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SAP CEO: We’ll double our focus on Israel

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Bill McDermott tells “Globes” that SAP wants to get back to the levels of investment in Israel that it had in the past.

The fact that SAP CEO William (Bill) McDermott heads the world’s third largest software company does not make him in any way conventional or boring. He is a high-tech rock star. From his poor Irish background on Long Island (he delivered newspapers at age 11), he derives insights that he is delighted to share at any opportunity. He is a guru of believing in yourself and achieving dreams who hugs everyone he meets and writes a personal dedication in his book, “Winners Dream: A Journey from Corner Store to Corner Office” (meaning the CEO’s office).

His unexpected appearance on the high-tech scene is enhanced by the thick eyeglasses he constantly wears – the result of a terrible accident two years ago, when he went down the stairs of his brother’s home in the middle of the night carrying a glass of water and tripped. The glass penetrated his eye socket, and he lost his sight in one eye, and almost died. Shortly afterwards, he summarized the accident by saying, “I’m the luckiest person in the world,” and then declared that he had thereby discovered a business niche begging for attention, medical treatment systems, and SAP entered this sector in full force.

“Globes”: Why did your write the book? To show that anyone can?

McDermott: “I think that it’s possible for everyone to have a dream, and there’s no room for small dreams when there are so many big ones to realize. I don’t think that my story inspires people because I once earned $2.65 an hour at the supermarket, and now I make a lot more money as CEO. If my story inspires people, it’s because I have a lot more inspiration myself, from what I was then, because I play on a larger stage and can change the lives of more people.

“We can now advance from 86,000 women and men working at SAP to 100,000. We might have an effect on the world economy. Maybe we can change the medical system. Maybe we can make the world a better place. Maybe we can achieve cleaner air and cleaner water. Maybe we can reach somebody who can’t use a bank, and give him banking services on his mobile phone in remote places in the world. Maybe we can take people who have been rejected by the modern economy and have lost their jobs and retrain them through online courses, and given them hope that they can be part of the digital world.

“Maybe we can overcome the fact that 50% of the blue collar labor force in the US earn their living from driving some kind of vehicle, while the world is rapidly advancing – and who knows this better than you Israelis – to a driverless vehicle.”

The story in your book is like a classic capitalist narrative: if you are talented enough and determined enough, you will succeed. Does that express your philosophy?

“I think that everyone has the right to make a living competitively. If you want the best employees, they have to be paid accordingly. It’s only fair for them to know that they’ll have a bright and secure future. I think that it’s nice for the shareholders to know that over 80% of my remuneration and that of the company leadership depends on the development of the share. The investors can choose to put their money wherever they want, and if they chose to put it on us, it’s a covenant of trust, and we have to get them a return on their investment. So in order to get paid well at SAP, the value created for the shareholders has to be unusually good.”

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