Twenty-five years ago today, I joined this little company called SAP. Headquartered in the former spargel (asparagus) fields of Walldorf, Germany, SAP had about 1300 employees, all but 200 of them German. I was the 43rd employee to join in the US, and was filled with excitement and wonder about what lay ahead of me.
Back then, my business travel invariably involved explaining this little company to the person seated next to me. Today, we have some 66,000 employees
in more than 130 countries, and serve more than a quarter million customers. Now when I travel, I am almost certainly seated next to someone who knows someone who works for or with SAP, or who wants to send me their resume.
During this time I have had the opportunity to hone my craft in various ways. In the beginning, I was a 20-something Consultant the company unleashed on such iconic companies as Kodak, Eastman Chemical Company, Shell, Procter and Gamble and Daimler to implement financial software solutions. I learned wonderful lessons in people dynamics, leading through listening, process transformation and change management.
When I tired of being a Consultant, I joined a project in Atlanta where for the first time we collaborated with partners to bundle our software into one offering with both hardware and implementation services. The project bombed and I learned that sometimes failure can be a great motivator to propel one to the next adventure. With nothing to lose, I asked to be transferred to Australia … and I was! I spent a wonderful year helping to build the consulting know-how in our Melbourne office.
After returning, I had to be courageous and try my hand at many different endeavors in order to stay engaged over the years. The company has likewise been courageous in providing me new opportunities with the hope (and expectation) that I would excel. Today, that mutual courage has me working in the realm of communications, sales enablement and marketing. It’s about time I did something with my university degree!
When asked how I have lasted 25 years at the same company, my response often points to the underlying relationship of mutual trust and respect that empowers one to explore their capabilities.
New Places and Perspectives
While the professional aspect of my time at SAP has been important in shaping my values, skills and confidence, the associated business travel has shaped my appreciation for cultural diversity, broadened my world view, and deepened my love of family.
The allure of travel has always been strong for me, and initially I thought it would take me away from my family to live in other exotic parts of the world. I have had the privilege to live in Germany, Australia and Kingsport, Tennessee in the United States. I have also traveled for work to Canada, Mexico, England, Spain, and India. (I’m still waiting for someone to tell me that I have to go to Paris for a business trip!) While the people in each of these places are superficially different, we have so much more in common.
Surprisingly, travel has made me realize how important my home and family are to me and in the end it brought me right back to the center of that universe. Like Dorothy says at the end of The Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home.”
The people I have met at SAP have become another type of home and family. I get emotional when I think about:
- My colleagues who have shared their life stories in meetings, at conferences, and over meals, and invited me into their homes with tremendous pride and love, to share a piece of their lives and families.
- The time my Australian roommate in Germany asked me to witness her wedding in Austria, and when my dear friend in Switzerland asked me to be Godmother to her newborn daughter.
- My six die-hard long-time girlfriends from Philly and Jersey who regularly get together to share intimate moments in our lives
- My weekly Monday lunch date where we vent, coach, cajole and rejoice
- The Business Women’s Network that I co-founded in Newtown Square, but which others have helped to take to new heights.
- The colleagues and leaders who provided ideas, guidance, coaching and mentoring as I navigated my career
- The ones who departed from this earth far too soon, but who left an undying mark on my heart.
- And the 35 people with whom I started as part of an international training program in Walldorf 25 years ago; I can’t wait to see some of them at our reunion in Madrid later this month. Regardless of where we work or what we are doing now, we will always be family.
With 25 years behind me, millennials often seek me out for career coaching and to ask how I got to where I am in the company. My response is simple. While the concepts of “networking,” “strategizing your career” and “building your brand” are useful, they are of little value if you don’t first do your job with the highest level of quality and integrity, respect the people who touch your life every day, and remain true to your authentic self.
Thank you, SAP, and all the marvelous people who built this company, for a great 25 years of professional challenges and growth, new places and perspectives, and personal connections that have enriched my life. I am still filled with excitement and wonder about what lay ahead of me!