How SAP’s CEO Bill McDermott Is Using Empathy To Build More Powerful Teams

Aaron Hurst
Purposeful Leadership
June 13, 2019

In 2013, SAP CEO Bill McDermott (he was co-CEO at the time) flew to Germany and called an all-hands meeting to let his 83,000-member team know that he had made a terrible mistake. SAP had failed to pay bonuses at the level expected by employees and he took it personally. “It’s unacceptable and I’m not going to let it stand.” He didn’t just apologize and promise to prevent it from happening again. He fixed it. He pledged to pay the expected bonuses (which totaled close to $75 million) and take the hit on Wall Street for taking the money out of their corporate profits.

“It wasn’t only important to celebrate what the team had to accomplish as a family group, but it was also important to accomplish what you needed as an individual.”

When McDermott talks about his team, he uses the word “family.” McDermott links his purpose as a leader to his empathy for the struggle that so many working people face just to survive. He grew up watching his father work three jobs while caring for his sick brother. He understands what it takes to support a family, be it his own family or his extended 83,000-member family at SAP.

“I’ve lived at different pay grades and I know the more modest your pay grade is, the more you count on that bonus and the more you need that bonus. You plan around that bonus. That bonus pays off cars, it pays off education, it puts presents under trees.”

Read more at Fast Co. here.