job yet. But I am telling you that you did get the job.” I was so happy. I literally almost went around and picked her up and everything, but I didn’t because of respectfulness. But I said, “Thank you. It’s such an honor, and I really appreciate it. By the way, why did I get it?” She said, “Bill, a lot of them came in here interviewing me, basically asking me what I was going to do for them and why they should give up what they got to take this job. And you just came in and said, ‘I’m going to make it the No. 1 team in the world. Here’s my plan.’” I had a 30-, 60-, and 90-day plan. “So in the first hundred days, this is what you can expect.” She said, “It was believable; it was authentic; and you did all yourself. And you just wanted it so much more.”

And honestly, I have to say, of all the things, that might be the most differentiating part. So you’ve got to figure out what’s most differentiating about you. And when you’re really authentic and true to yourself, what is it about you? I try to tell people just from these experiences what I’ve reflected on years later and said, “I probably just wanted it more.”

Question: I have two questions in one question. What are the values you search for in an employee, a member of your team? And also in the values of a customer?

Answer: That’s a really important question. So what values do I look for in an employee and also into the customer relationship? OK. So first I want to just tell you something, and this has really come to me recently. Our lives go in rhythms and flows. And I’m with the greatest professionals in your industry in the world. So you can imagine how humbled I am. But I want you to know that recently I realized I want to be, at 56, the man I dreamed I could be when I was 21. And I think to live up to those high ideals that you have when you’re a young person and you haven’t been to so many races and been to so many places, you start to get a feeling over time about reflecting back, Did I become the man I wanted to be?

Of all the things I could say to you, my mother told me that the best part of you is you. And you don’t learn to trust that until later on when you understand just how big that is. But when I wrote the book Winner’s Dream, the one woman who met me at a round table like this said, “I listened to the book because I did the book reading myself, so I listened to it with my little girls. And they put on the refrigerator with a magnet ‘The best part of you is you.’” And that was such a human moment. So I say to you, be you. I look for authenticity in people. And I look for that will, the courage of a lion. I think that’s hugely important. But also be a team player.

Now on the customer side, here’s the idea. You can get anything in this life you want if you help enough other people get what they want. I have spent my whole life fighting to get the customer what it is she or he is trying to get done. I’ve even spent billions in portfolios of software planning to just get oriented around where I think the customers are and where they need to go. And to me, I always tell the people in SAP, the idea of a great product is building something the customers don’t know they need, but once they have it, they say, “Geez, how did I ever live without it?”

So a little bit is this customer requirement, supplier specification alignment. But then there’s always got to be the nuance of your edge and your dream that goes beyond where they think they need to be. You take them to places they’ve never been before. And that’s what I think a great customer relationship is really all about.

But the most important thing: Every day keep the promise. Do what you say you’re going to do. What drives you crazier than when you procure a service or you sign up for something and they don’t do what they said they would do? And you spent all your time following up to get it done. So technology has to take the friction out. But also your leadership and your promise have to really matter. That’s the key.

Question: The future of predictive technology that you just communicated is a wonderful vision and yet your passion that you communicated previously was very specific. You had a passion for this job, and you made it happen. What do you think you have that same passion for now that you want more than anything else? And how does it relate specifically to that predictive technology? Where are we going specifically?

Answer: Let me just give you big picture, and then I’ll tell you where I’m at and my way of looking at it.

No. 1. Between now and 2030, $20 trillion in value will be created with artificial intelligence. Sixteen trillion of the $20 trillion will be on the top-line revenue growth. And $4 trillion will be on the bottom-line cost savings. You will see artificial intelligence built into the business processes, the workflows of every company. I’m going to give you a very specific example so I break it down into real human terms.

A great friend of mine is a guy by the name of Adam Silver. He’s the commissioner of the National Basketball Association. He invites me down in Miami. We have a conversation around leadership. His head of marketing basically tells a story about this woman, Sarah Sanders, who is associated with the Sacramento Kings. So anyhow, Sarah is reaching out to this head of the NBA marketing to say, “I need you to come to an auction to buy season tickets.” And she’s so persistent that she comes back three separate times with real persistence and pursuit to get this deal done.

Finally, the head of marketing says, “I have no interest in buying the auction tickets, but I want to hire Sarah.” So this head of marketing calls up the Sacramento Kings and says, “Can I please get in touch with Sarah; she’s doing such a great job. And she’s coming after my business so aggressively. I just want to talk to her and learn. So Sarah that works here? What are you talking about? She sent me these emails.” She was a bot.

