Sindhu Gangadharan, managing director of SAP Labs India and senior vice president of User Enablement at SAP, is among the top 50 most powerful women in business according to Fortune India.
During two decades at SAP, she rose through the ranks to become the first woman to lead SAP Labs India. Today, Gangadharan is among the leading voices in the world of technology and is widely regarded as a “technology humanist.”
This article is part of the SAP Pioneers series, which features innovators at SAP who are charting new horizons in the cloud and guiding companies across the globe through exciting areas of innovation.
Q: What is a technology humanist, and what makes you one?
A: I am passionate about using technology to serve people. Throughout the pandemic we witnessed the power of technology to make things better.
For example, the second COVID-19 wave took everyone in India by surprise, crippling the entire healthcare system. There was an acute shortage of medical oxygen. The reason for the shortage was not a lack of oxygen, but the inadequacy of the distribution network to get it from the point of manufacture to the hospitals. This entire supply chain was severely disrupted at multiple levels due to the sudden rise in demand across the country.
At SAP Labs India we decided to use our greatest assets — our technology and our employees who have the finest minds in the country — to help the government. About 80% of India’s oxygen suppliers already run on SAP, so we worked together to create an oxygen supply chain dashboard — literally over one weekend!
I believe SAP Labs India really stepped up to save lives.
What influenced you during your formative years to pursue a career in technology?
I grew up in India at a time when the tech craze was engulfing the country. I was inquisitive, I loved mathematics, and I was fascinated by the incredible possibilities of technology.
My home city, Bengaluru, was transforming into a tech center with specialized labor for global technology markets. After getting a degree in computer science, I got a job as a developer in 1999 just after the inauguration of SAP Labs India. Later, I moved to SAP headquarters in Walldorf, Germany, where I held several strategic and leadership positions shaping SAP’s integration product portfolio. I also became the head of Strategy for SAP Intelligent Enterprise. This gave me a digital first mindset.
You are the first woman to lead SAP Labs India. What can you tell us about the role?
After living and working at SAP headquarters in Germany for 20 years, I became managing director in India. That meant a complete change in culture and environment for myself and my family, as we had become fully integrated in the German lifestyle, but the change brought new opportunities for personal growth.
SAP Labs India is the second-largest SAP development location after Walldorf. The teams work on all the major solutions — from SAP S/4HANA and SAP HANA through SAP Business Technology Platform to the entire range of business area products. As the managing director, I oversee over 13,000 SAP employees across Bengaluru, Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, and Hyderabad. Many successful products and solutions such as the SAP Asset Intelligence Network have originated from SAP Labs India.
India is an incredibly diverse nation. How has that influenced your leadership style?
Coming from a very diverse nation, where there is no single common theme and the average person may speak three or four different languages, we tend to see things from a variety of perspectives. We are a technology-focused nation, but at the same time, we are rooted in ancient traditions and customs. I would say this ingrained diversity helps me lead with empathy.
In addition, the ratio of men to women in this business means there is automatically a gender imbalance. Often, people think male leadership traditionally means being more decisive and aggressive, whereas women leaders are more empathetic and have more patience and emotional intelligence. They believe women aren’t capable of making hard decisions, but that is obviously not the case. One of my goals is to create a balanced workplace that attracts and retains women in tech roles.
How do you define innovation? How is it helping companies in India become more efficient and sustainable in post-pandemic times?
Innovation and sustainability go hand in hand. The pace of transformation has accelerated so rapidly thanks to the cloud, which gained a much wider adoption across all industries and lines of business during the pandemic. With challenges such as climate change and the war in the Ukraine, enterprises need greater resilience. The cloud acts as a technology backbone for companies of all sizes. We know that sustainable growth is incomplete if one of the three dimensions is missing; besides the top line and the bottom line, investors and employees are also looking at the green line.
At SAP, we are not only enabling half a million companies worldwide to run more efficiently and therefore more sustainably, we are also leading by example in how we manage our own business.
You mentioned how SAP Labs India helped create a sustainable supply chain for oxygen. What other industries or lines of business are benefiting from SAP’s innovation?
India was one of the first countries to impose a ban on single-use plastics. The Indian government is mandating full business responsibility by the end of 2023, so enterprises are looking to SAP for guidance on how to go about it. At the same time, there is a surge in partnerships and startups to help us achieve the goal, so there is a strong collaborative aspect.
One key area is retail. India is a nation driven by consumption; we have the third-largest base of online shoppers in the world. There are 700 million active internet users with mobile devices, and this number will soon reach 1 billion. E-commerce growth is expected to scale up to $130 billion in the next years. Helping enterprises in this industry respond to consumer demand for more sustainable practices is one of our main challenges.
I’m confident we can help enterprises reduce climate impact across their value chains and embed sustainable behavior in their organizations with the right tools — in other words, use technology to benefit humanity.