To celebrate International Women’s Day 2019, eight prominent female business leaders at SAP share their secrets to success. Get a glimpse into how they drive business and hear their best pieces of advice.
On International Women’s Day, we‘ve asked some of our female leaders from around the globe to share their insights on doing business in a challenging world. Some operate in countries facing instability or regions that are vastly diverse while others work in markets where SAP is not a known brand. All are dealing with customers, societies, and governments that are facing digital transformation.
These women are exceptional leaders, including SAP Executive Board Members Adaire Fox-Martin and Jennifer Morgan and SAP Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer Judith Williams. In the regions, Josephin Galla drives business at an unprecedented pace in one of South East Asia’s tiger economies. Hoda Mansour is the first female managing director of a multinational software company in Egypt. Cristina Palmaka has kept SAP business thriving in Brazil despite continuous political and economic upheaval. Cathy Smith, the first female leader of SAP Africa, is driving the digital transformation of a fast-growth continent in transition. And Kirsten Sutton at SAP Labs Canada is at the forefront of technological innovation.
Q: In driving SAP’s business, what do you find most exciting or most challenging?
Adaire Fox-Martin: The biggest challenge — but also the biggest opportunity — in my regions is their inherent and wonderful diversity. There are 120 countries, which means more than 120 cultures, more than 120 languages, and millions of points of view. We need to understand that communications should be driven by the context of our audience. This requires a sensitivity to the needs of our audience, openness to change, and a broad world view. In my role, I spend a large amount of time on the road, because it’s the only way of meeting, getting to know, and understanding our customers, our partners, and our employees. That’s a priority for me and enables what I hope is a valuable two-way dialogue.
Jennifer Morgan: A big part of my role is to stay on the pulse of the technologies and trends that are affecting our business and brand out in the marketplace. Our customers are looking to SAP to guide them through their transformation journeys and to give them savvy advice on what their future might look like. With so much happening across the business and geopolitical landscape, the challenging part has been pushing our customers — and our employees — to lean into the unknown and to disrupt to stay ahead.
Hoda Mansour: In our headquarters for the region, we enjoy a massive diversity of more than 50 nationalities, which brings a lot of excitement in our daily activities. The most challenging aspects are the lack of stability in some parts of the region as a result of the political situation.
Cathy Smith: Every aspect of my leadership skills has been stretched and tested. Nurturing and growing a business is tough enough, but when you are doing it in an environment fraught with obstacles, many of which are unforeseen and even surreal, it’s a whole different story. What makes it exciting is that as a team, we always come up with a solution centred on doing what is right.
Cristina Palmaka: I’m excited about creating value and helping customers transform to compete in the new digital economy. For me, the challenge starts with our own transformation and ensuring we have the right people who can articulate SAP’s strategy.
Q: How do you open doors for others?
Morgan: I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t have sponsors and mentors that have been there to support me every step of the way. Our workforce is changing, and that also requires us to think differently about how we inspire, motivate, and retain talent. I’ve always believed in the power of reverse mentorship because many times I learn more about what’s happening within and outside the four walls of our company from those who are just starting out in their careers.
Galla: Helping others grow is an imperative for me. I also encourage my team to use reporting lines only when needed. That way they can reach out to my superiors and build the confidence and the network they need to grow their careers.
Palmaka: Our brand helps open doors. When I enter a customer meeting, I take SAP’s global reputation into the room. To open doors for others, we use a shadowing approach here in Brazil. This is not expensive, but inspires people, opens up new possibilities, and gives them new ideas about how to develop.
Williams: I’m one of the mentors for our startup founders within SAP.iO. We are helping these startup companies grow to become global companies. If we can make sure that the next generation of leaders includes women and people of color and a more diverse ecosystem it will have a big impact on our community.
Q: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received and what is the best piece of advice you’d like to share with others?
Fox-Martin: When I first became a manager, a colleague said to me, “Now that you are a manager, never forget what it feels like to be managed.” This simple remark really struck home with me. I try to remember in every engagement — and particularly in the challenging ones — what it feels like to be the person on the other side of the conversation. And I particularly love something Oscar Wilde, the Irish playwright, said about the need to be yourself, because “everyone else is already taken.” It’s a reminder that we need to ground ourselves around our authentic core to be credible to others.
Morgan: After a particularly bad quarter, a former mentor of mine said, “Things are never as good as they seem, and they’re never as bad as they seem.” All of us have highs and lows in our professional and personal lives, but I always try to keep them in perspective. I like to tell people to look on the bright side of things and to surround themselves with people who inspire them, because your path will always take you where it’s meant to be.
Smith: My advice for others: Remember that the sun will rise tomorrow. Nothing is ever that bad, so remember how you respond to situations today. Know your North Star and be guided by that. The world is complex, and it can be really tough out there. You need to remain centered.
Mansour: You need to enjoy the journey and your enjoyment will only depend on your attitude, persistence, and resilience to achieve your goals and motivate everyone around you.
Sutton: Every interaction matters. When you realize that, then it affects everything — how you talk to people, how you react to them, how you handle conflict, how you sign your emails: everything. You never know when the person you’re interacting with will become your friend, boss, or a customer.
Williams: Say yes to opportunity. I made a decision 15 years ago that I would start saying yes even if I didn’t know where it would take me. Some people have careers that are a straight line; mine has zigged and zagged. Life isn’t always what you expect so when you say yes to things, you’ll learn new things, and find you don’t know yourself as well as you thought.
Q: How do you balance the pressures of your job?
Fox-Martin: I love my job; it’s part of the fabric of my life. I love this company and the people who work here. I appreciate the opportunities we have to make a difference for our customers, their customers, our partners, and our communities. There are always ups and downs, but if I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t do it. It’s that simple.
Galla: I know it sounds like a Facebook meme, but I chose a job that I don’t need a vacation from. Meaning we all have a choice when we pursue our careers. I was always aware that the job comes with pressure. If I do need to de-stress, I do sports.
Sutton: I never use the word balance. The hardest thing is to stay focused when you’re busy. But I really try to always remain present and in the moment.
Adaire Fox-Martin is a member of the Executive Board of SAP SE, Global Customer Operations. | Jennifer Morgan is a member of the Executive Board of SAP SE, Global Customer Operations. | Josephin Galla is managing director of SAP Vietnam. | Hoda Mansour is managing director of SAP Egypt. | Cristina Palmaka is managing director of SAP Brazil. | Cathy Smith is managing director of SAP Africa. | Kirsten Sutton is managing director of SAP Labs Canada, and Global Head of Engineering of SAP Jam. | Judith Williams is head of People Sustainability and chief diversity and inclusion Officer SAP.