Soccer team in a huddle

How the NFL Became One SAP Employee’s Unlikely Training Ground

Feature Article | November 7, 2017 by Kesja Cichowski

The roar of 60,000 fans in a stadium, millions more watching on TV, and privately chartered 747s: Eight years ago, this was normal for Sam Gutekunst while he was playing in the National Football League (NFL).

Now an HR business partner at SAP, Sam works in a much different arena: coaching Global Controlling.

Against All Odds

In his German high school, Sam was more the musician than an athlete. At 6′ 6″ and 225 pounds, he was simply too big to play the national sport of soccer. One day at age 18, Sam saw an iconic poster of Uncle Sam stating “I want you.” It was a recruiting poster for a local American-football team. Sam downloaded the rules and became the team expert. His coach, Sven Gloss, saw a lot of promise in Sam but didn’t dream he would put on another 100 pounds and be playing in the NFL within two years.

On the Big Stage

At only 20-years-old and lacking the high school and college football experience college of his American teammates, Sam faced a steep learning curve. Competition to remain on the team was so stiff that players were told not to worry about the name, just remember the number since the person might not be there the next day. Nonetheless, Sam thrived for five years in this exotic world. One season, he came within a few games of the Super Bowl. He was climbing from success to success when a back injury suddenly ended his career.

Life After Football

Sam returned to Germany and began coaching, but soon realized that he was more interested in team building than the mechanics of the game. He decided to go back to school and study business with majors in sports and human resource management.

Suzanne Pfleger, the program lead for SAP’s HR Early Talent program at the time, knew as soon as she saw Sam’s resume that this was the type of interesting individual she was looking for. And his manager Angela Todisco agrees that Sam embodies the values SAP strives for: building bridges not silos, keeping the promise and loyalty.

For Sam, it’s all part of his life philosophy: “Work hard and good things will happen.”


Interested in learning more about Sam’s story? Watch the video about his experience here: From NFL to SAP

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