Mike Keilen joined SAP by way of the BusinessObjects acquisition, with a highly relevant education, a diverse roster of experience, and a love of fishing that has taught him a thing or two about business, leadership and teamwork. Read on to see why SAP is Mike’s employer of choice.
What is your current role?
Right now, I am globally responsible for the overall product strategy and go-to-market for SAP’s middleware portfolio and enterprise information management (EIM).
It is a very cross-functional role. On a day to day basis I collaborate with Product & Innovation, global and regional Centers of Excellence, plus sales and marketing teams to develop and execute the go-to-market strategy for the two businesses. That covers things like pricing, packaging, positioning, bundling, essentially developing plans to enable our selling teams. I also work with partners to define product vision. My team’s primary goal is to get the right products to the right market audience for frictionless sales and customer success.
How did you come to SAP?
In April 1991 I joined a small startup company (I was employee number 25) that was bought out in 2006. SAP then acquired that company in 2007, and I went from being a big fish in a small startup pond with 500 employees to a minnow in an ocean with 50,000.
What has been your career path?
I have written code, held quotas and done everything in between. Some of my favorite roles have been driving product portfolios and strategy, working with partners, and managing products and solutions. Those roles, and the one I’m in today, allow me to touch a wide array of functions, from strategy and planning to marketing, technology, and to interact with customers. There’s a tremendous amount of variety. Where I derive the greatest satisfaction is from the leading, managing, and mentoring I do now; seeing those light bulbs come on for people on my team.
Did you ever consider changing careers or leaving?
Right out of college I worked for a contracting company that serviced a highly bureaucratic, highly process-driven corporation.The frustration that generated motivated me to join the startup, where things were much more efficient and straightforward. Moving to SAP eight years ago, I did see traits similar to what I saw early in my career with a very large corporation. But there is also an upshot in working for a large company. At a small startup, you have to prove everything to everyone. In a company like SAP that has such loyal customers and brand value, your legitimacy is proven. Customers give you a ton of latitude. It’s not that one is better than the other, they’re just different.
What advice would you give someone whose first day at SAP is today?
I would tell them the same thing I tell my own team: To be successful, you have to be a combination of aggressive, entrepreneurial and collaborative. Figure out what you want to achieve, be passionate about it, but sell it because you will have to work with many great people to get it off the ground. Inside a small startup, processes are simple, and dealing with the outside world is complex. Inside SAP, it is the reverse. But if you can tap into that network – which you must build – and get everyone aligned, it is a heck of a machine.
Fishing is your hobby, a pastime that requires patience and planning. Seems like there might be a connection with business, no?
I target walleye and muskie, which requires strategy, patience and focus to catch a fish of a lifetime. (Muskies are known as a ‘fish of 10,000 casts.’ The biggest I’ve caught is 46 inches, but freely admit my wife’s personal best is 49 inches. We practice ‘CPR’: Catch, picture, release).
Fishing puts you in a new environment with variables beyond your control. Heading out in the morning or the evening, you have a game plan that requires you to be flexible and adapt based on new information coming in. Business is the same way. Good leaders set a strategy and a vision – not the entire plan – and then provide the resources for the team to succeed. SAP does a great job of that. Good teams on the other hand, understand no one leader can think of every variable, so they take initiative and adapt as things change.