So, what’s happening is that from simple processes that used to be highly human intensive, you’re going to see technology pick up the loose ends on that. It’s a very complex process where, for example, you might have a call center with literally thousands of people, and 90 percent of the things they do could be easily automated through technology, and only 10 percent require human judgment.

So where are the jobs going to go? Millions of jobs are going to be lost, and millions of jobs are going to be gained. Where the human comes in is empathy, human interaction, judgment, the feel good, trust part. Because computers can’t dream; they’re just computers. And they can never really make you feel good; they just execute something, in some cases, better than humans. So this judgment, this empathy, this humanity is going to be more important than ever. But people are going to need to be reskilled and retooled.

I talk about a concept called “augmented humanity.” How do we augment the human condition to give people better jobs, more interesting work, and higher value work so the computer can do the things we really don’t like to do? The tasks that can be automated, that will be automated, where do I see it? For SAP, we have created a database that handles billions of records at subsecond speed called HANA. And we have built something called SAP Leonardo. We take the data from any source without moving it. We process it at the speed of thought, and not only can we now analyze the data, but we can predict what the consumers are likely to need next based upon all their prior history and performance.

I dream of a company that can truly take the customer relationship to a whole new generation. I called this fourth-generation CRM. And in the fourth-generation CRM, it’s not just about leads and contact management and pipeline and forecasts. In this generational CRM, it’s connecting all that demand chain to the supply chain and doing it in real time. So as previously said, not only keep the promise, but also deliver the promise on time in the form fact that you stated you would. And never be late. And that’s what it takes. Connect the front to the back seamlessly in a fourth-generation CRM.

I believe we’re on the precipice of the biggest transformation and information technology in history if we can pull that off. That is Apple kind of country in terms of creating value.

Question: I had read about your accident and the fact that you had lost your left eye, orbital fracture, and so on. And I’m wondering how you remained upbeat, grateful, and motivated when you obviously were going through a trauma that could have cost you not only your career but also your life. I was just kind of curious how you remained obviously positive. Even your talk about it on the stage today was a pretty big deal, I thought. I’m just curious about that.

Answer: I really am, in my way of looking at it, the luckiest guy in the world. Getting out of there was no given that night. I kind of got a little bit of a superpower from this whole thing because when you truly understand that there are some things in this life that are really beyond our control, you find inspiration and empowerment in that.

I feel that I am incredibly blessed. First of all, many things have happened to many more people that are much worse than what happened to me. But I also feel that, in a certain sense, I’ve got a blessing here because if I’m open and honest about my story, people can see that I wasn’t defined by it. I got up; I got out; and I got on with it. How many people will I get to influence whom I could have never influenced if it had never happened to me? So I think there’s a responsibility to tell the story, and hopefully some people will get some inspiration from it. And I’m very honored by that.

I also learned what you see is one thing, but it’s also how you feel and how you make other people feel. And I feel that I’ve gotten an even greater sense of understanding about the importance not only of how I feel but how I make other people feel. I really feel that I’ve become an even better man. When I think about living up to those high standards that I set at 21 years old, I really feel like the luckiest guy in the world as I sit up here today. And I mean that from the bottom of my heart.

Question: I have a question that I always ask people like you who are so blessed. Long after you’re gone, how would you like to be remembered?

Answer: That’s probably the most important question of all. When you’re gone, how would you most like to be remembered? First of all, I’d love to be remembered as a great husband and a great father, a great brother, and really a great son. I lost my mom in 2010. She was way too young at 67. My dad is going to be 79 years old on July 1. You’ll notice the correlation between 2015 and when I was with him on his birthday because I will be with him on his birthday. And I really think that’s the essence. I think the people who put family first are also better professionals. We see so many people in the corporate world fall apart for different character, judgments, and so on. And I think that’s maybe because they don’t have their balance, the base, the foundation. So I’d like to be remembered that way on a personal note.

But also on a professional level, I’d like to be remembered as somebody who dreamed things that didn’t exist and kind of made them so. We always are taking the idea someplace that no one has ever been. And then we build the value chain around that. That has enabled a lot of people to be successful, a lot of jobs to be created, and a lot of money to change hands. You don’t get money unless you’re helping somebody else save or make money. It’s a virtuous cycle in that regard.

But I’d like to be regarded as a real leader, a real innovator, and somebody who helped make a lot of dreams come true, not because I’m any better than anybody else but just because our work is important. What we do is important. What you do is important. And I didn’t leave anything on the field. So if I walk out today, I never left anything on the field. I’m at peace with that. I’m not afraid of that.

