Trusted with helping businesses lead in their industries, enterprise technology companies face constant pressure to innovate. Success in this environment requires leadership to look outward towards the new and unknown. But to maintain such an unrelenting enthusiasm for growth and innovation, technology companies must also turn inward – toward their culture and their employees to help drive these changes. SAP North America President, DJ Paoni is one leader who has spent more than two decades putting principles of teamwork and collaboration into practice at SAP, investing in people and innovation to deliver quality results for the company’s more than 160,000 customers in North America.
When he joined SAP in 1996 as an account executive, Paoni quickly realized the potential SAP had to disrupt the enterprise technology industry. Today, with 22 years under his belt with the company, Paoni leads SAP North America and is responsible for the strategy, day-to-day operations, and overall customer success in the United States and Canada. For him, the reason for his long-standing belief in the power of SAP is simple: “What has enabled the company to keep pace through many highly-disruptive market shifts is our people,” Paoni explained. “I am fortunate to come to work every day feeling supported, challenged, and inspired by my colleagues, and I’m proud of the culture we’ve fostered that empowers us to evolve and where change is welcomed.”
Leading in a Changing and Challenging Landscape
Today, companies face a number of seemingly overwhelming odds, leaving little room for ineffective decision making. In some industries and scenarios, the difference between business success and failure can be as little as 24 hours. According to a recent report from MIT Sloan and Capgemini, 90 percent of CEOs believe their business will be changed drastically by the digital economy and that success will depend on leaders’ abilities to take immediate measures to stay relevant.
Unfortunately, despite the rising stakes, only 15 percent currently consider themselves able to execute on a digital strategy in the near-term. SAP recognized this challenge and has spent time and resources reinvigorating its services to expand beyond ERP and into a complete portfolio for the digital business, with in-memory data platform SAP HANA as the backbone. Today, they have more cloud users than any other company and a breadth of offerings spanning mobile, big data, and a host of other emerging technology areas.
The next step in SAP’s growth journey, Paoni explains, is helping organizations enter the new era of the Intelligent Enterprise — where businesses can apply intelligent technologies like Machine Learning, the Internet of Things and advanced analytics. “With the intelligent enterprise, we’re building upon the promise of digital transformation by enabling organizations to capitalize on the next wave of innovation and better compete,” said Paoni. To help organizations become intelligent enterprises, SAP is offering new ways to use data assets to achieve desired outcomes faster – and with less risk. Outcomes include freeing up employees to do more with less through process automation, delivering best-inclass customer experiences with the ability to better anticipate and respond to customers’ needs, and inventing new business models and revenue streams by monetizing data-driven capabilities.
It’s these outcomes that will define the future of business in Paoni’s view. “Enterprises must help their employees make faster and more effective decisions by providing them actionable insights from their data. This is what will give them the agility they need in today’s fast-moving world.”
The Future is Bright
Powering SAP’s strategy for the Intelligent Enterprise are SAP’s customers and people, says Paoni. He personally champions a ‘customer first’ mentality, leveraging his keen understanding of the sales function to not only attract new customers, but use the feedback he’s received from existing customers to help reorient SAP’s culture in support of its customers’ objectives. “Our teams are working in lockstep with our customers every day, giving them incredible insight and context that can be brought back into our organization to develop innovations that are truly informed by our customers’ needs,” Paoni said.
In surveying SAP’s broad customer base across 25 different industries – from energy and financial services to consumer industries and the public sector – it’s clear this customer first approach has been rewarding for the company. When asked about this positive track record, Paoni said: “Our commitment to the success of our customers is one of the primary reasons why 98 percent of the top 100 most valued brands in the world today run on SAP.”
To ensure SAP and its customers’ successes are sustained long into the future, Paoni places an emphasis on cultivating the next generation of future business leaders to work in technology. Each year, 250 early talent employees from 55 different countries fly to the Greater San Francisco Bay Area to take part in the ‘SAP Academy,’ a unique, immersive training experience for high potential young salespeople. The SAP Academy has helped move the needle from 2 percent representation of younger generation talent in its global sales workforce up to 12 percent in just three years, with the goal of reaching 50 percent by the year 2025. This approach comes back to the empathy SAP has for its customers, and having a keen understanding that to reach younger generations, businesses need support from next-generation talent.
Committed to empowering students as young as middle school and high school, Paoni also serves on the board of GENYOUth and the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, both non-profit organizations that collaborate with schools, communities and business partners to unleash students’ inner entrepreneurial mindsets and prepare them to thrive in the innovation economy.
A Culture of Innovation
At its core, SAP is committed to improving people’s lives, which begins within the organization itself. SAP offers a great deal of resources for professional development, health, and wellness to its workforce, and has a clear culture of diversity, inclusion, and equality—which has led to retention rates that exceed the industry average and recognition on numerous ‘Best Workplaces’ lists across the region. Says Paoni: “The culture at SAP is best described as inclusive and innovative, and we believe you can’t have one without the other. When you have people with varied backgrounds and perspectives, who are empowered to share their point-of-view, you end up with a much richer set of ideas.” Those diverse ideas, Paoni expanded, are what enable SAP to continuously innovate for their customers.
By many measures, SAP has been successful in building an inclusive workforce that reflects the diversity of the businesses and communities it serves. The organization has committed to comprising 1 percent of its global workforce of people on the autism spectrum through its renowned Autism at Work program. It has also been recognized as a best place to work for LGBTQ equality by the Human Rights Campaign and as a best place to work for women, for millennials, for giving back and in technology by Fortune Magazine and Great Place to Work.
In an industry in its relative youth that is seeing rapid growth by early stage companies, Paoni sees a responsibility for SAP, with its decades of industry leadership, to serve as an example with its continued push to create a truly inclusive environment for all. “When you empower your employees with a culture of inclusion, mutual respect, empathy, and mentorship, you will create agents of success in your organization,” said Paoni. With this judicious focus on the company’s people to drive a culture of innovation, Paoni sees no limits to SAP’s future success and, ultimately, the success of its customers.