Silicon Valley is about as far west of Dubai as you can get. It’s also about as far away culturally, socially, linguistically and otherwise. But when Sam Alkharrat, former managing director of SAP in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) was called to manage the Western region of the United States, he jumped at the opportunity. I chatted with him in his Palo Alto office and the resulting interview is below.
You’re in Silicon Valley, the heart of IT innovation. What’s the opportunity for SAP?
Everyone knows Silicon Valley is the center of innovation, not just for high tech but for other areas as well. The West can be the “head of the arrow” and lead SAP’s transition to become a more nimble, faster company. This region is known for its culture of speed, risk taking and creativity, we need to continue embracing that higher sense of urgency.
What does SAP have to offer the technology industry?
Our differentiator is our platforms and co-innovation with customers and partners. We offer services, business networks, migration strategies, not point solutions. Other companies can’t offer this level of business impact.
You just moved her from Dubai. What’s that been like professionally? Personally?
I have both American and Middle Eastern roots, so this is like coming back home. I started my career in the Silicon Valley 20 years ago, then lived in Texas for a few years before moving to Dubai with Cisco Systems.
Professionally, there’s an opportunity to work more closely with global groups, like the Product and Innovation and the Global Partner Organization.
Personally, we’re settling in and excited for this change. Everything’s different – the food, the social structure, the schools, the costs, the culture, but we’re excitedly adjusting.
Can you talk about the business cultures in MENA versus the Western U.S.?
MENA is a culture of families in which relationships are the most important factor. Talent is harder to find due to the skills gap. Decisions are more emotionally based.
The West is totally different. It’s a culture of business and entrepreneurship. Talent is easy to find and hard to keep. Decisions are data-driven not emotional.
Both cultures are very demanding but in different ways. MENA is more personally demanding but West is more intellectually demanding and you have to be more responsive.
You’ve been in your role for about 60 days. Can you share any observations?
I’m inspired by the team – they are motivated, have energy and great leadership. And we have great customers that are leaders in their industries.
What’s your leadership style?
I truly believe in feedback, responsibility, building a community of trust and celebrating our successes. Some of this sounds classic but it has worked for me. I think you can do things with this leadership style that you can’t do with other leadership styles. And it sets up a culture that sustains success and helps people move more nimbly.
If we sit here together a year from now, what will success look like?
I’m a big dream guy. I’m thinking about what I want in five years now. We’ll be a great and unique place to work, with an amazing culture, we’ll be a growing business, celebrating our successes with customers and partners, while transforming SAP.
I’m a realist, I can’t do this in a year but the question is: what’s your dream?