Sunday evening, May 4th, I learned Vishal Sikka, CTO and an executive board member of SAP, had resigned for “personal reasons.” News of his departure is shocking to me. Earlier this year, I met him to learn about the transformation he was leading. Vishal is a very impressive individual.
- About 25,000 employees reported to Vishal. SAP has some 70,000 employees total to give you some perspective.
- People in Vishal’s organization are in shock and traumatized by his departure. They won’t have definitive answers about what his departure means for some time yet. Vishal’s vision was clearly instantiated in the product roadmap; it can’t turn on a dime.
- Vishal’s story seemed almost too good to be true and, perhaps, in the end, it was. He was leading SAP and its SAP customers to a new and, in my opinion, a better place. However, those who lead enterprise-wide transformations scare those who are reliant on and nervous about changing the status quo. There is always friction and resistance to change. SAP’s status quo won last night.
- He seemed to enjoy a very cordial relationship with his team. He knew people in Palo Alto by their first names, something that surprised me. After all, an important guy like Vishal doesn’t have time for such trivialities, right? Wrong.
- In a streaming media event, Vishal appeared to be a rock star at SAP. He had the ability to advocate for non-traditional development issues, e.g., pricing products and services. His ability to influence and make a change had to scare some people in leadership roles, people who didn’t hold back voicing their concerns.
My friend and colleague, Ray Wang of Constellation Research, noted that Vishal’s departure boiled down to 3 issues:
- Vishal advocated for building platforms as opposed to applications
- Vishal was enabling customers to build versus buy applications and solutions
- Vishal was enabling customers to innovate versus simply executing what SAP defined
Who was most concerned about this paradigm shift that Vishal was leading? Sales and the board of directors. The board took action to alter the path Vishal was putting the company on.
Big companies do what they have to to protect revenue streams. Ultimately, I surmise SAP had a real fear that Vishal was going to upset revenue streams.
When SAP tried to cage an innovator like Vishal, he had little choice but to flee the building. Change is hard even for a smart, engaging, charismatic professional like Vishal. And, change is even harder for SAP, a company that has seen a number of executives leave the company.
I hope Vishal, his team and SAP find a compelling way to thrive.