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Analysis: Learning from Hasso the priority for SAP co-CEOs

One of the challenges for any vendor having lost its CEO in surprising circumstances is to come out into the daylight to explain what happened and just where things go from here.

So it's no surprise that SAP will spend the rest of this week and many more talking about why it moved to bid farewell to CEO Leo Apotheker and change its management structure.

That explaining started with Hasso Plattner, co-founder of the vendor and chairman of its supervisory board, holding his hands up to mistakes that started to make some sense of the decision of the board to pass a no-confidence vote on the CEO.

But he also used a conference call to admit mistakes that had cost it trust with partners and customers. One of the big things he confessed had been handled badly was the maintenance fees debacle which alienated some users struggling to see the sense in the hike in fees.

If there is one thing that can be said about SAP it's that senior management are honest about the situation, even to the point where in the past it has had a negative impact on share price. As the recession started you could rely on then co-CEO Henning Kagermann to stand up and be realistic about the impact of the downturn on its business when other rival bosses would fudge the extent of the impact of tightening budgets.

But the latest dose of realism is of interest to the channel when the discussion moves onto the question of trust and the comments made by Plattner that hinted about customer frustrations.

"What SAP has to re-establish is trust between all partners, customers and employees. We have lost it here or there," he said.

Picking though his comments there seems to be an acceptance that customers move at different speeds and some of its technology has been difficult to upgrade from and as a result SAP fell into the trap that lies in wait for a lot of vendors with the pace of technology being driven by the top customers and not by other average users

There also seems to have been a fair bit of internal damage as well with Plattner conceding that the staff satisfaction results were low and that was one of the contributing factors to the decision to part with Apotheker.

"A profitable company is a happy company and I will do everything to make SAP a happy company again," he added. "We are not unhappy but we have to be happier."

SAP now returns to a co-CEO situation just as it has done in the past with Bill McDermott, currently SAP head of field organisations and Jim Hagermann Snabe, who is in charge of product development taking the helm.

They will have to get the ship steadied quickly because already the wires, online discussion boards and blogs are full of talk of where SAP goes next and many eyes will be watching their decisions closely.

One positive, picked up by Thomas Otter, a Gartner analyst blogging about the Plattner conversation, was that the message about the technology waiting in the pipeline seems to have been heard.

"Plattner made it clear that it was his decision to change the CEO and he took some of the blame for the customer and employee dissatisfaction issues that have dogged SAP over the last couple of years. He even managed to go the offensive, positioning the new technologies his labs are working on. In a sense it was vintage Hasso. He spoke with passion, clarity and determination," he wrote on his blog earlier this evening.

For the next few weeks the ripples from the departure of Apotheker will still spread across the market and the trust that Plattner talks about rebuilding will have to be one of the top priorities for McDermott and Hagermann Snabe.


This was first published in February 2010

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