Jim Hagemann Snabe n’a qu’un leitmotiv : aller droit au but. Après 20 ans au sein de SAP, le CEO “inconventionnel”, comme on le surnomme, se retire de la direction de l’entreprise. Son nouveau challenge : soutenir la digitalisation des grandes entreprises. Explications. (Article en anglais)
Despite ranking among the daxtop brass, Jim Hagemann Snabe rarelyseeks the limelight. When you first meet the former co-CEO of Europe’s largest software player, SAP, the first thing that strikes you is how down to earth he is. It is clear that you are dealing with a rare breed: a C-level exec with no desire to hide behind rigid corporate structures and hierarchies. And as a quick look at Snabe’s career reveals, this first impression is accurate. Splitting the chief role at a huge company like SAP is usually a recipe for disaster. But Snabe is quick to point out that his working relationship with co-head Bill McDermott has been a valuable source of motivation over the years. “We have always stood together shoulder to shoulder; our focus was firmly on SAP’s success, not on our own egos,” he remarks – and you take him at his word.
Time for a new challenge
Every so often, Snabe gets a real sparkle in his eyes. For example, when he demonstrates how he can honk the horn ofhis Tesla via an app on his smartphone. No mean feat, considering that the electric car is parked hundreds of kilometers away in front of his family home. “My wife is sure to call any minute and ask what’s going on,” predicts Snabe, laughing. And right on cue, two minutes later his phone starts to buzz.
Snabe hails from Denmark and his family lives in Copenhagen, far from SAP’s headquarters in the southern German town of Walldorf. This means he has not spent as much time with his two children as he would have liked in recent years. A part from one short intermission, Snabe has been working with the enterprise software market leadersince 1990. The distance has made family life difficult – prompting his decision to step back from the day-to-day running of the business last May, despite the fact that he is not yet 50. Since then, his colleague Bill McDermott has assumed the role of sole CEO, while Snabe is moving to the firm’s supervisory board.
But he is far from slowing down. In fact, he is brimming with plans and ideas for this new chapter of his life. “I have made it my mission to support digitization in other industries – at companies such as Siemens, Danske Bank and Bang&Olufsen,” he explains, listing the firms that are set to welcome him to their supervisory boards. Although they are quite different in nature, all three enterprises face the same challenge – to maximize the opportunities of the connected digital economy.
Snabe is skilled in expressing complex ideas succinctly. For instance, he describes the essence of ‘Industry 4.0’ in a nutshell: “Every company will become a software firm.” Also referred to as the ‘fourth industrial revolution’, Industry 4.0 is one of Snabe’s main areas of interest – the expectation that digitization will revolutionize traditional manufacturing in the coming years. “If we could take all the high-quality goods that are produced in Europe and use software and the Internet to connect the min an intelligent way, we would take a huge leap forward,” explains Snabe, who has been discussing these issues with politicians such as Neelie Kroes, EU Commissioner responsible for the Digital Agenda for Europe. Without this sort of innovation, the continent will struggle to return to a path of sustainable growth. “We can’t compete on the global stage in terms of labor or energy costs,” he argues. “Our only chance is to use technology to make every working hour more efficient.”
What’s more, Snabe believes that digitization will significantly boost productivity – for instance, by supporting more efficient management of resources. Because the firms of the future will be constantly connected with consumers, they will be able to predict precisely what their customers need and when. “Today’s system is based on mass production,” he explains. “We manufacture large numbers of items and try to sell them afterwards. This is very inefficient.” However, Snabe believes that the factories of the future will be software-driven. And while Europe has the industrial expertise, he stresses the need to improve our digital skills: “We will be relying on the creativity of the next generation.” Against this background, SAP has launched an IT education initiative for young people, in cooperation with other heavyweights like Bosch and ThyssenKrupp. But can Europe really close the gap on the USA when it comes to innovation? Snabe is optimistic, pointing to SAP as an example: “We are the world market leader in enterprise software. Creating a company like Facebook is comparatively easy. What we do – using software to intelligently model global supplychains – is, in contrast, very difficult.” Similarly, European manufacturing has a strong record with complex products. Plus, the continent offers a robust industrial infrastructure – something that no longer applies to the USA. With the right strategies, the next gadget to make Snabe’s eyes light up could be developed on this side ofthe Atlantic.