The only thing that would ever bring me fear in my life is if I wasted time and didn’t live up to my full potential. I’m still a work in progress. Every day I get up, and I am such a work in progress. We are all such works in progress; even the top of the top, in your categories, in your businesses, you’re still a work in progress. Your best sale, your best relationship, your best maneuver has yet to be experienced. So keep chasing the dream. But don’t forget the details.

Question: We’ve just spent the last couple of years, and a lot of money, upgrading our technology platform to know more about our members. I don’t think we’re quite ready for your vision, but how would you see us using our CRM to better serve our members?

Answer: So here’s the idea: The CRM of the past will not meet the needs of the future. We are starting a revolution that we call the fourth-generation CRM. I give you a lot of credit if you’ve got your contacts, your relationships, your pipelines, and your forecasts. And you’ve got a professional manner in which you can align marketing campaigns and programs to them. That’s very positive.

But I can only kindly tell you that, over time, this instantaneous demand and supply chain interaction is where things get radically more simple for the customer. The problem with today’s CRM systems, including the ones we’ve developed, is that they were based upon the sales hygiene and making sure the sales professional was at peak performance, which is a good thing. Unfortunately, in a mobile world where you have omnichannel e-commerce seamlessly connected to the internet and social media and all the unstructured information in your customers’ lives, they’re going to expect you, over time, to be connected to that in a very intimate and interpersonal way.

So, No. 1 is omnichannel e-commerce connected to social media for structured and unstructured. No. 2, you have to be GDPR compliant, which means you have to respect the privacy of the consumers and make sure they can opt in or opt out as they so choose. And then finally on your product, you have to have the instantaneous fulfillment of that product, no matter what channel the customer is shopping that product in. Because ultimately, it all goes back to your core brand or your core offering, whatever it is. And then ultimately, giving it to the customer just the way you said at the point of sale, seamlessly, with no hang-ups, and flawless execution on the supply chain.

I’m serious. The technology is now here, and what changed it? It has to be an in-memory database. In the old days, there was something called a disk-based database. So they did everything in files with indices and aggregates, and it was a very slow part of the computer. Disks are slow. Today there’s no indices, no aggregates, and no disks. All the information goes into in-memory, in the main memory of a computer. So it studies the transaction. It can bring in structured and unstructured with no complication. It understands who you are because the device is linked to you and your identity. And it doesn’t care what channel you’re in. It can go all over the channels. In fact, it can even go get data from other databases, including other clouds, to bring it in to the relevant conversation to complete that single view of the consumer in that transaction.

It’s not like it has to be done overnight, but it has to be done. Because what’s going to happen is that the companies that listen to this, buy into this, and those that get on this first are going to be the big, big winners. And the companies are like, “Let’s wait and see how it goes. . . .” It’s fine to wait and see how it goes unless your competition doesn’t. Then it’s kind of a crisis. So that’s what is going on. The whole notion of IT is changing. It was very, very insular to the inside of a company. Now it’s being exposed to the outside of a company, which is run by the customer.

I love this generation because there is opportunity like I’ve never seen before. I’ve never seen it this big. These markets are massive. Can you imagine if I had, in that little delicatessen, relied on 500 people coming in, and my CRM system was a window? I had good recordkeeping. I knew who the people were. But could you imagine if I could take my product to any part of the world? Serve any customer in any industry? And I could do everything in real time just based upon my imagination? It’s possible. Businesses can be innovative; business models can be created all on the fly based upon an idea, because the technology is finally there now. It wasn’t always there to pull off the story I told today, but it is now.

By the way, you’ll see companies today that are very large companies that look very successful. I tell you that in the next two or three years, you’re going to be shocked at how big, successful-looking companies, especially in tech, disappear. Because the better idea always has to win, and if you’ve got the better idea and the better technical architecture, you’re really unbeatable as long as you don’t lose sight of the customer, and you’re ever, ever obsessed with customer satisfaction. As long as you got that, and you got the right IT architecture, you can do a lot of things.

Bill McDermott is the CEO of SAP, the world’s leading provider of business software. Previously, he was the youngest-ever corporate officer at Xerox, executive vice president of Worldwide Sales and Operations and Siebel Systems, and president of Gartner, Inc. McDermott has been recognized for his business leadership by a number of organizations, and he is an active community leader and advocate for corporate social responsibility.

 

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