Entrepreneurs: Quit Your Job, Find Your Vocation

A few weeks back, I was flying home from a business trip when the 80-year-old passenger next to me struck up a conversation. After several minutes, I learned he was still working — every single day for about eight hours a day.

At 80, I asked him when he might consider retiring from his job. My new friend corrected me right away. Quite patiently, he shook his head and said, “Greg, what I do is not a job. It’s a vocation.”

Vocation is a strong word and a profound concept. It’s a desire and passion to do what you love for a living because in your heart, you know you’ve been called upon to do it. It’s rooted in a deep sense of purpose.

I can’t think of a better word to describe the entrepreneurs I’ve had the privilege to meet recently through the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year awards. SAP is a national sponsor of the program, which recently culminated at the Strategic Growth Forum. This is one of my favorite programs, not just because it’s a first-class event that promotes a sense of community to help entrepreneurs succeed, but because it celebrates innovative thinking, disruption, and perseverance.

The business award, which has been given out for 32 years in more than 60 countries, recognizes thousands of outstanding CEOs each year who lead some of the fastest-growing companies in the U.S. that typically generate $75 million to $5 billion annually.  Past winners include Skullcandy, MOD Pizza, Goya, Chobani, and DocuSign, to name a few.

In addition to inspirational starts, these companies continue to embed purpose in their success today. Take MOD Pizza, which is committed to giving people a second chance at work through diversity and inclusion initiatives that involve individuals with criminal records, or Chobani, which weaves social impact throughout its culture.

Technology for Growth

What else do these companies have in common? Many of them are using technology to help run and scale their businesses. Though not always simple to find, having the right technology partner that provides industry experts, a thriving partner ecosystem, and solutions to carry a company through an exponential growth trajectory, are all absolutely critical. We’ve learned this by talking to thousands of midmarket companies.

It might seem daunting for companies just beginning to develop a technology strategy, but it does not have to be. Take Juice Beauty, for example, which was able to implement tools as its business needed them and as it grew little by little. The company is currently growing 50 percent year-over-year.

Others, like Skullcandy, connected every part of a growing business from the get-go. For this cutting-edge company, the hardest part of growth was managing people, revenues, and inventory. By implementing a full system so everyone in finance, sales, human resources (HR), marketing, operations, and services could work together and share information to keep the business moving, Skull Candy was able to keep things like inventory in order.

Finally, take Vistex, one of this year’s Midwest winners at Entrepreneur Of The Year awards. Sanjay Shah established the company in February 1999 after a six-year career with SAP and as a tech entrepreneur and founder and CEO of Vistex, has held the helm for more than 20 years. Today, the company spans across 14 industries with more than 1,500 employees at 21 global offices. Shah took the company to $250 million in revenue without taking any outside investment. With his background, it’s no wonder he had a clear technology path for the company. Vistex runs a slew of robust solutions for its own operations, including a centralized system of record that manages and tracks all global implementations and customer projects. Shah credits the platform with helping Vistex reduce financial close time from weeks to days for its 20 global subsidiaries and enabling double-digit growth over the past three years.

Managing Transition with Technology

High performance yields high growth and creates a constant state of transition. During these times of transition, these organizations need support from experts who have helped similar companies go on to unprecedented success. They also might need a new way to think about solving business challenges.

The good news is that I met a lot of these entrepreneurs, and one thing they do well is think outside the box decisively. They know that in their world, there is little room for procrastination, so they seize the day and get it done, which is why they’re so successful.

As the head of the Midmarket Business for SAP North America, I’m delighted to support this community of entrepreneurs leading high-growth, high-performing companies. Our goal is to enable them to grow successfully and profitably so that all the risks they took to get here pay off, and more importantly, so that they never go into “work” seeing it as a job, but rather, living out their vocation day after day.


Greg Petraetis is senior vice president and general manager of the SAP North America Midmarket Business.

A version of this article originally appeared on the SAP BrandVoice on Forbes.