In India, the New SAP Labs Managing Director Gets to Work

After nearly 20 years with SAP, Sindhu Gangadharan has moved back to Bangalore, the city of her childhood, to serve as managing director (MD) of SAP Labs India.

In many ways, it is a homecoming for Sindhu Gangadharan, who joined SAP Labs India in Bangalore in 1999 in the CRM middleware product area. After moving to Walldorf in 2001, she advanced quickly, holding several strategic and leadership roles in products and technology. Most recently, as global vice president and head of Integration, Gangadharan led the Intelligent Enterprise Program.

SAP Labs India is a strategic hub within the company’s global network of development centers, with more than 8,500 employees across five cities: Bangalore, Gurgaon, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Pune. Over its more than 20-year history, SAP Labs India has developed strong connections with the country’s rich ecosystem of IT companies, partners, and startups.

Here, Gangadharan shares more about the priorities she has set in her new role.

Q: What was your first thought when you were offered the position of SAP Labs India MD?

A: Having started my career at SAP Labs India in 1999, being given the opportunity to take on the role of SAP Labs India MD was a humbling moment, and at the same time an exciting opportunity for me. There’s no denying that it’s going to mean a big change for us as a family after having made Germany our home for the last 18 years. When I was offered the role, I discussed it with my family, and we came to the decision together. It’s exciting for me to be back in India!

How has your experience at SAP has prepared you for the new role?

My role will focus on collaborating with people and driving topics and SAP’s vision forward. These are all things that I’m extremely passionate about. It’s important as a leader to connect the dots and think both horizontally and vertically — my new role requires much of that.

I’ve been fortunate to have worked in some of SAP’s most important product and technology areas while heading global organizations. As head of the Intelligent Enterprise Program, I worked with colleagues from key functional areas and across multiple Board areas. The connections I made will help me achieve the best result for SAP.

My various roles at SAP have also helped me build strong relationships with SAP customers, partners, analysts, investors, and other influencers, where I’ve been able to position SAP’s vision, strategy, and products as the key for our growth and success.

As MD, you have some latitude in shaping your own role. What do you want to focus on?

I would like to see SAP Labs India make great strides in four key areas:

  • Make SAP Labs India the most innovative, collaborative, and customer-centric development center
  • Have an end-to-end product focus and take pride in its ownership
  • Recognize our employees for their thought leadership and innovative mindset
  • Ensure that diversity and inclusion are at the core of our day-to-day work culture, making SAP both a great place to work and a successful company

By focusing on these pillars, we can make SAP Labs India an organization that every engineer aspires and dreams to be a part of.

Where are the main challenges and opportunities for Labs India? 

SAP Labs India is a fast-growing organization, adding about 800 to 1,000 employees yearly. This creates a dynamic environment, but it can also be disruptive. Fortunately, we have a stable organization with one of the lowest attrition levels in the industry, and therefore we have a good mix of employees from different generations. I believe we will benefit greatly by fostering the learning and appreciation of the generations of employees among each other. The biggest challenge we have is to create an atmosphere where such collaboration and innovation culture become the norm and part of our DNA.

The biggest opportunity for SAP Labs India is our strong contribution to all key Board areas and functional areas, including Development, Product Management, Sales, and Service and Support. This makes Labs India a knowledge hub for the entire SAP portfolio.

Maintaining the best people in Bangalore is a longstanding issue, and the competition for talent is growing. How will you address that? 

India is one of the largest contributors to the global software industry, with highly talented engineers contributing in every industry across the globe. The benefits of such a large talent pool are clear, but the competition for talent in India is fierce. Therefore, one of the biggest challenges for an R&D organization of this size is attracting and retaining the best-in-class talent.

It is our job as leaders to ensure that we inspire talent to work on innovative topics and innovate at the core of our business processes. Our talent should be nurtured to become the true business process experts in the industry. This is where SAP is different from our competition, because we have the opportunity to bring together the worlds of business and technology.

And with even small improvements to a product or solution, our engineers have a unique opportunity to make the world’s businesses run better. At SAP Labs India, we cater to employee well being and aspirations by introducing people-friendly policies and becoming the best place to work. We must articulate all of these benefits to ensure we are seen as a company that every engineer aspires to be a part of.

Do you have a role model? If so, how has that influenced you in your career?

I have been lucky to have many role models throughout my life, and I don’t have to look far to find them. My husband’s support and belief in me has been rock-solid, and I couldn’t have done any of this without him. My parents constantly taught me the importance of a strong work ethic and the power of belief that everything is possible once you make up your mind and work towards it.

I am fortunate to be living in this age of digital technologies which allows me to follow and learn from so many great women and men leaders across the world who inspire, and motivate me every day.

SAP Labs India: A Growth Story

SAP Labs India is the second-largest R&D center in the company’s global network of 20 locations across 17 countries. It’s also one of the fastest growing and ranked No. 1 in the country by the Great Place to Work Institute, making it well positioned to compete for talent in an IT market expected to add 100,000 new jobs in 2019. To accommodate growth, it continues to expand its facilities. After the 2017 opening of the Gerd Oswald Innovation Space on the Bangalore campus to house an additional 2,500 employees, there are now plans to add a second 40-acre campus in Bangalore.

SAP Labs India contributes to flagship SAP products and holds key product responsibilities across portfolios. It also has the largest production team outside Germany providing assembly, validation, and test services, and is the largest testing center within SAP. Accounting for close to 50 percent of SAP custom development, SAP Labs India provides remote maintenance services to approximately 80 percent of North American customers. Products and solutions originating from SAP Labs India include SAP Asset Intelligence Network, SAP Digital Manufacturing Insights, SAP Connected Worker Safety, and SAP Fashion Management.


Nadia Moreva and Rathnam Subramanyam also contributed to this interview.