When Fortune magazine named SAP executive Jennifer Morgan to its 2018 list of “Most Powerful Women," it described her rise at the German software giant as “speedy.”
Morgan doesn’t exactly agree with that characterization.
“In yesterday’s world, my rise might be considered fast," she said, adding, “I mean, I’m 47 years old. I’m not 27.”
Seated on a chartreuse suede chair in her office at the company’s North American headquarters in Newtown Square, Morgan, who has been with SAP for 14 years, said the world of business had changed drastically since she entered the workforce. Back then, there was just one kind of leader that people tried to emulate, and those people were usually older and male.
Today, she said, “there is no one mold" (though women still make up a small portion — 11 percent — of the highest-paid jobs in corporate America, according to a 2018 Pew study).
Morgan became the first American woman to be on the company’s executive board in 2017. The only other woman on the currently 10-member board is Adaire Fox-Martin, who is based in Germany and runs global customer operations with Morgan. Before they joined, there were two other women who had been appointed to the board, both chief human resource officers.
As president of the Americas and Asia Pacific Japan, she is in charge of making sure SAP is growing its software and cloud revenue quarterly and overseeing the company’s sales teams and customer-relation teams in those regions, which include Australia, India, and Southeast Asia, but not China, which is under Fox-Martin’s purview. Cloud refers to an emerging model where companies buy software as a service and store data in remote servers. The transition has been challenging for traditional companies such as IBM and SAP.
In its last earnings call of 2018, executives said cloud and software sales revenue was up 10 percent over the previous year, boasting a 38 percent growth in cloud revenue, which was higher — 53 percent — in Asia Pacific Japan.
The hardest part about her job, Morgan said, is making sure the company is reinventing itself fast enough, which can be especially difficult, given SAP’s size: $28 billion in annual sales and 100,000 employees around the world, including 3,200 at Newtown Square.
It’s a pressing point for SAP, which has had to compete with not only legacy enterprise software companies such as Oracle but also newer, cloud-based companies such as Salesforce.com and Workday. As SAP cofounder Hasso Plattner said in 2015 at the company’s launch of its S/4 HANA business suite: “For too long, SAP has been stuck into our own configuration.” It’s one reason why it developed the cloud-based business system in-house, in tandem with making billion-dollar acquisitions. In November, the company borrowed $8 billion to acquire survey analytics company Qualtrics, among its largest acquisitions ever. (The biggest was its $8.3 billion purchase of enterprise software company Concur in 2014.)
An analyst report from Oppenheimer published last week said the company’s “technology vision was attractive” but that the technology still had to “catch up to the dream.”
SAP’s growth strategy is also “largely aligned with the strategies and growth of hyperscalers like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft” that control much of the cloud, Morgan said. “They want the growth that comes from migrating SAP systems to their cloud environments and we’ve worked alongside them to build a strategy that allows our customers maximum choice and flexibility to do that quickly.”
Though she lives just five minutes from the Newtown Square headquarters with her husband, the stay-at-home father to their two teenage sons, she spends most of her time on the road, heading to such places as South Korea or New York, to meet with customers, which include not just tech-focused executives such as chief information officers, but the entire C-suite, said Morgan, whose 2017 total compensation was $3.2 million.
As you move up the chain, what becomes more important is what everyone below you thinks.
DJ Paoni, SAP’s North America president who came up with Morgan as they managed salespeople and then sales managers, credits Morgan with teaching him that leaders should be approachable.
“Don’t have an entourage of people around you," Paoni says she taught him. "Don’t have a hierarchy, where you say, ‘Talk to this person before talking to me.’”
She also just launched A Call to Lead, a leadership advice podcast that features conversations with people in business.
Some more of Morgan’s best leadership advice:
Keep it cool under pressure
“One of the biggest compliments someone ever gave me was ‘Jen, I can’t ever tell if things are really amazing or if the world is ending because your demeanor doesn’t change a whole lot.’ I try to model that, even if inside, I’m thinking, Oh gosh, I don’t yet have the answers to this."
Leadership is a two-way street
"A woman that I’m mentoring here at SAP, a second-line leader, was expressing some frustration with her direct leader at the time. And I said to her, ‘Have you ever given that feedback to your leader?’ And she said, ‘Well, no.’
"And I said, ‘Leadership is a two-way street. You have to be accountable to the relationship, as well. You’re not some person who’s right out of college. You have leaders that work for you. If somebody who worked for you felt this way about you, wouldn’t you want to know?’
“As you move up the chain, what becomes more important is what everyone below you thinks."
Fear doesn’t belong in the corporate environment
"I don’t believe in simply doing the traditional annual review cycle. If I’m waiting a year to tell somebody what they’re doing well and what they can improve upon, I’m missing so many opportunities to allow that person to become a better version of a leader. I’m a big believer in giving radically honest feedback in real time.
"If you’re going on a client meeting, right when you walk out of that meeting, give that person feedback. If it was a tough situation, ask, how did you think it went? When you create that culture where immediate feedback is the norm, it’s not something you’re scared of anymore.
“When you’re scared, it shuts down your ability to think clearly, to think creatively, to stay calm. To me, fear doesn’t belong in the corporate environment.”
Share your personal struggles
“It’s only natural in your career when you face a setback or a tough time, like coming back to work after having a child, it’s only natural that you’re questioning, am I a good mother? Should I be doing this? That is totally natural. It would’ve helped me if people were really honest with me about that so I knew it was normal, so I knew it was a temporary hardship.”
Focus on people, and the numbers will follow
"One of my earliest learnings came when I was running the North America business at SAP, when I would do business reviews with the different leaders across the region. The first thing that would be on the screen [when they walked in] would be financial numbers. As I learned about the different businesses and how they were performing, I noticed that the ones that were performing well tended to have a real strong focus on people and developing the team.
“So I started changing how I performed those reviews, by asking people to start with the org chart: ‘Just walk me through your team.’ What I would find nine times out of 10, based on how they understood their team, their focus on the people was reflected in the numbers. So I always say, if you focus on the people, the numbers will follow.”
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that SAP’s $8 billion acquisition of Qualtrics was the biggest its ever made. The biggest was its $8.3 billion acquisition of Concur in 2014. Also, SAP’s annual global sales is $28 billion, not $25 billion.