Having strong role models from an early age expands the world of possibilities so you don’t feel limited,” says Tracy Bolton, the Chief Operating Officer at SAP Africa. Having said that, Tracy recalls a thought-provoking instance in which she was surprised by the response she received from high school girls from an underprivileged community. They admitted that their career choices were limited to teachers and nurses. This, she believes, needs to be changed.

Empowering business

Tracy’s journey is itself a prime paradigm of a successful woman in business. Her contribution to the industry has transformed various aspects of business for the betterment of her company, SAP. She serves as an example for many young people who want to become accomplished leaders. Being the COO of SAP, Tracy takes pride in leading this multinational enterprise software company with a global presence in approximately 78 countries. SAP was established in the year 1972 and proudly celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Tracy mentions, “SAP has been on the African continent since 1982, operating through partners. In 1992, SAP South Africa was established as a legal entity with a head office in Johannesburg, South Africa.” The company provides services to the English and Portuguese markets across the continent, with office hubs in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Lagos, Nairobi, and Luanda.

Tracy’s journey with SAP, as the Channel Manager for Africa, began in the year 2012 because she wanted to get closer to customers and make a difference. In addition to that, her affection for the diversity of each country and the unique challenges it brings was also a significant reason behind her decision to accept the job. She quickly rose through the ranks to hold positions like marketing director and general business manager before joining the services team to help clients understand the broader value of SAP. “We are not only an ERP company for large enterprises but span the entire enterprise from finance, supply chain, logistics, procurement, finance, and HR. We support small businesses, large enterprises, and the public sector,” highlights Tracy. Her decisiveness and ability to take risks aided her in leading in the company. She believes that her determination to obtain the necessary information and act on it gave credibility to her work and helped propel the company to its pinnacle. Her formula for success is based on monitoring the outcome, adjusting the course as needed, and removing any fear of failure that may stymie progress.

“Learn the art of self-promotion without bragging – mention your wins over lunch with colleagues, and share best practices in team meetings – don’t be afraid to speak up. Continue to learn, put up your hand for scary projects and be brave.”

A peek into SAP

SAP was founded with the purpose of helping the world run better and improving people’s lives. It believes that by helping organizations of all sizes to digitise their operations, they can run smarter. This builds a network of thriving, intelligent organizations that ultimately contribute to economic growth. SAP customers generate 87% of total global commerce. The company also desires to do this sustainably by building sustainability into every one of its products and solutions. “SAP has been helping companies grow for half a century,” highlights Tracy. SAP offers people and organizations deep business insight and fosters collaboration that helps them to stay steps ahead of their competition. It simplifies technology for companies so they can consume its software as per their convenience, that too, without disruption. Its end-to-end suite of applications and services enables business and public customers across 25 industries globally to operate profitably, adapt continuously, and make a difference. With a global network of customers, partners, employees, and thought leaders, SAP also helps the world run better and improves people’s lives.

The COVID-19 lockdown redefined business models of various companies as they adapted to the work-from-home culture, resulting in the mass shift to the cloud. Tracy predicts that cloud adoption will continue to grow into all areas of business as the total cost of ownership (TCO) benefits are experienced. Tracy states, “Everyone manages change in different ways and adapts at a different pace. As leaders, we need to be aware and not leave people behind on the journey. We need to communicate the why, the how, and the benefits in different ways to make people feel more comfortable so that we can take everyone on the journey with us.” At SAP, in the coming years, the biggest challenge will be around skills as technology advancements accelerate. She also states that she and her team have many programs to build additional skills capacity-internally, with their partners, and with young graduates across the continent.

The Advantages of Female-Led Management

Tracy considers a more diverse workforce to be more profitable. She asserts that women think about problems in a different way and often come up with different solutions. Generally, women are more intuitive and empathetic, which helps ensure the well-being of employees and think about the environment in which they operate. Many factors are driving stress levels, and leaders need to be aware of mental health and create healthy and inclusive workplaces.

Tracy is incredibly proud of SAP South Africa’s current empowerment statistics, which show a 51% ratio of women in management. It has actively been driving development plans across the organization including formal and informal learning, coaching, and mentoring. She and her team have also focused on equity during the hiring process and succession planning. Even gender equity in the pay scale has a formal process in SAP. It also runs broad development training around unconscious bias and has open roundtable discussions around the topic. Moreover, the company also encourages employee network groups and has a thriving Business Women’s Network (BWN) within SAP Africa.

Tracy Bolton
Tracy Bolton

‘Toward Zero’

Tracy points out that the world is witnessing an uptake in technology to enable Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) as a core driver for innovation. At SAP, it has a two-pronged approach to ESG, both as an exemplar in its operations and an enabler of its customer’s sustainability. It is focused on a path ‘toward zero’. This entails achieving zero emissions through better carbon tracking and a smaller environmental footprint, zero waste through adopting circular economy principles, and zero inequality through balancing social responsibilities in its workforce, sourcing, and procurement practices. “SAP is currently on track to achieve carbon neutrality by 2023, two years ahead of its initial goal,” mentions Tracy. Its Corporate Social Responsibility practices improve access to economic opportunity, education and employment, and the green economy. Such programs are supported by a network of social partnerships, employee engagement, social impact management, and the technical and business expertise of its global workforce through volunteering. In Africa, programs like Africa Code Week and Skills for Africa provide skills, employment, and hope for millions of young people on the continent.

Learning is the key

To make change happen, Tracy believes in lifelong learning and regularly does short online courses on a variety of topics. She wants her legacy to be one that enabled others to be successful and happy in both their professional and personal lives. Tracy also works with young female aspirants who need one-on-one tutoring on a specific topic at a specific time. This works well with her current schedule and allows her to have interesting and engaging conversations with a diverse group of people. She enjoys encouraging women to take on projects outside of their regular jobs, as it enables them to widen their network, learn about fresh business opportunities, and get over their fear of the unfamiliar. “Women need to take ownership of their careers. Also learn the art of self-promotion without bragging – mention your wins over lunch with colleagues, and share best practices in team meetings – don’t be afraid to speak up. Continue to learn, put up your hand for scary projects and be brave,” says Tracy.