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Thứ Bảy, 15 tháng 6, 2013

Bill McDermott of SAP, on Knowing What You Want - New York Times

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This interview with Bill McDermott, co-chief executive of SAP, the software company, was conducted and condensed by Adam Bryant.

Q. Were you in leadership roles early on as a child?

A. When I was around 11 years old, I was the assistant coach to my dad, and we coached my brother’s basketball team. My dad was a huge basketball guy, and my grandfather, Bobby McDermott, was a Hall of Fame basketball player.

Q. In that role, did you help with strategy?

A. Every timeout, my dad would always ask my opinion. And I was always quick to give him one. Sometimes I had a different play in mind than he had, and he was quick to listen and try it. Sometimes he wouldn’t take it, but very often the debate led to an even better answer.

Q. What about your high school and college years?

A. I had three jobs in high school. And then I traded all those jobs into one, when I went to work at this delicatessen. About a year later, I ended up buying that delicatessen. I was 16.

Q. That must have been a lot of work.

A. I came from a working-class family, and wanted to have my own money. I wanted a car. I also wanted to do what I could around the edges to give something back to my family. Plus, I loved to work. I put myself through four years of college on the back of that delicatessen. I took all my classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and every other waking hour I was there.

Q. And after college?

A. I sold the delicatessen, and at the time I believed strongly that I had to get with a company that provided great training, that would give me the professional polish I needed. I wanted to work for Xerox.

The day of my interview, my father drove me to the Long Island Rail Road. As I got out of the car, I said to him, “I guarantee you I’m coming home tonight with my employee badge from Xerox in my pocket.” My dad said: “Bill, don’t put that kind of pressure on yourself. Just do your best.”

So I went to Xerox’s hiring center in New York. I made it through all the interviews to meet the district manager. We had this extraordinarily good interview, and he said, “I really enjoyed this conversation, and the H.R. department will be in touch with you in the next couple of weeks.”

To which I replied: “I don’t think you completely understand the situation, sir. I’ve never broken a promise to my dad in 21 years, and I can’t start today. I guaranteed him I’d have my employee badge in my pocket before I got home to Amityville tonight.” He just looked at me for what seemed like an eternity, and he said, “Bill McDermott, as long as you haven’t committed any crimes, you’re hired.”

Q. So what’s the broader take-away, say, for a class of graduating seniors?

A. Two things. A lot of people might play the field, or try to figure out what they want. But I knew exactly what I wanted. Second, you’ve got to want it more. If you want something badly enough, everybody around you can see the passion. And people will make bold bets on people who have an unwavering passion to succeed or a passion to do something. I think that can get totally missed in the world of academia, but that’s the real world.

Q. You moved up quickly into senior leadership roles at Xerox — how did you get started?

A. I basically moved up to become the sales operations manager for the New York region, then became the district manager for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Our region was ranked 86th in the company out of 86. And I said, wow, this is very interesting.

So now the challenge was, how are you going to make these guys winners? I spent two weeks interviewing everybody and listening. I’d sit there and just say, “What do you think we need to do?”

After doing that for two weeks, I found out the three things that were unanimous in terms of what people thought we should do. No. 1, they wanted to be motivated. A previous boss, they told me, had been very financial in his orientation, and focused on cutting expenses. The second thing was that they wanted to have a holiday party, because they had lost the holiday party. The third thing is that they needed clear direction on what they were supposed to do. “Just tell us what to do,” they said.

So we basically gave them three things that we were going to focus on in the business. Then we gave them inspiration and pageantry at every turn to celebrate the victories as we made progress against those three goals. And then we had the holiday party, which was the most important of all. By the end of the year, we ranked No. 1 in terms of beating our plan.

Q. How do you hire?

A. I always try to hire somebody who’s got a vision at least as big as mine. The main question I ask is, what do you want? If you ask somebody what they want, you’ll know everything there is to know about them. We’re looking for people who have a clarity about who they are and what they want, and where they want to go. They should have a keen understanding of how the job they’re interviewing for fits into their personal passions. So I want to know that they’ve got the talent, the bandwidth, the acumen and the intellectual curiosity to keep getting better. But I also want to know that they really want it.

Q. Are there things that you have particularly low tolerance for?

A. People who play office. They come in to basically play the corporate game — here are my PowerPoints, here’s my pitch, and I’m going to pound you with my corporate-speak until you acknowledge my point of view. But if you want to have a conversation and interest me in what it is you need to get the win, then I’m incredibly interested in you.

I also have a problem with wasting time. You need people who have a sense of urgency and passion, and they come in with a desire and a stated goal, they have a point of view, and they’re looking for some support because they’ve got a game to win. That’s what I want.

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