Career Journey with… Steffen Burger
The global Partner Ecosystem Success interns were once again lucky enough to be joined for an informative Career Journey session by a Partner Ecosystem Success leader on the 30th of March 2022. This time our guest was Steffen Burger, a member of SAP’s Partner Ecosystem Success Senior Leadership team. Currently in his role as Senior Vice President, Steffen drives Partner Readiness to ensure business outcomes, solution and innovation adoption and to have SAP partners deliver a world class experience to their customers at every touch point. He was more than happy to take us on a journey down memory lane, alongside an abundance of career advice gems we will be taking with us down the road!
Growing up in the south-west of Germany close to the Swiss border, Steffen attended university in the 1990’s, when the internet hadn’t really established itself or come to prominence – but during his time there he believes he wrote his very first email, and in choosing a career path, he initially decided on computer science. He sought out some practical work experience in Switzerland, between a few chemical companies and pharma companies, in industries that had huge demand for programmers at the time. Steffen made a note of recommending gaining some experience abroad at an early stage – he had also spent time in the UK back then on an internship, to work and practice his English.
Steffen’s first contact with SAP came soon after, when he was looking for a company to complete a diploma thesis for. He had an unsuccessful start to his search, but discovered SAP could offer this to him in the retail industry. Deciding to pursue this thesis with SAP would prove to be a fateful choice, as Steffen has stayed with the company ever since. However, this path would require a big turn for him, once he came to realise that programming wasn’t really his thing: “That guy at SAP who was my manager said, “you’re really good, but not at programming”. Okay, good, I knew that kind of already, so honest feedback also helped. But he said, “why don’t you try consulting?””
From here, Steffen started in retail consulting, and found himself enjoying the role – not least because of all the travelling that came with it. He would go on to spend the first two years in Italy, and then another year in France, helping multinational retailers set up with SAP software.
“I can only recommend you to try as many international things, try as many practical things, get your hands dirty with whatever you are doing at the moment in your internship with a software or with any programs…”
Ambition and Networking
As the session moved forward, Steffen explained how we should be planning ahead in our careers. He told us that sometimes people from the team come to him and say, “Hey, I want to become a manager”, without really knowing how to get there. “My recommendation is always to write down the skills that you think you need for what you’re trying to achieve, and which skills you’re missing before figuring out what activities or job elements would help you learn that missing part.” Sometimes, of course, it’s not always a straight line from A to B – you may have to take intermediate steps to get to where you want to be – but as Steffen says, “you can’t swallow the elephant in a day, right?”
Another helpful element in this process is when you have strong mentors and colleagues around you – and this is where our network comes into play. In the following video clip from the session, Steffen explains how a good network can be maintained, even if certain colleagues are busy and it’s difficult to find time to connect with them.
“If you never try, you’ll never get there. I mean, there’s this old saying, the harder you work, the more luck you have, and there’s a lot of truth in this.”
Q and A Session
Following Steffen’s talk, he invited us to ask some questions and we obliged, starting with our intern Roisin, who asked for advice on trying to decide what particular area of business to pursue in order to advance her career – with SAP being so large, there are many areas to pursue, and it can be difficult to think about. Steffen pointed out how SAP had grown from 6000 employees to over 100,000 since he started, and while this makes it impossible to cover everything that’s going on, it certainly opens the opportunity to see as many areas as you can. “If you see topics that have a collaboration aspect, then you could think of all the stakeholders, and some will be outside of that department or area where you work… why don’t you give them a call? I mean, my experience is that in SAP, everyone is happy to receive a call. The worst case is that the guy or lady says sorry, not a good moment – you can call me tomorrow.”
Our next question was a follow-up on this point, where Steffen was asked how one goes about building connections with stakeholders, when we perhaps don’t know much about the areas they are working in. He feels we should be able to start from one point – a topic or stakeholder in common, perhaps, and go from there. In terms of how deep we want to go on a topic we are learning, he also introduced us to the “T Shape” concept, explained in the below video clip.
Our intern Raven asked Steffen about his time spent in different countries – how did he adapt to so many new cultures? Steffen was able to give us some anecdotes on this question about his travels, where he makes sure to insist on always trying the local food and specialities wherever he goes. Although his colleagues are always considerate enough to offer him more neutral options if he prefers, he has a love for food and a curious palate, and he feels this works greatly as an icebreaker between himself and his international colleagues – they feel like it shows a certain level of respect for their culture. Of course, this doesn’t work for everyone, and for those who would prefer to stick to what they know, he also recommended doing some research and preparation beforehand in order to avoiding falling into any traps where you could cause offence to someone.
Finally, to close us out Lillie asked Steffen about the leadership qualities he feels are most needed to reach the type of position he has now. To begin, Steffen emphasised how important it is to believe in your topic. You have to build a value proposition of topics that you want to stand for and try and become a thought leader on a topic – to a point where if someone thinks about that topic, they are thinking about you. “When I started in ‘96, it was all a bit smaller so even Dietmar (Hopp) signed my contract at that time and he was our big boss of consulting, he told us if you build your value proposition, things that you do and there’s a demand for what you do and what you stand for, then career comes somewhat naturally.”
“Walk the talk; I mean, if you talk to your team as a leader, do what you say and that is very much appreciated. If you make a promise, you better keep the promise. If you cannot do it, then make the reason transparent.”
We’d like to thank Steffen for joining us for this incredible session, which was filled with so much great information and useful advice that we can all look at and apply to how we approach our own careers. It’s clear that everyone was able to take something away from the call – here are some pieces of feedback directly from our interns following the session:
“The call with Stefan was extremely insightful. He gave advice based off of first hand experiences he’s had both within and outside of SAP. Being an intern at the beginning of my career, opportunities like this are always beneficial. He spoke open and honestly, giving us the transparency we need to navigate through our careers.” – Lillie
“I found the call with Steffen really interesting and helpful. Steffen spoke about the importance of networking and reaching out to different people and teams within SAP to get valuable experience in many areas of business. I will definitely take on Steffen’s great advice when working to progress my career.” – Roisin
“I loved Steffen’s anecdotes throughout the session – they really highlighted why the concepts he was talking about mattered and could be very useful for us to remember moving forward in our careers. You can tell Steffen has thrown himself at a lot of new experiences and this has been super beneficial to his growth, I would like to do the same.” – Ian
Thanks for taking the time to read our Career Journey blog! If you’d like to stay updated with the next instalment of the blog, make sure to follow either myself or our Global Career Journey tag, and we encourage you to leave your thoughts in the comments below!