Turnaround Lesson: Stock the Fridge

By November 6, 2015 Uncategorized No Comments

Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP, tells a revealing story about himself earlier in his career … way early!  He shared lessons he learned from childhood jobs including his stint as an underage paperboy. He figured out that understanding what people wanted pleased them which led to repeat business and extra tips. He took pains to know which customers liked the paper behind the storm door and which preferred the mailbox. Even as a youngster he grasped that tips were “in appreciation”, a validation of caring.

Attention to what people need is an understated dimension of leadership.  What people need is love – in business manifested as a result of being valued in a pay-it-forward manner.  Jim Autry, author of Love and Profit, said this about the essence of management:

“Good management is largely a matter of love.  Or if you’re uncomfortable with that word, call it caring, because proper management involves caring for people, not manipulating them.”

Back to McDermott.  I read that in his early 20s, before SAP, when Xerox assigned him to their lowest ranking sales district … in Puerto Rico … he showed up and instead of laying down the law, he stocked the office refrigerator with soft drinks.  It was an act like putting the paper in a mailbox.  

The story I am highlighting is from the July 2015 issue of Success. Here are some of McDermott’s words from that piece:


“Power doesn’t come from a title, it is given to you by the people. I spent a lot of my time listening to the workers ideas about why the place is broken, and they had good answers.”

“In response to workers’ suggestions or ideas, I try to go in saying yes. That doesn’t mean it’s an automatic buy-in, but going in with an open mind builds trust, in a business, trust is the ultimate currency.”

“Leadership starts with articulating a vision, a cause. At SAP, we want to make the world run better and improve people’s lives. Having a clear vision simplifies things.”

            “Make time for the things that matter – to you and to those important to you.”

PS – in Puerto Rico, McDermott’s attention to people ( caring by listening ) paid off.  Within a year, the district led the company, and McDermott acquired a guiding precept.   That precept today is his True North in setting a purposeful course, i.e., make the world run better, for 68,800 employees in 188 countries!

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