Over my three plus decades traveling the world as a technology executive, I’ve visited more than 50 countries on the six inhabited continents of the world. I’ve witnessed breathtaking scenery and learned about distinct cultural traditions.
When people ask me about the challenges of leading a global company, I always remind them that diversity is an asset, not a challenge. Traveling across this beautiful world builds perspective, not complexity.
In that spirit, I just returned from a remarkable trip to India. I have visited on numerous previous occasions, each time departing with a unique sense of optimism and inspiration.
On one occasion many years ago, long before I was the CEO of SAP, I remember arriving well after midnight, probably closer to 3:00 a.m. Business travelers will probably relate to the series of airport mishaps that preceded my finally boarding the long-delayed flight to Mumbai. I was happy to be underway, even having been assigned the dreaded middle seat.
When I finally arrived, I was stunned to find SAP’s then managing director, the late great Ranjan Das, had come to the airport to personally welcome me. Some might make the mistake of thinking this was a savvy colleague looking for time with the boss. It wasn’t. People don’t play office at 3:00 a.m. It was his sense of pride and protocol that motivated him. It was his belief in the value of a tireless – sometimes sleepless – work ethic. It was him being humble and hungry. Ranjan’s gesture of kindness has always stuck with me, because in every exposure I have to the people of India, I experience an overabundance of these wonderful qualities.
The people of India aren’t afraid of hard work, they’re hungry for it. They don’t accept the limitations of the past, they fight for a better future. They’re not afraid to dream – for themselves, their families, their country and a better world.
Everywhere I went during my recent visit – from Mumbai to Bangalore, from summits with SAP’s customers and ecosystem partners to a speech at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay – I met women and men of consequence. They told me in no uncertain terms that India will rise up and take an even bigger leadership position in this world. Their minds and hearts are totally open to new ideas and new points of view on every topic. It was an extraordinary and emphatic reminder of why India has continued to attract foreign investment over the past 20 years. We’re committed to India precisely because of its people, their passion and their resolve to innovate.
That’s why India is the world’s fastest growing large economy, which is no surprise to anyone who spends time in this ambitious country. Some estimates say the India market could be €5 trillion by 2020 – huge by any measure.
It also shouldn’t surprise anyone that India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has launched a “Digital India” initiative. It’s a progressive effort to leapfrog public services in other industrialized nations by modernizing infrastructure and digitizing the consumer experience. SAP’s commitment to the Prime Minister’s vision is made vividly clear by our recent pledge to open 25 centers for digital learning in 12 cities across India.
As my action-packed trip came to a close, my colleagues and I checked out of our hotel for the ride to the airport. It was nearly 2:00 a.m. There in the lobby of the hotel, with the city fast asleep, were members of the SAP India team. They came to show us the professional courtesy of a personal good-bye. That’s the India that I know and admire. A people, a culture, a country and a dream, all rooted in dignity, hard work and high aspirations.
As SAP celebrates 20 years in India, my imagination drifts to all that’s possible in the next 20. There’s no ceiling on India’s dream.
Bill McDermott is CEO of SAP SE.
Image via SAP