Influential Leaders: The Go-To Guy

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Watch Bill McDermott work a room sometime. Doesn’t matter who the audience comprises: skittish prospects or angry customers, skeptical journalists or unhappy investors—or any combination. As an American who methodically moved up the rungs at SAP until the German giant ousted its CEO and split the job between him and colleague Jim Hagemann Snabe, McDermott has shown he knows how to handle himself, and how to keep his cool.  (See “SAP’s Surprising Spring” for more on the vendor’s busy season.)  

“Bill is the ‘face’ of SAP,” says Ray Wang, a partner at Altimeter Group (and a fellow Influential Leader). “He represents the largest base of enterprise application users in the world and must guide them from the old world to the new world.”

“SAP finally has someone at the top ready and willing to be more aggressive about its competitive positioning,” says China Martens, senior analyst for enterprise software at The 451 Group, who adds that McDermott is the kind of executive who can be counted on to verbally spar with “Larry and the Oracle gang,” a reference to longtime rival Oracle and its cofounder and CEO, Larry Ellison. McDermott wasted little time proving her correct, landing thinly veiled jabs at Oracle in many of his early appearances as co-CEO. 

Wang suggests that McDermott may be looking to do more than just talk, and that “a new perspective on ‘customer first’ and ‘commitment to innovation’ may be just what SAP needs to get out of its current rut.” There’s no question McDermott’s a get-things-done kind of guy, a trait he put on display just weeks into the new gig with the $5.8 billion acquisition of mobile pioneer Sybase. Even without the metaphor, it’s clear McDermott intends to get SAP moving again. 

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