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Spotlight on Women Leaders at SAP: Coding Strengthens the Customer Experience

December 2, 2015 by Susan Galer 164

Mary Poppen, Global Head of Innovation Enablement at SuccessFactors/SAP, discovered her passion for technology when she had the opportunity to combine business process consulting with hands-on coding that transformed her career.

Mary Poppen, Global Head of Innovation Enablement at SuccessFactors/SAP, pictured at NASCAR, where she reached speeds of 160 MPH driving on the track. Image via SAP

Poppen, who has lived most of her life in Minnesota, received her Bachelor’s begree in Psychology from the University of Minnesota, followed by a Master’s degree in Industrial Organizational Psychology from Southern Illinois University. After designing award-winning performance review programs, her career took a dramatically creative turn when she joined SuccessFactors and began coding software as part of the company’s Professional Services organization.

Today Poppen leads the company’s worldwide Innovation Enablement team. She recently moved with her family to an eight-acre country home, but travels the world to help customers get the greatest value from their investment in SAP. In this exclusive interview with SAP News, Poppen talks about how holistic software design impacts business and why companies need to move beyond diversity.

The one thread that connects my entire career is…

Empowering the success of our customers. Every role I’ve ever had has been driven by what I’m doing to impact the customer in a positive way.

The epiphany I had when I started coding was…

That we can impact customer business outcomes by being prescriptive about using technology for more efficient and better adopted processes.

The most important quality that has brought me to this point in my career is…

The desire to love what I do every day. I wake up with the passion to come to work, which doesn’t feel like work – it’s a part of my life I really enjoy.

My fondest experience with technology was…

Buying a used black and white laptop, which was my prized possession when I was in graduate school.  

Being in a leadership role at SAP gives me the freedom to… 

See when something needs to be done, and take action to make improvements. SAP also supports flexibility to take care of the things I want to do with my family, allowing for successful life-work integration.

If a woman wants to move up in a male-dominated field she has to…

Confidently speak up during meetings and say what she’s thinking. Women tend to be more tentative and cautious because they don’t want to step on anyone’s toes or offend.

One of the greatest influences on my career was…

The vice president whose position I eventually grew into. She was my role model and mentor, confidently taking on the huge task of building a Professional Services organization from scratch. She was very genuine and good with people, fostering a culture and climate of openness to ideas and forgiveness.

My advice for young women considering a career in high tech is to…

Bring everything about your true self to the position – it’s the only way you can completely fulfill your role and love what you do.

Looking back at this era, people will remember…

The extreme pace of innovation where disruptors are disrupting the disruptors, and everything purchased is almost instantly outdated.

Businesses can attract more women to the technology industry by… 

Fostering an environment that accepts women for who they genuinely are, and what they bring to the table. Beyond diversity, this means understanding and encouraging the unique contribution each person brings to a given role.

What’s worked well for me in the 10 years I’ve been at SuccessFactors/SAP is…

Taking the initiative and collaborating to get things done in the name of the customer.

My biggest career achievement so far has been…

Establishing a new customer engagement model for the company’s cloud-based software strategy.

My dream assignment is…

To go out and talk to all of our customers, and then write a book on how to drive the most profound customer experience that exists.

Managing global teams virtually has been…

A part of my career for so many years it’s become the norm. You use the right technology along with setting goals and expectations, and hire the right people who are passionate about finding and executing solutions.

I’m helping women at SAP by…

Coaching and mentoring five women, including one outside the company. I’m also involved in the SAP IMPACT program, and regularly speak at community events about women leaders.

When people in high tech use the word “vendor”…

It implies an arm’s length, tactical distance between a company and its customers. I believe that the word “partnership” best describes the relationships we have with our customers because it’s built on mutual trust, respect and satisfaction.

When I’m not working, I relax by…

Running, biking, and teaching spin and muscle training classes. I enjoy having coffee with my husband before work each morning, and we have two boys, ages 10 and 12, who keep us very busy at home in the country and at sporting events.

Read more from the series: Spotlight on Women Leaders at SAP.

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