Career Journey with… Karl Fahrbach
The second Career Journey With call took place on the 30th of November 2021, where the interns were incredibly grateful to be joined by the Chief Partner Officer of SAP, Karl Fahrbach, for a talk where he detailed his career path to us. Karl took us through the many challenges he has faced and overcome in his experiences, from choosing his university degree all the way to the COVID-19 situation we are all facing today.
Karl began by taking us back to his childhood in Spain, sharing both Spanish and German roots. As he progressed through school and started to consider his options for university he was torn – he had interest in architecture and engineering, but in the end, it was economics and business administration that he chose.
“I liked it a lot. I mean learning how a company works, how the economy works, what are the drivers… how you can influence them.”
Coming from a German family in Spain, Karl was interested in the economy on a global level and so decided to specialise in International Business, right as the internet was starting to become a bigger force around 2000. Karl took us through his first internships and full-time positions while based in Madrid, highlighting how educational these experiences were not only from a career perspective, but also for character growth. He emphasised to us the importance of keeping good relationships with your connections and mentors, no matter where you go. He also consistently brought up the importance of strong values throughout the session:
“What I learned there was the values – the teamwork, the commitment, the hard work, the creativity, the empathy – put yourself in the shoes of the customers, of the partners. I think that formed the values that I still live by today.”
Later, when we had the opportunity to ask Karl for general advice regarding our own career paths, he emphasised values again, which you can hear about in the following clip.
Karl’s SAP journey began almost 16 years ago as part of the brand new global team in the PartnerEdge organization, a time when they were discussing what brand they could give the partner program. This is where he started to learn about the partner business in SAP itself. He found success in the team launching their initiatives, and soon after that he switched over to running the midmarket business in Spain.
“This was one of my best experiences really being in the field, close to the customer, close to the partners.”
This was his first role with people management responsibilities – and he made it a point that our careers will go through many twists and turns like this, offering a wide variety of useful experiences and learnings to take with us.
Seeing the opportunities in disruption
We saw the importance of developing those connections when Karl told us about his time as the Chief of Staff in the Partner Organization. When the President of the Organization changed six months in, they wanted to restructure the channel. Karl initially felt this would be the end of his time in the Partner Organization, however he found he was able to connect with the President and was eventually promoted instead!
From this point Karl continued to rise in ranks, taking the full responsibility of leading the channel business for two or three years before landing a promotion to the Partner Organization’s Chief Operating Officer. It was still only a very short time after this that the position of Chief Partner Officer opened up.
He was hesitant at first to take the leap, wondering if he had spent enough time in the previous role. In the end, he said to himself; “I’ve nothing to lose, I’ll try and I’ll give it my best” and the rest was history.
“You need to make sure that you add value to the people, and I think if you do that right then you will be successful. It’s always a team effort. You need a good team behind you because without a team you will not really move anywhere.”
After telling the story of his career journey, we received the wonderful opportunity to ask Karl some questions.
On how COVID-19 has changed his working life
Before the pandemic Karl spent lots of time visiting or joining events, visiting partners, market units, his team, being in workshops and meetings and so forth. This of course all came to an abrupt halt in 2020, however he believes SAP were incredibly well equipped to adapt to this situation and have shown this in full over the last two years.
“Having said that, the interaction in person can never be substituted by online meetings. That’s something that we need to maintain as much as we can, right? Given the limitations that we have these days with the virus waves coming up and down and so on. I think it’s always good to keep in contact with your colleagues, with your teams to meet in person.”
On the most useful advice he has gotten in his career
Karl believes, rather than a particular line of advice, he has learned the most from watching his colleagues and mentors over the years. He is a big believer in having strong values and sticking to them, telling us not to let ourselves be pushed away from them, not to move left or right if we believe the centre is where we need to go through.
“Don’t sell yourself out – your values are important and those are your values and that’s really interesting too. I think that’s probably what I saw as well in my first year in my career, my first years and that’s something that you need to stick to.”
On advice he would give to us interns in our careers
Karl advised us not to be afraid to challenge the status quo here at SAP. He remembered when he was younger, he’d ask himself if perhaps it he wouldn’t be entitled to do this, but he assured us that this is silly thinking – of course we can! The only difference is we are young, which is a gift.
“Don’t be shy, really come up with ideas. Propose them, bring them up right? There is a lot of good stuff that you guys have in your minds, but I really want to hear them and to make sure that we can do something about them. That’s super important.”
To close us out, the following are some great responses we had from the global interns who were on the call:
“I found the call with Karl very insightful, especially regarding the advice he had for us interns. One piece of advice that really stuck with me was about how career journeys are not always well-defined straight paths, but there are many ups and downs which we should value as well and be adaptable to change.” – Saisha, USA
“I really enjoyed the session with Karl and found it interesting learning about the importance of finding balance in our lives, and also that if you stick to your values, you will be successful. I felt motivated knowing that Karl really wanted our voices as interns to be heard and encouraged us to come up with new ideas and challenge the way we do things in SAP.” – Áine, Ireland
“For me, it was really valuable to see Karl taking the time and effort to chat with those who are starting their careers. One part of his story talked about keeping contacts and mentors close, and that really enforced what I learned from my manager, which is that “business is all about making friends.”” – Raven, Canada
“I thoroughly enjoyed the session and found that Karl’s story was both remarkable and relatable in certain ways. It really motivated me to ensure I put myself out there when opportunities arise and make greater connections with the people around me.” – Ian, Ireland
This was an incredible session overall – from the passing of knowledge from the experienced to brand new faces, to the motivation we as interns gained from Karl’s advice, even to the few laughs we were able to share. We’ve all come away feeling empowered and that the sky’s the limit for our careers. We’d like to thank Karl for taking the time out of his busy schedule to offer us his words of wisdom, bring unique insights and tell us about his career journey. If you’d like to stay updated with the next instalment of the career journey blogs, make sure to follow either myself or our Global Career Journey tag, and we encourage you to leave your thoughts in the comments below!