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Author's profile photo Bill McDermott

Fascinating People I Met in 2013

I didn’t watch the Barbara Walters special and normally avoid lists like this – it’s a virtual certainty that you end up forgetting or offending someone by their omission. But then I thought, better to avoid letting perfection be the enemy of good.

One of the great advantages of being part of a global company like SAP is the people. Every year it strikes me that I have been so incredibly honored to meet amazing people. 2013 was no different, so I looked back and reflected on some of the most fascinating people. Personally, I’d be even more interested in who makes your list. Please feel free to add yours in the comments section or Tweet them to me @BillRMcDermott.

Here’s my list – in no particular order.

Nancy Gibbs.jpg

1. Nancy Gibbs

It can be easy to forget that there are still many glass ceilings in the world waiting for someone to shatter them. Time Magazine was on that list – until this year. I had the honor to participate in the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting in New York City. The panel discussion I joined was moderated by Nancy Gibbs, who had only just recently been named the first ever female managing editor. I saw that Nancy and her colleagues just named Pope Francis as the magazine’s Person of the Year. Among other rationales given, they wrote that the Pope brings a unique background to the highest levels. By that measure, he and Nancy both made history in 2013.

Mike Thornton and Bill.jpg

2. Mike Thornton

SAP is a proud supporter of the Fisher House Foundation, an amazing organization that provides comfortable housing to the families of wounded warriors in the United States. During a dinner to raise funds for the Foundation, I met Mike Thornton, a retired U.S. Navy SEAL who earned the Medal of Honor (the highest award for valor in action). Everything you need to know about this hero can be seen in a video of him that I watched online a few hours after meeting him. This particular meeting really had a profound effect on me – staring in the face what incredibly brave people do to put themselves in harm’s way on behalf of the rest of us.


3.  Bonita Lim

One of our proudest achievements at SAP is our social sabbatical program. We send some of our best and brightest colleagues around the world to emerging markets to support entrepreneurs in building a  better world. This year one of the amazing companies that we supported was NuoMi Shanghai – a fashion retailer that strives to build sustainable livelihoods for underprivileged women and children. The founder is a brilliant and engaging woman, Bonita Lim. When I think about the potential we have in the next 20 years to solve some of the world’s great challenges, I think leaders like Bonita will be at the forefront.

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4. Dan Wagner

We all know big data is a dominant topic in the technology industry (thanks especially to a certain breakthrough called HANA). One of the examples I’ve cited numerous times is the Obama reelection campaign in 2012. You literally saw a small team of data scientists outmaneuver an entire political establishment. I met the architect of that effort, Dan Wagner, a few weeks ago at a meeting of global CEOs. His perspective couldn’t have been more aligned to our belief in what data can do for organizations large and small.


5. & 6. Peter Diamandis and Hal Gregersen

SAP had its own meeting of global CEOs back in October. We focused on the need for all companies to embrace disruptive innovation – particularly given the expectations of next-generation consumers and employees. One of the many visionary thought leaders who comes to mind from that day is Peter Diamandis, who spoke eloquently about the world’s biggest challenges also representing our biggest business opportunities. He also talked about dematerialization and demonetization – this idea that the digitization of products will upend entire business models. Hal Gregersen also added some fascinating perspective to the meeting, notably the extent to which asking questions has become a badly undervalued component of daily life.


7.  Oliver Bierhoff

OK, so I haven’t actually met Oliver yet. But I have heard about him from hundreds of my colleagues at SAP. We made a big play in 2013 around sports and technology – and from what I’ve seen and heard about Oliver, he’s one of the most exciting ambassadors we could possibly have. Check-out this video of his golden goal in 1996 – historic!! He’s top of my list to meet early in 2014.


8.  James Brown

Speaking of sports, I doubt you will find a classier, more down to Earth gentleman anywhere in the broadcasting world than the great James Brown. He agreed to help with my keynote speech during SAPPHIRE NOW in Orlando this past June. Ironically he and I both got our professional starts at Xerox Corporation. Thank you, JB!!

