SAP Touts Executive Moves

German enterprise-applications vendor sees talent lured from rivals as a sign of its growing presence in Silicon Valley

Charles Babcock, Editor at Large, Cloud

July 2, 2005

5 Min Read

What's new is that SAP has a growing presence in Palo Alto under its product and technology group president, Shai Agassi, a 37-year-old Israeli who has started four software companies, says Jim Shepherd, an AMR Research analyst. Agassi fits easily into the valley's startup culture and is also the author of SAP's NetWeaver strategy, which is expected to give the company an integration platform for both its own applications and technology from other vendors.

Agassi, with only five years experience at SAP, is viewed as an exception to the German management style of the company. CEO Henning Kagermann "represents the southern German village culture of the company," in that he likes to read physics texts more than he likes to get into fisticuffs with competitors, says Joshua Greenbaum, an analyst at Enterprise Applications Consulting, an enterprise-resource-planning applications market-research firm. Agassi, on the other hand, "is an entrepreneur. He's very multicultural. The BS-factor is quite low," Greenbaum says.

Among the executives who've joined Agassi's team are George Paolini, a former general manager of development tools at Borland Software Corp. and former organizer of Sun Microsystems' Java Community Process. Paolini is now SAP's executive VP of platform ecosystem development, a post from which he'll try to mesh the efforts of other companies with SAP's overall direction. Neither Sun nor Borland is a direct competitor with SAP, even though SAP's press release asserts it's stealing from competitors. But what they have in common with SAP's chief competitor, Oracle, is that they're a major presence in Silicon Valley. Ditto for middleware vendor BEA Systems Inc., from where SAP lured Gordon Simpson, BEA's former deputy chief technology officer.

What SAP is trying to get people to understand is that it's now running with the big dogs, and these executives from established Silicon Valley firms believe that the company is going to win. "This place feels a lot like Oracle in the 1980s," Mehta says. "It's very energetic. There's a total can-do attitude. We believe we can build all kinds of stuff and conquer all kinds of markets."

Analyst Greenbaum says there's something to that. "Siebel is retrenching, not growing. Oracle just merged with PeopleSoft, and it needs to cull talent, not gather it," he says. "If you're betting your career, you might be more inclined to bet it on SAP."

In addition, Agassi is viewed as pushing SAP into doing enterprising things in software. "He's a rising star in the software industry," Greenbaum says.

Oracle has promised SAP a fight for dominance in applications. To veteran Silicon Valley executives, that means the opportunity to have a role in where the action is, usually a profitable place to be, win, lose, or draw.

The main reason SAP didn't boast in the past when it made hires from competitors in Silicon Valley is because it didn't have high-end positions there, AMR Research's Shepherd says. With these new executives in place, that picture is changing--and SAP is a player.

SAP wants its applications and its NetWeaver development and integration tools to become a focus for developers, other vendors, and enterprises. Much as Oracle does, SAP wants to be thought of as an ongoing platform on which companies can focus their development efforts. In taking that approach, SAP isn't so much beating Oracle as copying it, Greenbaum says.

"Oracle is the quintessence of that, for a 20-year run," he says. "SAP wants to capture that cultural coin. It now wants to be considered at the center of the ecosystem."

Illustration by Noeru Takizawa/Veer

About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

Never Miss a Beat: Get a snapshot of the issues affecting the IT industry straight to your inbox.

You May Also Like

More Insights