SAP CEO Bill McDermott: Tech Has to Be for Good and for All

In the digital economy, companies that do right will be the ones that win. The greatest challenge of our time is getting technology innovation into everyone’s hands regardless of their economic condition.

Bill McDermott, SAP SE Chief Executive Officer
Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP SE

Re-skill workers, give women a fair shot with fair pay and senior opportunities, and hire differently abled people. This is how SAP CEO Bill McDermott characterized winning companies.

Unabashedly bold and big, McDermott’s ideas made a lot of sense as he chatted with William Lewis, CEO of Dow Jones,  during a video interview just days away from SAP’s biggest customer event, SAPPHIRE NOW. Here are some of the outtakes from their lively conversation.

Unflagging Dedication to the Customer

Coming from a working-class childhood, McDermott saw himself as living proof that affluence is a state of mind. “Going from three part-time jobs as a teenager to owning my own [delicatessen] business as a teenage entrepreneur taught me that you can get anything in this life you want if you help enough other people get what they want…my mind was shaped early around empathy for the customer.”

Focus on People

When Lewis called him one of the most people-focused CEOs he’s ever known, McDermott replied “we are in consumer-driven growth revolution… This idea of personalized service, whether it’s health care, education, retail, these technologies only matter if they can improve people’s lives.”

Don’t Fear Tech

Unlike those with pessimistic views on AI and other innovations, McDermott saw tremendous opportunities in the new digital economy. “Some people fear computers could take over, and people could get left behind…[but] the idea of augmenting humanity using deep learning, artificial intelligence, the internet of everything, blockchain, robotics ─ all these technologies can improve the human condition and lift people up so they achieve more.”

McDermott pointed out how bots free up people from mundane and tactical tasks for responsibilities that require human judgment. The results include improved productivity, increased sales, and more jobs. “We have to lean into these technologies and not fear them,” he said.

Build for a Brighter Future

McDermott held up SAP’s vision as an example of the power of future-oriented thinking. “We make portfolio planning decisions…based on does it help the environment and society, and improve the economy…we are taking on the world’s biggest challenges because we believe that they are the biggest opportunities. And it’s not just good for world, it’s good for business. That’s why we’ve been able to double the number of employees, triple the market cap of the company.”

At the end of the conversation, he placed his trust in savvy consumers. “When they see companies doing [good]…and can back it up with transparency, data and facts, those are the companies that will be the winners.”

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