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SAP India's Peter Gartenberg: I Like to Get Bad News Fast

SAP India’s MD Peter Gartenberg believes in being accessible to his colleagues. That way, he can get prompt feedback, and respond faster

Published: Apr 12, 2011 06:47:41 AM IST
Updated: Apr 11, 2011 02:57:48 PM IST
SAP India's Peter Gartenberg: I Like to Get Bad News Fast
Image: Vikas Khot
Peter Gartenberg, MD, SAP India

Name: Peter Gartenberg
Profile: MD, SAP India
Experience: He has over 23 years of experience in the IT industry, and has worked with global companies like IBM and Siemens. He has worked in the US, Germany and China
Key Challenge: To increase the sales of SAP’s software solutions by building a network of channel partners
Strategy: Build relationships between partners and SAP India

When I first came to India in 2000, mobile phones were not that ubiquitous, so the amount of business you were doing on-the-go was restrained. Today I use this one for voice [points to a Blackberry], and I run my entire business on the iPad. I can see all the different elements of the business using SAP mobility

A typical day is almost a mobile day. Wherever I am, I am usually working on the Blackberry, the iPad, going through mail, going through all things that have happened during the night.

One of the things I do more in India than in other countries I worked in is, I try to leave lots of time open for ad-hoc meetings. I have a lot of people in my organisation, plus there are customers and partners — I find that there’s a need for many updates and very quick alignment during the day. When I’m in the office, I try to make it open so if people need to talk to me about something, they can get a slot of time and come in.  

When I worked in Europe, my time and my work was much more scheduled. I didn’t have as many interruptions. Now I’m pretty much used to having a lot of interruptions in my day. I have to deal with many different topics, and I’m comfortable with that.

There’s a kind of 24x7 work culture you see in India that you don’t see in Europe. That has a lot of impact on work life balance. But that’s one of the things I love about working in India — you run all the time. I’m from the San Francisco Bay Area, where I worked in the early days in Silicon Valley. I think, because there are a lot of Indians there and foreign expats, they bring that energy and work culture so I was really comfortable with that.

When I was in Europe, I had a problem with having a weekend where you weren’t allowed to work. At 6 o’clock, you were supposed to end the work day and you didn’t call anybody — it was far more segmented. But I like that round the clock dynamism [in India]; that’s the way SAP people work… it’s more SAP India. It’s not unusual that we work during the weekends. If at night we have something we need to catch up on, we do a lot of that so the day just kind of continues round the clock; I like that.

I have noticed that a lot of my European colleagues like a more structured schedule and I just haven’t required that. I really want to have that accessibility, because I think that’s where I add the most value. I can get prompt feedback, and I think we can respond faster. If something’s happening with a customer that needs urgent attention, we have to put our focus on responding to that. I like to get bad news fast.

Fortunately, I have a really good management team and really good people at SAP India. That’s the key: You have to build a strong management team, and they pretty much handle their areas of speciality. You have to collaborate with your people, especially your direct management team. They expand your reach. You also have to focus on partners and look at building up a stronger ecosystem. That’s how we address different parts of the market — we have affluent partners in a lot of places who also work with us to find solutions. So, a part of how I schedule my work and time is in terms of my priorities. Customers are number one priority, my people and partners are in the priority list and I try to make time for them in that hierarchy on any day.  

I think listening is the key. In SAP India, I have so many strong people that just listening to them and asking them questions like what would it take to double this or expand this, what we would need to do, helped unlock some answers. The one thing I got a lot of feedback on was the need to open up to partners, the ecosystem channels. They were all saying if we need to expand in the market, we need to engage with the indirect channels — our partners — much more aggressively. Trying to expand the market only through direct interventions would limit us. So, we built a whole initiative around partners and we brought in somebody to lead our ecosystem and channel organisation based on the feedback from our people.

Whenever I travel to other locations [in India], we do a meeting and invite anybody who wants to come in. I give them a little bit of a status on the state of the business and issues we are dealing with. I try to listen to the issues they have.

The management leadership team has these sessions as well. Some people like to give feedback in a group, others like to do it one-on-one. I have those blocks of time where people can come in and have a discussion.

It’s all about the people.
I think SAP India has a wealth of super talented people, so that makes my job easier. The building-up here is less because we have strong leaders. It is more about trying to work with them to take the company to the next level.

(As told to Nilofer D’Souza)

(This story appears in the 22 April, 2011 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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    Some of your sales directors could learn to lose arrogance for a change. Neither are they smart nor are they really very effective.

    on May 23, 2011