SAP makes last-minute change to replacement of 80-year-old co-founder

After lining up someone to fill Hasso Plattner's seat, German ERP giant finds candidate has 'difference in perspective'

Enterprise software developer SAP has made a last-minute change to the planned replacement of its 80-year-old co-founder as chairman of its supervisory board, owing to “a difference in perspective”.

Hasso Plattner co-founded the ERP specialist in 1972 and, from 1997 to May 2003, served as chairman of the executive board and CEO. Plans to replace the influential German were announced in February last year, when former Deloitte CEO Punit Renjen was nominated as his designated successor.

However, Renjen, an Indian-American businessman, has chosen to step down from the end of SAP’s Annual General Meeting on May 15, 2024. In a statement, SAP said the company and Renjen “have mutually agreed to part ways because of a difference in perspective on the role of SAP Supervisory Board chair”.

The Supervisory Board has now nominated Pekka Ala-Pietilä, former president of mobile communications company Nokia and a member of the SAP Supervisory Board from 2002 until 2021.

“After two decades at the helm of SAP, the company I’ve nurtured from its inception, ensuring a successful handover of the leadership baton is paramount to me and crucial for SAP’s continued success,” said Plattner in a statement.

“In Ala-Pietilä, I recognize a leader who not only possesses a profound understanding of our industry and the intricacies of European… governance, but also one who has been a steadfast ally through many of SAP’s pivotal moments,” Plattner said.

SAP has seen a challenging number of changes in its top team over the last decade as it tries to negotiate the line between investors who see the appeal of younger, pure-play cloud companies and customers who prize stability.

After Bill McDermott left in 2019, Plattner said the American former CEO had focused on the competition, “[but] for me, it was always the customer”.

However, more recently customers have criticised SAP for its emphasis on introducing new product innovation only in cloud versions of its software, while many users have made recent significant investments in on-prem software, seemingly on SAP’s advice.

The latest change in leadership plans may not assure investors either. In 2020, they criticized SAP for chopping and changing its CEO model after it made Christian Klein sole boss while letting go of Jennifer Morgan, his former co-chief exec, after less than six months.

Since then, the German software giant has also replaced its CFO, appointing Airbus's Dominik Asam to replace long-serving finance boss Luka Mucic in 2022.

Earlier this year, Thomas Saueressig was moved to a board-level role designed to "accelerate cloud growth and adoption", having served as the German company's CIO and has led product engineering since 2016.

As SAP faces the coming financial year without Plattner for the first time in half a century, questions will remain over whether it can find some stability in its leadership as it tries to become the cloud-led business it so much wants to be. ®

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