I have been working in the technology industry my entire career. I love the pace of the business: high energy, quick thinking, full-on adrenaline. As a leader of a large organization of people, I’m usually running at about 200 percent and wouldn’t have it any other way.
A couple of weeks ago, however, I lost complete control over my energy levels and almost could not function. Some days later, I tested positive for COVID-19.
Now I’ve been sick before, but I never experienced anything quite as tough as this virus — and I’m one of the lucky ones. I had a running fever for several weeks, a bad cough, trouble breathing, and severe body aches. I completely lost my sense of taste and smell. Medicine helped, but one of them dropped my oxygen levels so low it almost killed me.
That wasn’t even the scariest part.
The scariest part was how worried I was about getting my family sick. I wanted to do anything to spare my wife and two children from this. I became — and still am — anxious, fearing for their health and safety. The unknown of an unpredictable virus was unsettling, and I realized you just cannot take anything for granted. My entire life has been about protecting my family and for the first time ever, I wasn’t able to control how I do that.
Fake It ‘til You Make It, and Then You Just Do
I am a strong believer that the speed of the leader is the speed of the gang. Although challenging, I had to marshal the energy to support my team and their success. There were days I couldn’t lift my head off my desk, but I felt like I had to be resilient and fake the energy. It was a balancing act too. I am lucky to have a strong, close-knit leadership team, and I got better at delegating tasks and being selective about my priorities. But how do you fake it while at the same time being authentic? For me, it was important to stay positive, lean into the business, and create a sense of community for the team and our customers at a time where everyone was struggling.
And boy, did we create a sense of community! I have been so inspired by the moments of personal greatness I’ve seen demonstrated throughout my team this past month.
Stories like one of our sales leaders, Richard Primm, who helped a customer in need find 500 hospital beds in 30 minutes by connecting them to another customer on SAP Ariba Network. And how we all came together the last week of the quarter to support one of our most important customers that has been affected, MOD Pizza, by having our team order take out from them. We encouraged the team to share pictures of their loved ones and themselves enjoying the pizza and SAP gladly footed the bill. The sense of excitement and engagement of having teammates all over the country share pictures with each other was nothing sort of extraordinary. It generated a deeper affiliation among my team. MOD Pizza showed its gratitude to us.
It’s funny how the simple things we used to take for granted, like a picture, go such a longer way now. When it comes down to it, our customers need us now more than ever.
We Will Never Do Business the Same Way Again
Think about 9/11. Think about how you went through airport security before 9/11. You’d walk through a flimsy metal detector and there were certainly far fewer people checking up on you. We go through security today with new technologies, processes, and safety precautions that in the U.S. have been put in place by TSA and the Department of Homeland Security. We’re seeing innovations from companies like Clear, where we ourselves are actually becoming our own ID at the airport.
September 11 changed our way of life, and I wholeheartedly believe COVID-19 will do the same. It will also change the way we conduct business, which will drive new innovation. Health and wellness aside, I think this pandemic will be the “before” and “after” for digital transformation, and it could be a real watershed moment for companies.
In the case of crisis, I think SAP customers realize the last thing they want is to be suddenly caught without the right technology in place. Many are adopting pieces of technology they did not think they needed. Digital transformation cannot be taken for granted. Whether business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C), CIOs and companies that use this as a turning point for how they think about digital are going to come out stronger. Many customers are moving forward with these projects and doing it remotely, such as retailers thinking about how they sell remote or businesses needing to manage their workforce virtually. It’s going to have a lasting impact on how they engage.
On a personal note, I am feeling better. I’ve been asked to donate my plasma after I’m 14 days symptom-free for the prevention of COVID-19, which is a comforting thought, that I can do something personally to help fight this thing. Luckily no one in my family has shown signs of COVID-19, so that’s helping me sleep better. I will never take my health, as well as sitting around a dinner table together, for granted. But not knowing what’s going to happen next is keeping me up at night.
I lead the Midmarket Organization for SAP North America, and for midmarket companies, this is as disruptive as it gets. Right now, I’m spending a lot of time talking to our customers about their needs, their goals, and how their business is being impacted. I’m trying to think of ways SAP can help them, and the best part is our customers are leaning into these conversations and participating with us. They have a business to manage and they need to see continuity.
For a lot of our midmarket customers, the health of their balance sheet is of importance and they’re thinking about what the impact is going to be on their industry. They also generally have less technical debt that they are wrestling with. They’re more nimble, agile, and they are looking at this as an opportunity to invest. In that sense, I’m seeing optimism out there right now.
The customers I work with are highly entrepreneurial and forward-thinking and although the unknown is scary, I’m confident that this entrepreneurial spirit will prevail. It’s this same spirit that makes our country so special, my company and my team remarkable, and that’s certainly something I never take for granted.