Member of the SAP Executive Board and Head of Customer Success
At SAP, we believe that when you bring everything you are, you can become everything you want.
I love telling people that I work for SAP.
Very few people receive their inheritance before they reach adulthood. But the kid from Ballarat, in the Central Highlands region of Victoria, Australia, was actually in primary school when he got his.
It wasn’t a property portfolio. It wasn’t blue-chip shares. It wasn’t crisp currency notes. It wasn’t a gold nugget, despite the inland city’s history as the central focus of a mid-19th century gold rush. It was a job. And Scott Russell, who was only 11 years old at the time, inherited it from his brother, five years his senior.
"I was a paperboy," he says. "My brother had done it for the local newsagent in Ballarat for six years and decided to give it up. He was an old hand at it and very experienced. I was the rookie. But I did it until I was 15, rain, hail or shine, six days a week. I got chased and bitten by dogs, had a few close calls with road accidents, had plenty of poor weather but I kept working.
My first task every morning was to cycle to the newsagent, where I learnt how to roll and wrap the newspapers really quickly. I never missed a day. There were only about 5-10 times in all those years when my father drove me if I wasn’t able to do it on my bike, mainly when it was raining heavily and it was so wet that it would wreck the papers.
It was a relatively affluent area, so there were lots of multi-storey houses, and my favorite trick was being able to throw the papers accurately. Or, depending on each home owner’s preference, I’d place the newspaper at the front doorstep to make sure it was in exactly the right spot. My Christmas tip was the result of providing good service six days a week, 52 weeks a year. Apart from work ethic, it also taught me to understand what a customer wants and their different expectations. I took a lot of care, from rolling the paper and wrapping it precisely, to delivering it as well, to keeping it clean and dry. These details mattered when people opened up their newspapers each morning. Was it easy to read, or was it a bit bent? It had to be just right.
It taught me about being timely, but also gave me a sense of responsibility. If people didn’t get their morning paper, especially 30 or 40 years ago, then it would literally change their day. So you impacted people’s lives in a very basic way. It was a work discipline and form of independence for me, and probably the start of the foundation of why I worked in business."
In view of those lessons, what does the boy from Ballarat think about sitting in the President’s chair?
"It’s an honor and it’s very humbling," he says frankly. "In fact, an SAP Catalyst said to me, ‘Scott, you’re a very outgoing, extroverted person, so you can communicate easily, but I’m more of an introvert and I find it very hard even to speak in this forum.’ I think it took him a lot of courage to raise it. He asked, ‘Have you always been that way, or have you changed?’ It was a really interesting question. He wanted to understand a little bit more about who I was.
I told him that early in my childhood I was quite shy and reserved, but things like the paper run helped me grow, although the thing that changed me the most was sport. I was a good basketball player and a reasonable (Aussie Rules) footballer. I started coaching very early, which meant I had to address not just the young players but also the parents who were really interested in what was happening with their kids. Being in a leadership position at 14 was a huge development experience. I was entrusted by the club to coach the fundamentals of a great sport, but to also have that communication responsibility as well.
At the end of the day, I simply want to be a good person who helps others achieve success, and I love being part of that journey. When I go back to Australia and I see family, I very rarely talk about what I do or the job that I’m in. I’m very proud of what I’ve been able to achieve, and I really feel humbled in the position that I have in the company. But interestingly enough, I don’t really look at it as the definition of me. The definition of me is that I’m a family man, and I have a positive impact on those whom I work with and those around me. I love the fact that the opportunity I have in this role is to have a broader impact in the community than I’ve ever been able to have before.
There are a few things that I focus on. One is simplicity in mindset, despite the fact that the world and business we operate in are inherently complex. When I joined SAP in 2010, we were a software company offering superb ERP and industry solutions. Yes, we’ve added complexity with the cloud acquisitions, but we’ve added incredible richness as well. We must look at that opportunity and not the complexity, by thinking about the benefits instead. I really think that is a mindset.
I emphasize communicating with simplicity on complex topics. At FKOM Sydney 2019, I acknowledged that while we are doing 20,000 different things in this region and we have so many moving parts, focusing on our four big bets will make a difference. First, we’re going to create the experience economy in Asia. Second, we will deliver the digital core for all businesses and enable every customer to become an intelligent enterprise. Third, we’re going to help build intelligent nations and enable digital governments. Last, we’re going to focus on our behaviors – to enable and scale the ecosystem combined with a truly customer-first action. The result is 100 per cent advocacy of both customers and partners alike!