Ariel Carsten.jpg

9. & 10. Ariel Luedi and Carsten Thoma

People always ask me what goes into the negotiations when big companies consider acquisitions. I can’t think of a better example of the real answer to that question than Ariel and Carsten. Both are incredible, thoughtful innovators who shaped hybris into the world’s most progressive e-commerce company. But more than that, they’re both stocked full of integrity and dedication to their people. Yes we found a strategic fit with hybris/SAP, but we found a much more significant human connection and shared values.


11.  The people of SAP

We all have colleagues and friends, so it may seem like an obvious plug to list my own. But I believe the people of SAP can lay claim to many characteristics that make meeting them both unique and fascinating. If a more global workforce exists in any organization on the planet, I don’t know of one. Our team represents every geographic, cultural and professional point of view you could possibly imagine. This occasionally gets messy, like families of any size. In 2013 we had remarkable conversations about style and substance alike – often in the kind of candid, face-to-face discussions that surprise some outsiders or those who struggle to believe that a big company would welcome such a diversity of views. But we all embrace a culture of excellence, innovation and courage, one that our founder Hasso Plattner passed down to us and embodies to this day. We all take very personally what it means to honor that culture, and in the end we always come together as one team to advance it. I met many of these people in 2013, each of whom was fascinating as an individual and absolutely striking in their value to our purpose.

Who makes your list?

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      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      One of the most facinating individuals I met this year is Danny Ellis, an author and musician whose book, "Boy at the Gate", was released this year.  I was already familiar with his music, particularly 800 Voices, and was fortunate enough to see Danny at a book reading he did in my hometown.  There I learned that, in part because of his childhood in an Irish orphanage, he had only four years of formal education. Not four years of university - four years of school, ever!  And yet he wrote one of the most beautiful books I have ever read - it is truly a masterpiece (particularly chapter six, which is just delightful).  Danny's creativity shows how far one can come with inspiration, clarity of vision, and an open heart.  Now, when I need a bit of a spark for my own writing, I put on "Tommy Bonner", a song that tells the true story of how Danny's life in music began, and it brings me to a place of gratitude that provides a solid foundation for my own creativity.

      Author's profile photo Bill McDermott
      Bill McDermott
      Blog Post Author

      Awesome Marcia! I will definitely check it out!

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      I had the opportunity to meet two US House of Representative leaders, John Dingell (D-MI) and Mike Rogers (R-MI) on stage together at the Economic Club of Detroit meeting.  Rep. Dingell solidified his position as "Dean of the House" with 58 years of service as of this month, becoming the longest continuously serving member of Congress in our nation's history.  Rep. Rogers has been an outspoken advocate of counter cyber terrorism and has, as the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, and at the forefront of many issues including the NSA surveillance program, the Edward Snowden case, and the hacking of business entities and associations by China and third party outfits.  At a time when our nation was facing a federal shutdown, these two very different men with very different ideologies took the same stage to engage in discourse.  The way they respected each other's viewpoints and honored their mutual and shared accomplishments - particularly in this bifurcated political system in the US - was a scene I will always remember.

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Dan Wagner makes my list too, but I also have to add Nate Silver of the blog who changed forever the way we look at election polling data.  Both big brains and big accomplishments at a young age.

      I was lucky enough to be able to interview each of them during our Conversations on the Future of Business event series.  My head still hurts!  Here are links to the interviews:


      Author's profile photo Tim Clark
      Tim Clark

      Naveen Pandrangi, director, IT Strategy for Phillips 66 is easily one of the most fascinating people I met in 2013. Naveen was a main driver behind getting their company's mobile innovation story told which was not an easy task but together we persevered and got it done. I look forward to partnering with Naveen in the near future when they are ready to tell "Part 2" of their incredible business transformation story.

