DQ Leadership Series: I am a strong believer in the player-coach model: Deb Deep Sengupta, MD, SAP India

Deb Deep Sengupta, President & Managing Director, SAP Indian Subcontinent outlines that digital disruption, delivering innovation and talent management are three top challenges which today’s leaders are faced with.  Excerpts

deepWhat do you think is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?

Today’s leaders are most focused on:

-The opportunities and challenges created by Digital Disruption: Technology is enabling new business models and business cycles are shortening. It brings along with them intricacies pertaining to change management that leaders need to manage.

Delivering Innovation: Innovation remains a key differentiator in the current business environment. The most significant challenge here is to create a culture of collaborative innovation inside the company

Talent Management: Developing talent and grooming them to take their career to the next level is crucial for continued success.

Who do you call as your mentor and why?

We are at a unique point in time where five generations are working together. Clearly, the opportunity to learn from those around you is immense. I believe that learning can happen anywhere and from anyone and one needs to be open to learn at all times. For example, a great source of learning at SAP is the fresh set of ideas and energy that the ‘Early Talent’ graduate hires bring every year. I am a strong believer of the player-coach model, which means that a coach who has the ability to roll-up his sleeves and get into playing when needed tends to be most effective. I see SAP CEO Bill McDermott as a champion of the player-coach model, which he has also described in detail in his autobiography, “Winners Dream”.

What is your leadership style?

My preferred leadership is the playercoach style that I mentioned earlier. I believe in playing the game together with the team and leading from the front. To me, a leader is most effective and respected if he is a part of the team and plays with the team.

Quarterly pressures to long-term vision: The market needs numbers but a long-term sustainable vision is vital. How difficult is it to manage both and how do you do it?

Balancing quarterly goals with long term success is like playing a test match in cricket. You plan your strategy session by session to emerge victorious eventually. It is also like the 21-race season of the F1 where every race counts towards your eventual success in the season. I see each quarter as a building block to long term success. I do believe that there should be some stretch in our crossing the line because if we end up winning too easy too often, then we likely would have set ourselves very low.

Are we moving from a Cyclical to a Structural recession? Is it possible to de-risk for the future?

We live in a world today that has been flattened by forces of global integration. Innovation cycles have quickened by a factor of 5 to 10 times and economic cycles are moving quicker than ever. However, the pace of policy-making cycles is still to catch up. I believe that one of the reasons for the shortening boom-bust cycles is the mismatch in the pace of the economic and policy-making cycles. In my observation, economies and organizations that thrive on innovation that touches people’s lives are the ones that will last longer. We can call it the most optimal way of derisking for the future. These are also the ethos behind SAP’s vision – to help the world run better and improve people’s lives.

How can Indian IT industry add more value?

India enjoys the advantage of having a young and tech-savvy population. If nurtured in an environment of progressive, technology-led policies, this population has the potential to have a significant impact on the global economy.

Additionally, advanced technologies like cloud, IoT, insights-driven decision making and several others hold significant opportunities for the Indian IT industry.

If you reflect on FY 16, what are the key performance takeaways?

Today, there is a direct relevance between digital experience and business outcomes. This is a significant opportunity for business leaders to leverage as they plan their blueprint for the future.

While growth and innovation have been the key focus areas for most business leaders, those who have rooted their journey in driving relevant digital experiences for customers, are seeing success. As per an Asia-wide research done by SAP across 700 brands, businesses that are scored high by their customers on digital experiences see very high rates of loyalty and customer reference.

Grooming Leaders: How are you approaching this at your organization?

The world is the playground for people at SAP. As a global organization with India being the second largest resource base, we are in a position to groom talents into regional and global roles across all entities of the company.

We also believe in developing multi-talented teams and encourage our people to acquire cross-functional skills as part of their development roadmap. Succession-planning is not just a process at SAP but a philosophy. We believe in developing people from within the organization and getting them ready for higher roles.

Additionally, we also believe that a diverse workforce is key to promoting innovation for the future. At SAP, diversity means employing people across generations, cultures as well as genders, employing differently-abled people, and making sure you have equality across all dimensions of diversity.

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