So when I go around the region, I’ve got an anchor that people can relate to. They can say, ‘Ah yeah, I understand that because it makes sense and it’s logical. It’s not overly complicated and it’s not full of acronyms. Yes, building the experience economy, we can do that. We can get all of those customers that were on older versions of SAP and we’ll put them on the newest of SAP digital core. Yes, we can do that. Helping governments? Yeah, we can do that.’ That then becomes the platform which in turn drives belief.
I’m extremely passionate about lowering the center of gravity around authority and empowerment. I’m also very committed to operating with transparency and always telling it like it is. I firmly believe in building scale locally, because that is sustainable. Building the experience economy needs to be real in every single country that makes up APJ.
The reason why SAP has been so successful in reinventing itself is that we stuck to what we are really good at, which is business applications and solutions to solve complex business problems. We can now deploy them in a different way, on mobile, on cloud, on consumption. If we constantly evolve our technology to solve business problems, then we’ll always be relevant.
Not only do our customers see this relevance, they are acutely aware of their dependence on SAP for their businesses to run successfully. Our continuing relevance is actually reflected in their P&Ls. The CEO of one of our Japanese customers said to me, ‘Scott, I need to see you every time you come to Tokyo because I need to know that your organization – not just your products but truly your organization – is with me every step of this journey. I’m betting my company and my next wave of growth on your technology.’
We’ve got the breadth of portfolio, and I think the next step in our evolution is our ability to move into new business models. Cloud is a standard business model of today. But what about consumption? What about data as a service? Some solutions really do lend themselves to that type of business model, which is riskier from a revenue predictability, but if you map it to customer advocacy and passion, you can really drive it.
From a customer angle, when we are ‘Best Run’ it means two things in my view. One is that the solutions that we deliver are easy and simple to use and operate. This helps customers drive simplicity in their respective businesses. Second, when SAP is Best Run, the way we engage and interact with our customers is also a great experience. Be it contracting, negotiations, support or information gathering, running at our best really means that it is seamless. It’s frictionless. It’s easy to do.
Running simple ultimately leads to advocacy. If you’re great to do business with and you’re good human beings, and you’re trustworthy and transparent, and you’re also really passionate about helping customers, they’re much more likely to be loyal and much more likely to engage.
To me, running simple is also about determining what people really want in their careers. Some people want high growth in terms of the roles, but most people want to know their contribution has real purpose. They want to do something that they feel good about and that they can contribute to. We’re such a diversified company and we provide career growth and opportunities. We’re always trying to improve, driven by a mindset of ‘how do I get better?’ And that’s where purpose comes in.
When I go to a dinner party or I catch up with family, I talk about how our partnership with Komatsu helps us potentially identify how an ageing workforce in Japan impacts the construction industry. Or I talk about Code Unnati in the context of helping education opportunities in India. I cite the way that myShindo and Hakusan can produce seismic warnings when earthquakes are about to occur. That is purpose. It makes me really proud to be associated with a company that cares.
Collectively, I don’t think we can ever fully understand how important that is. This is part of the beauty of not just our heritage, but what I’d call our international breadth. SAP is the number one sustainability company on the German stock exchange. And we also report our purpose results. It goes further, too. Even as a solution, what is ERP? Well, you’re managing resources. For example, when we work with a utility company, we are able to help customers minimize the use of power or water through our technology, so there’s real purpose to what our technology offers society. That for me is one of the reasons why I’m so passionate about this company, because I do genuinely believe we run with purpose. I love telling people that I work for SAP, because I know the positive impact that we have.
The purpose agenda under the Asia Soaring strategy encapsulates all the different means that we have, whether it is CSR, One Billion Lives, employee engagement, Back-to-Work, or our digital government programs. By understanding and sharing real examples, we increase the unique feeling of community that we have. This SAP pride is tangible.
Role models are important. Theoretically, if I hadn’t chosen a profession in business, I would have coached professional basketball. Brian Goorjian (an American who played in Australia’s National Basketball League before becoming the most successful coach in NBL history) was once my junior basketball coach and he was outstanding. He taught me not only how to be a good player, but I could also see the love that he had for the sport and how he brought a group to collective success. He was tough, but I learnt so much from him. So I think that could definitely have been a career path, but the truth is that I love business too much.
Like many people, I was inspired by my parents, and in business, by my father. I always looked up to him. He is insatiable in his desire to learn, and he taught me so much in turn. My parents continue to be my moral guides. Although Dad has multiple postgraduate diplomas and degrees, for the past 60 years of his life he’s focused on community and giving back through forums such as Apex and Rotary. He currently manages a disability services business in rural Victoria and was one of five nominees for citizen of the year in my home town. He always wanted to have a positive impact on the community. And that was very inspirational.
I always have this mindset that I want to be the best version of myself, which probably helps me to be quite balanced. Undoubtedly, I look to people like Bill McDermott and what’s made him successful, but I have never tried to emulate someone else."
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