Simon Kaluza is a winner. He began his SAP career as managing director of Slovenia in 2010, and has risen quickly to oversee all of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). Each year he or his region has won awards for leadership and growth.
Besides managing SAP’s CEE region, Simon Kaluza is an avid sailor. When I spoke with him recently, Simon had just returned from vacation sailing across the Adriatic Sea for 20 days.
Relaxed, tan and happy, Simon was eager to get back to work. Here’s what he said about what we have to learn from millennials, the importance of face-to-face team building and why you should consider Slovenia for your next vacation.
Simon sailing on the Adriatic Sea
Tell me a little bit about yourself personally and professionally.
My background is in electrical engineering. I have a masters and started my own company while I was studying but was invited by an owner of a prominent start up in Slovenia to join them. I started as an engineer but quickly moved into managerial roles.
The company restructured and then was acquired – both times offered me new leadership opportunities.
What’s your biggest challenge in the region?
CEE is a tough region. When I took over business was declining.
It’s a very diverse region in terms of economic development and political landscape. The trick in how to adapt a global go-to-market strategy – one size doesn’t fit all, and we’re dealing with about 15 different countries here. You need to leverage resources within each of the countries to customize things.
This is not just a science but also an art. It’s about finding the commonalities also, and setting a way to share best practices. You need to set up a structure and keep people motivated.
What are CEE’s core industries?
Public sector, telecommunications, utilities and financial services. We made a bet on these four industries. And it brought significant results – all had triple digit growth in 2014. A major breakthrough for us was inviting global subject-matter experts in to help train our sales and services people.
What can SAP learn from CEE?
How to work in a multicultural multinational environment. My motto is: everything is global. It makes our life richer, more colorful to work in a multicultural environment.
What does the digital economy mean to CEE?
The digital economy is a fact of life. Millennials have different buying behavior. When my teenage son wants to buy something he checks it online, discussed it on social media, and then, maybe goes to the store in person.
Companies already realize they need a digital approach, and the omnichannel approach is critical to the digital transformation. If vendors can’t keep on top of this this way of interacting with customers, they will not survive. This is not just about changing technology but transforming the business model.
A lot has been made of young workers and their attitudes toward work and technology. What are your thoughts?
My recommendation is to bring a millennial to the office and observe them. That will change how we think about everything – the workplace environment, technology and the work itself.
The SAP Sales Academy trains young people around the world and one works in our office. The first thing he did was look for our internal social network – he didn’t care about email or other systems. Luckily he found JAM. This was really important. If millennials don’t feel comfortable, they will go elsewhere. They want these social ways of connecting at work just like they do at home.
5 Things About Simon
What music gets you going? What do you sing loudly to in the car?
I’m a musician and play guitar in a rock band so my taste is very broad. But if I need to name one it’s “One of these nights” by the Eagles.
What are the top 1 – 3 things a tourist should see if they come to Slovenia?
We’re a small but very diverse country. We have everything, the Julian Alps, the seaside and everything in between. If you come here you should see a beautiful town called Bled with a lake in the middle, a real fairy tale town in the middle of the Alps. In the south we have towns on the Adriatic Sea influenced by Venetian architecture.The Postojna Caves are also fantastic – there’s over 24 kilometers of stalactites and a train that runs through the caves.
What habit of yours would you like to change?
I tend to leave the most urgent things until the very end and then I have a lot of time pressure. This is what I’d like to change, do things a bit earlier.
What was the biggest risk you took and how did it pay off?
I left the academic world. I was on the faculty for electrical engineering (and running my own small company.) But when I received this offer to join the start up, I left. I was a top student and got a top scholarship that was a big honor. Leaving this was a tough decision but one of the best I ever made.
What’s your leadership style?
I don’t micromanage. I have senior people who I trust to do their business and let me know when they need help.
Simon takes a selfie at the SAP Forum in Slovenia