Mary Liu: On Hiring 2,000 by 2015


To expand business in China you need insight, experience and wisdom both executive talent and frontline employees. So when the executive board of SAP agreed to expand the company’s presence in China almost a year ago at the company’s first Beijing-based SAPPHIRE NOW, a lot of sales professionals and IT cracks started polishing their CVs. SAP’s plans to launch a massive hiring effort (approximately 2,000 workers) and open six new offices sent ripples through the job market.

But before hiring field reps and developers, the company had to give its HR department a boost. Senior HR professionals with excellent English skills, experience in the IT industry, and international experience would be the prime candidates for the hiring effort.

Motorola, Microsoft, and now SAP

SAP had the good fortune to find Mary Liu in January of this year. With strong credentials (15 years at Motorola and three at Microsoft) Liu had also worked as an independent consultant and fit the profile for vice president of HR. But it was perhaps more her attitude that won the SAP team over after they went knocking. “I always challenge myself to be a consultant to the company,” she says by phone from Beijing. “And I always ask myself two questions: What could I do differently at SAP? And is the journey rewarding?”

Next page: Competing with Microsoft for the best young talent

She says it took her four months to make the decision to leave her own consultancy to join SAP but hasn’t regretted the decision for a second. At an all-hands meeting in Beijing soon after joining the company, she told the audience that after 20 years in the market, she had often seen companies struggling with their strategy and their focus. But at SAP she found that everyone from top executive to recruiter told the same strategy story. “Not a given,” she notes. “The communication is very well organized.”

How do you compete with Microsoft?

Hiring hundreds of talented young professionals in China is just the beginning. The process of bringing these people on board, integrating them into the company culture, and getting them productive is the bigger issue. “Whether a person is eventually successful depends on an ongoing process of on-boarding and engaging,” says Liu.

She explains that SAP has invested significant efforts into its recruitment and onboarding processes to outwit the competition and ensure a steady pipeline of talent. “The talent pool in China is small,” she says, who knows from her experience at Microsoft that the companies are looking at the same resumes. In SAP, the human resources team is working with business managers to continuously improve sourcing channels, the interview process, and to ensure that, as Liu says, “we bring in the best-in-class talents.”

In the second half of the year her goal is to conduct a “structured organizational health check.” During this process, a diagnosis of the organization and workforce will be performed. For example, does the company have a strong bench of leaders? Is the succession plan sustainable? Is there a good mix of individual contributors, managers, and experts available? Liu believes this will help create the foundation for sustainable growth at SAP China.

Next page: Attracting young professionals in China

Since local companies in China are increasingly aggressive – and successful – at offering senior positions to professionals from all walks of life, the traditional multinational like SAP has to offer something truly unique to attract and retain talent. “One thing we can do is stay in touch with future generations and make our company accessible to them.” Liu cites studies showing that in the past, people who spent five to ten years with a company were considered serious job seekers. “Should we stick with this concept,” she asks? “No! The young generation is more mobile and wants to try new opportunities,” she says firmly.

Instead, she believes the challenge is on the employer to provide better knowledge management and to improve its mobility offerings.

A community for young professionals

“We have to learn from the new generation,” she says. “You have to applaud young people because they want to work for a company that is building a long-term sustainable future.  They want to work in the global market, and they want a community.” She is very confident that with SAP’s innovations in technology and flexible work experience, it will be an employer of choice in the China market.

Has the journey thus far been rewarding? Apparently, yes. Mary Liu says her goal is to use her experience and leave a legacy of “building, enhancing and accelerating” the organization. “I want to be proud,” she says.