(Yicai Global) May 1 -- The key to creating something is thinking carefully about what the customer doesn't know they need, but you know they do, SAP Chief Executive Officer Bill McDermott told Yicai Global in an exclusive interview, when talking about the secret to wooing customers.
During his tenure as co-CEO and CEO at the world's leading business software maker, the German company's market value has jumped from USD39 billion to USD144.7 billion. McDermott himself earned USD26.7 million in 2017. But he didn't start out that way.
McDermott was born into a working-class family in Long Island in New York State. At the age of 16, he owned a convenience store deli. He talked the owner and suppliers who trusted him into revenue-sharing agreements. That deli put him through college. Then he got his big break: a sales job at Xerox, having convinced the manager to hire him the same day. From corner store to corner office, he determinedto work hard, achieve great things, treat all the people in his life with respect and keep a positive attitude no matter what life threw at him.
McDermott lost an eye after falling down stairs at his brother's home in July 2015. Even that hasn't diminished his determination. He returned to work in the fall of 2015 and states, "This accident changed my life for the better." He wrote up his journey in a national bestselling book titled Winners Dream.
Yicai Global US Chief Susan Feng sat down with McDermott in New York recently to talk about his life journey and the essence of his success.
Yicai Global: Who inspired you in the early days?
Bill McDermott: My mom, Kathleen McDermott. When I was first born, she used to tell people that 'He's going to be something so substantial, so big, we can't even imagine.' And she goes, 'I just know it.' And then it was like she always had that belief in me, and I think if people who love you believe in you unconditionally, you really do become the person that believes you can do it. You can be a catalyst for changing the world.
Yicai Global: Have you ever questioned that because we all have ups and downs, sometimes we feel we are not capable of doing everything?
McDermott: I have, like everybody else. I think the biggest question marks people have is when they're young because it takes time to be you. So in the early days, I got all my confidence from work. Whether it was delivering newspaper routes or doing part-time jobs, I loved working. When I worked, I could always determine my own outcome because if I did a good job, there was nobody to criticize me. It was up to me.
So I learned early to go to work early, be a gentlemen, be immaculate, take good care of the customer, work extra hours, do things you're not asked to do, do things very well when no one's watching, be a great worker. So that was what I would do when I was young.
And what I realized is the people out there that run companies, they are actually smarter than we think they are. Somehow they know when you are doing a good job. So that gave me my super power. And then I just started to continue that and own my own business, and then going to work for Xerox.
But no person, including me, has a perfect life. This challenge is every day. But if you're confident in the reason you're here and your purpose, nobody can take you down. Only you can take you down. That's it. That's the super power. Knowing that it's always been in your control.
The earthly things are only always in your control. But remember, we're only earthly. There's something that's far beyond us, that's not in our control. And that's why you have to have the compassion, the empathy, and the humility to know you'd better do the right thing, because there are certain things that you'll answer for later on. And I just try to do the right thing.
Yicai Global: You said that if you want to have a successful business, you need to take care of the customers, and not just their current needs, but future needs. That's the challenge for every business. So how do you create a future need?
McDermott: That's true, a lot of people get credit for being geniuses because they create something. The key to creating something is thinking carefully about what the customer doesn't know they need, but you know they do. And you build it, and you give them something that they didn't know they needed, but once they got it, they don't know how they would lived without it.
I don't think that's genius actually. I think that's the ability to think, see the market, what it could be. Really it's obvious need that's not being met. And then, the hard work takes over, if you have a big enough vision, a big enough idea, if it's an unmet need that's large enough, and then you can build it, you can create a sensation.
And later on they say, 'What a genius!' Was it a genius? Or was it just a person who spotted something that wasn't being done, did it, did it well, and they did it in a very large, addressable market. That's what I think it is.
Yicai Global: I'm surprised that even after losing one eye, you're still very optimistic, and you even said that you're life is better. How did you keep optimistic?
McDermott: Well, you know what's amazing? When you say to me, 'Oh, my goodness, considering that you lost a left eye, it's hard to believe.' I don't remember that I lost a left eye, unless you remind me. But that is gone. That is beyond even a part of my thinking, my thought process, my daily activities. There's nothing that I could do before my accident, nothing, that I can't do now as good and in some cases better.
Losing never enters my mind. I only, only think about winning. I only have always thought about wining. Losing never enters my mind. It's not an option.
And, therefore, it's not that I'm 'Oh well, that's unrealistic. Sometimes everybody loses. Sometimes everybody misses a shot.' Of course they do. But I don't approach every shot as like it's not going in. I just recover quickly, if it didn't go in. And then come at it again. But I'm not going to be less likely to take a shot because I missed one. I'll be more likely to take another shot because my odds just went up that the next one's going in. I always think about winning.
Yicai Global: Let's talk about business, about technology. Public opinion has shifted towards big technologies. People now question if technology is a good or destructive force. What do you think about technology?
McDermott: I think that people are yearning, clamoring for human relationships. I was in a board meeting two or three nights ago, and had a dinner with some very nice colleagues, and I watched their behavior. I said to them at one point, 'Doesn't it feel good to just be in a room at a table like this where we can talk? Where we can think. Where we can be together.'
I think there's a tremendous deficit in the world right now for humanity. For people to have the emotional intelligence to communicate, to interact, to respect, to be kind, to have a relationship with other people. I really don't know if that's just enough to say it's a big tech thing, or has digitization brought the world a lot of good, but it has also moved people further apart. As much as we're connected, we're less human, we're less emotional.