      In case you missed it, here's Part 1:

      Phillips 66 Uses Mobile Innovation to Boost Productivity and Business Agility

      Author's profile photo Bill McDermott
      Bill McDermott
      Blog Post Author

      Beautiful Tim! Naveen is a LEADER!!!

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      I met so many incredible people this year! Here are some favorites ...

      • Professor Bill Miller - CEO, VC, part of Silicon Valley's original Mayfield Fund. We had a delightful walk down memory lane, as Bill was Stanford's last Terman Fellow & friends with Silicon Valley fathers Bill Hewlett & David Packard. I worked for Bill & Dave years ago & greatly admire the high standards they created for Silicon Valley.
      • Bob Blakesley & others at NIH who mapped the Human Genome. They are unsung heroes in biotech. While I advise folks from NIH & NCI on new technologies, some went "above & beyond" to help me identify new drug trials that might help a family member battling cancer. I was so touched by their kindness that I sent a note to Dr. Francis Collins to let him know how incredible his people really are.
      • Madeleine Albright, first woman U.S. Secretary of State & first diplomat to ever have a website! Talk about a pistol and hidden tech pioneer! As fellow Czechs, Madeleine was immediately supportive of my work in educating policymakers about how cloud, mobile, social & big data can enhance democracy, the economy & foreign relations.

      2013 was a wonder of gifts and surprises! Look forward to 2014!  

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member


      I also had the oppportunity to meet Madeline Albright this year and to say she is a pistol might be an understatement. So comfortable with who she is, what she has done (mistakes and all), truly authentic and gracious as well as a wonderful storyteller. Was such an honor to get to spend even a few minutes with her.

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Fabulous, Pamela! She immediately gave me her business card when she realized I was Slovak by heritage, and also a twin. She has twin daughters. A very classy lady!

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Hi Bill,

      Nice blog and I liked the way you have presented.

      Photos are awesome. Keep up the good work!

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience.


      Hari Suseelan

      Author's profile photo John Appleby
      John Appleby

      Hi Bill,

      Happy Holidays!

      For me - it is our shared customers. They come with their stories, their vision and their passion - and each and every one is different. That's what makes this world an interesting place to live in.


      Author's profile photo Jansi Rani Murugesan
      Jansi Rani Murugesan

      Hi Bill,

      Very nice!

      After reading, my mind goes on how many great personality I encountered this year as person.. might be even digging deep..  I am counting of those i get even introduced via books, articles, via all kinds of social media. Now also, bringing those moments in mind, making me to feel up and fortunate. Though I make lots of check/close list every year end, not thought of getting these kind of one by myself. It was good.

      Thanks for making it, inspirational!!

      Good luck for the 2014!!

      Best regards


      Author's profile photo Marilyn Pratt
      Marilyn Pratt

      Happy 2014! Thanks, Bill for the opportunity to think about the amazing human beings I have met and engaged with during my long and happy 15-year tenure at SAP.  This past year's highlight  meeting was at SAP TechEd Vegas where I finally greeted a long-time hero of mine: Luis Suarez ( @elsua on Twitter). Luis is a social business enabler and writes and speaks about the Future of Collaborative Enterprise.  He works for IBM (virtually) and lives in the Gran Canaria of Spain.  SAP hosted Luis at our TechEd as a blogger and he even attended the community failfaire evening event as a participant.

      From TEDx talks to meetings with world and business leaders, scientists,  economists as well as technology giants, SAP globally has constantly provided many of us the privilege of meeting with and hearing from some of the most remarkable people on the planet.

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Hi Bill,

      Our new customers in the Philippines - these are the fascinating people I met last year. I've learned from them.

      One notable customer is a survivor of super typhoon Haiyan based in Tacloban City, Philippines. Last December, we held a Client Appreciation Night, and the customer from Tacloban graced our event, and showed how resilient he is. I couldn't see any sadness in his eyes, just gratefulness. He is one awesome person I met in 2013.


      Alfie Amontos