SAPPHIRE NOW Unplugged: If You Never Fail, You’re Probably Not Challenging Yourself Enough


There is more common ground between winning a triathlon and career success in the business world than anyone could ever have imagined: the winning formula of teamwork plus fair play, cultivating what we are passionate about, and above all not being afraid to fail.

“The ability to learn to deal with failure is the key to longevity in any career,” said Jan Frodeno, Olympic Champion and three-time Ironman World Champion. “If you’re never losing, you’re probably not challenging yourself enough. I failed hundreds of times until I got here. Failure is a part of the process. If you can analyze what went wrong, and what you can do better the next time, you have a winning formula in order to improve.”

Despite his incredible sports accomplishments, Frodeno shared how he is trying to get through these challenging months of social distancing and canceled events during an exclusive SAPPHIRE NOW Unplugged broadcast with Thomas Saueressig, member of the Executive Board of SAP SE, SAP Product Engineering. Both leaders agreed that the COVID-19 pandemic has refocused many people on the essentials in life – health, well-being, tolerance, freedom, and peace.

Passion for Learning

Just like every business is adapting to the new reality of the coronavirus worldwide, Frodeno attributed his resilience in sports to lifelong learning and the pursuit of his passions.  

“The beauty about this life is that you can invent any idea,” Frodeno said. “As long as you execute it well, there is a good chance of it actually sticking. Those epic battles that we know from endurance sports…it’s about reading your opponent [and] adapting to the situation.”

With in-person competitive sports events canceled for the near future, Frodeno has pivoted in several ways. He created an Ironman competition that people could participate in at home, as well as a charity program for underprivileged children in his hometown.

“Passion is always the key,” he said. “When you’re very passionate about something and you have good people around you, and you’re able to connect some ideas, it really can have an unprecedented success. We are always looking for the next boundary to create the next new performance to better ourselves. It’s actually one of my mottos. I want to go to bed better than when I woke up.”

Saueressig agreed, commenting that “there are possibilities to turn challenges into opportunities with the right creativity, perseverance, and willingness to open up to new ideas.” He also said companies in all industries are embracing a new spirit of change during these uncertain times, giving everyone hope for the future.

Rock-Solid Teamwork Wins

Like any astute business leader, Frodeno credited his tremendous career success in sports to teamwork.

“One of my luckiest finds throughout my career is to find a rock-solid team around me that’s there for me as I am for them,” he said. “I make my team a part of what I do. Everybody’s connected to the success, and everybody is rewarded for the success. Whoever it is, they’re all basically motivated through being a part of the project. We win together; we also lose together.”

Noting that one individual cannot move a mountain, Saueressig talked about the importance of trust based on shared objectives, purpose, and values. He explained that SAP was grounded in the united mission to be a trusted partner for customer success.

Fair Play Gets its Due

While outcomes matter in both sports and business, Saueressig also emphasized the value of achieving goals in a responsible, sustainable manner. “We don’t want to win for its own sake, he said. “We really want to do it in the right way as a company, and that differentiates us from other businesses.”

Not surprisingly, Frodeno viewed the concept of fairness through the lens of sports camaraderie, something he hoped to build on over time” “There’s something we can learn about fairness and equality, and having a language that everyone understands no matter where in the world they’re from, no matter what background they have. That is something that I truly enjoy about the sports world, and I hope to continue later in my life when I dive deeper into the business world.”

Take Risks to Find Yourself

Bringing the conversation back down to earth, Frodeno pointed out that taking risks is not only about changing the world, but also finding yourself. He saw this approach as central to his ability to lead a happy life, certain of his path even during times of adversity. What’s more, it is a great way to prove the naysayers wrong.

“Go out and follow your passion,” Frodeno said. “Feel free to say no if somebody tells you have to do something. Do it for the 98 percent of good reasons. Remember that two percent is for all those people who say you can’t do it.”

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