Q&A: Outgoing SAP co-CEO says company is ready for transition

Kagermann also notes that co-CEOs are a good fit for some companies — outside the U.S that is

ORLANDO — SAP AG co-CEO Henning Kagermann, who is entering his last year on the job, took center stage at the company's Sapphire user conference here last week. In an interview with the IDG News Service at the conference, he reflected on his career, his successor, the departure of former executive Shai Agassi and the unionization of some German operations.

What kind of advice are you giving your successor, co-CEO Leo Apotheker? I don't give him advice. We're pretty much aligned. The transition — that's why we had a year as co-CEOs. I can hand over responsibilities slowly, and he can get used to it. This is not a concern for me.

Henning Kagermann
Henning Kagermann

With his team, he will see that we meet our 2010 targets. Next year is the first time we will declare the strategy for beyond 2010. We are waiting half a year. Otherwise, I would have done it this year, but it's something I feel the new team should be behind.

Unlike many other top SAP executives, Apotheker is not a technologist or scientist. Is that a handicap? No. Look, SAP is a different company now. We are pretty large. We are balanced. We have many, many people who are driving the technology position. It's not only one person any longer. From that point of view, you need someone who understands SAP, and he understands SAP and client issues. [He] is able to assemble a good team around them. I think that's more important in the future. It's not necessary that somebody must be a technologist to run a software company.

Can the co-CEO concept work in the U.S. tech sector, with strong personalities like Larry Ellison and Steve Ballmer? No, I don't think so. Whenever you speak to CEOs [in] the U.S., they are surprised at what we are doing. For SAP, it's not exceptional. I was co-CEO with [SAP co-founder] Hasso Plattner for five years. People feel it's a more continuous succession. It's not "a new man is coming" and then the organization is speculating what has to be changed. A year as co-CEOs sends a good signal. People see that there are no radical shifts. Decisions that are made now are backed up by the new CEO. It's much better.

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