Should you read SAP CEO Bill McDermott's autobiography Winners Dream: A Journey from Corner Store to Corner Office? I"m going to answer a qualified yes, although frankly, I wouldn't have read it had I not decided to interview McDermott for my Leadership Agenda column, published in Monday's Philadelphia Inquirer.
Here are the reasons to read it:
1. If you are from Philadelphia, it's worth reading just to understand SAP, one of the major employers in our region and a huge global player in the world of business software. Headquartered in Newtown Square, (global headquarters are in Germany) SAP isn't Microsoft, but it's in that league. There are 3,000 to 3,500 employees in the region, 68,800 around the world and the company has $21 billion in annual revenues.
2. Even though CEO autobiographies can be nauseating for their relentlessly upbeat, gung-ho tone, and Winners Dream shares that attribute, the book offers enough useful lessons to compensate.
3. McDermott's analysis of how he organized his first business -- a deli he bought on credit and managed, when he was 17, is truly illuminating. SAP is a complicated business, but a deli is not. Yet, the lessons from the deli are scalable and apply not only to entrepreneurs but to anyone in any venture. In the deli, McDermott, 17, managed to analyze his three main kinds of customers and developed offerings that appealed to each. Whether you own a business or work in one, you have customers, either externally, or internally -- your colleagues. You can think about the people you serve and you can try to tailor your approach to meet their needs.
4. McDermott believes that he can win in business by boldly pursuing the win while understanding that making other people win is the best way to get there and he illustrates that in story after story.
5. The key to success is really understanding what the customer needs -- not just from the product, but psychologically, even if it seems odd. He gives a great example from his early days as a salesman for Xerox. He visits an elderly business owner, only to be attacked by her cat. In a flash, he realizes that owner loves the cat and that currying favor with the cat is the way to the sale. It worked and he learned a life lesson.
6. Network. Always look for the path to next contact and be willing to do that in return. Befriend secretaries, door men, lobby guards -- all can provide leads and information.
7. Learn to shut up. McDermott went to his job interview at Xerox, determined to land the job. At the end of the interview, when the Xerox official dismissed him with polite goodbyes, McDermott pressed for the job, saying he had promised his father that he would return from the interview with the employee's badge in his pocket. And then, he said nothing. After an awkward moment, he got the job.
8. In a few situations, McDermott was brought in to turn around lackluster divisions. He juiced up the crew and pushed them to succeed. I wondered about these stories. Having been on the receiving end of "inspirational" speeches by new bosses, I was skeptical and still am. Even so, the book is making me think about motivation -- my own and how I would go about motivating others in tough situations.