What I learned from Barack Obama and the SAP CEO Summit

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November 16, 2019
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November 16, 2019

What I learned from Barack Obama and the SAP CEO Summit

SAP CEO Summit 2019, Marbella, Spain


“The true measure of a leader is not what she/he takes, but what he/she gives”. SAP Ceo Bill McDermot

I like writing things down to reflect on them, so here are my notes from the conference:

Let’s start at the beginning. The SAP CEO Summit brings CEOs together in a relaxed environment. This year’s speakers included Barack Obama, 44th president of the USA,  Anthony Joshua, Boxing champion gold medallist and Jo Melone, who built an international cosmetics brand. The attendees ranged from CEOs of billion dollar companies to startup CEOs such as myself. 


Here’s some of my biggest take-aways from the day: 


Bill McDermott, SAP CEO was my surprise highlight: 

On Leadership: 

STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING. Leadership is not about the meetings, about the agendas. Stop for a moment and think what you can do to impact the business, to change the world before you get lost in all the nitty gritty stuff”. 

“A true leader gives more than he/ she takes.” Bill McDermott



We live in times where experience is everything. Take trust: Trust is won in drops and lost in buckets. At SAP we invested in crisis management processes because when something goes wrong and we can react fast and resolve it shows our customers they can trust us. If we cannot, they will leave us. Because as trust is lost in buckets. 



On Change: “The world has never moved this slow and will never move this fast again.” Bill McDermott 

It feels like we cannot change fast enough, and yet there is so much more change coming at us. 


Anthony Joshua, World Champion Boxer and Gold Medallist

Anthony had just had a major defeat in the world championship from a complete underdog. He was thus asked a lot of questions regarding how to deal with defeat (as well as successes). His answers: 

“Don’t let success get to your head. Don’t let failure get to your heart”. Anthony Joshua

Asked how it felt to win the Olympic gold medal, he responded: It was not the gold medal that I remember feeling much. It was much more the many many sacrifices, the many small decisions that led up to that event that made it in my head. 

Also in business it is often the many small sacrifices that nobody sees that actually make your success, the success event itself is just the byproduct of them. 


Reverse Mentors

Emma Smith of Eversend shared that she has a “Reverse Mentor”, which is a 16 year old she meets regularly to keep up to date with that generation. 

Any 16-20 year old reading this who wants to become my reverse mentor? 


Bear Grylls, famous TV explorer,  on attitude:

Bear believes you can choose we can chose our attitude. He chooses a good attitude in the morning, no matter how bad he feels. Because he believes we have that choice. 


Joe Malone talked about her selling her own company and her new startup. 

She says in spite of her huge fame, the new startup was not successful at first. Then she realized that it was because she had stopped storytelling. She had started to listen to marketing advice, and implemented it even if it went against her gut. When she started storytelling again, she landed a huge success. 


“Continue one step of courage every single day, and never give up when you have a bad day.“Joe Malone 


Last speaker was Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States: 

Obama shares that he had hoped to be able to move more freely after his presidency, but he still cannot. Not because of security, but because of cellphones – people want to take selfies with him everywhere. 

Obama wouldn’t be Obama if he had not prepared some golden bits of wisdom. On what he was looking for when he chose his team: 

  1. Integrity: He looked for people who were there to serve, not for their own gain
  2. Experts: Hw tried to find people more experienced and smarter than himself
  3. Diversity: He thinks it is important to have diversity, to even bring your opponents (like Clinton) into his team, to ensure there are no blindspots, that there are all perspectives covered. What was also important to him wanted not to fulfil the gender stereotypes, where the women become family or education ministers, but in his cabinet women held traditionally male roles such as security minister. 

Obama was asked how he deals with yes sayers: 

“If you are not careful, you have people you only tell you what you want to hear – in any powerful position. 

I made a conscious move to tell everybody on my team:

Everybody makes mistakes and I will never be angry if you make an honest mistake. However , I will be very angry if I’m not the first you come to when you discover you made that mistake” 


Lastly, Obama talked about singing Amazing Grace in front of the entire world. The Moderator asked him how he knew how to respond so skillful to the tragedy. 

Obama responded that there comes a point in leadership, when you no longer act out of fear. You feel secure. That’s when you respond in your best to crisis, because you react real. 


He leaves us with a strong call to action: “every companies responsibility is towards its shareholders, customers. You have to make a profit. Yet I am concerned if we don’t spend time, energy and effort thinking about how #inclusiveCapitalism looks like we will see social breakdown”.


Lastly, Bill summarized the event with the words i already shared at the beginning, but i’ll share them again because i really really love the sentence: 

The true measure of a leader is not what she/he takes, but what he/she gives to the world”


SAP CEO Summit 2019, Marbella, Spain


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