If you've ever sat on an airplane next to a nervous flyer—fidgeting, sweating, casting about, praying to be anywhere in the world except where he is at that moment—then you'll know what it was like watching SAP and many of its employees for much of 2009 and January 2010.
Through no fault of their own, many of SAP's global workers were trapped during that time within their own confined and restrictive space, filled with uncertain and often unpleasant thoughts about what could happen, and worst of all feeling completely powerless to assert any control over where they were headed and what might happen along the way.
I won't rehash the whole unfortunate story but suffice to say that by the company's very own reckoning and admission, SAP had lost the trust of its customers, had tanked the morale of its employees, had stumbled in product development, and was getting hammered on revenue, earnings, market share, and reputation.
But in an extraordinary turnaround, SAP here today in mid-2010 is growing, innovating, expanding, acquiring, and recapturing the customer-side magic that made it one of the world's most powerful and admired software companies for about three decades.
And just as it's no doubt overly simplistic to try to lay all the blame for its dreadful 2009 on ousted CEO Leo Apotheker, so too would it be a bit flimsy to try to toss all of the credit onto the shoulders of co-CEOs Bill McDermott and Jim Snabe. Nevertheless, it's safe to say that without their inspired and relentless leadership, SAP would very likely still be trying to dig itself out of the very deep and cold hole into which it crawled and hunkered down in 2009.
To Snabe, I take my hat off for his confident leadership of the whole product side of SAP, typified by his giving greatly increased responsibility to SAP's outstanding CTO, Vishal Sikka, without worrying that Sikka might overshadow him. And Snabe has no doubt made many other big contributions to SAP's dramatic reversal not only among the company's vast developer ranks but also with customers and in Executive Board meetings as well.
But from my perspective, the guy who has set the tone—customer-centric in everything he does, forward-looking in his strategy, positive in his portrayal of the company's prospects, and willing to totally refashion the entire company in the image and likeness of customer requirements—co-CEO Bill McDermott gets my vote as CEO of the year.
Yes, I know, 2010's still got five months to go, and yes, I realize that a charismatic personality's nice but hardly enough. So let's look at the numbers and some other results that Snabe and McDermott, who leads SAP's global field operations, have put together per this week's earnings results: