SAP: Pfungwa Serima

SAP: Pfungwa Serima

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When you joined SAP as CEO in 2008, what were your key goals and how far are you from achieving them?
The primary focus was to expand, specifically into West Africa, East Africa, SADEC (excluding South Africa), the Portuguese-speaking and the French-speaking African countries. In spite of the recession we have been fortunate enough to have experienced growth, and have entrenched ourselves in  these five regions.

What have been the biggest challenges in your current role and how have you overcome them?
The biggest challenges have come as a result of the recession. They lie in the ability to keep people in an environment in which the changes are very unpredictable. I think the key to overcoming this challenge is to ensure that people believe in the organisation’s objectives and to be very transparent and frank with people about the hardships and challenges of the market. The third thing is to celebrate success as it happens. Sometimes we forget to do this. Success should be celebrated not as individual triumphs but as team wins. One of the things I try to evangelise is that success is not only due to the person who eventually signs the contract – it’s about all the people in the background. Everyone plays a significant part.

What are you most proud of having achieved?
Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on how you look at it), success is determined by whether you make your numbers and I am pleased with and proud of our growth figures to date. I am also very fortunate that we have the calibre of people who work in this organisation – they understand why they come to work every day and that makes things much easier.

What do you think is the mark of a good leader?
There are two key elements in any professional life: values and performance. A good leader has to have both – they need to live the values and deliver results. Achievement of goals is vital, but you can’t compromise the organisation’s values in order to attain the desired level of performance. Other things a good leader should have are an eye and an ear for good people. One person is too small to ever achieve greatness; the people you surround yourself with will determine whether you are successful or not.

A good leader is also someone who realises that leadership develops daily, and not in a day. It’s an ongoing journey so you need to be open enough to listen to other people. Finally, in every organisation someone has to remain sane, regardless of how tough the situation is. People often comment that I appear not to be under pressure, but as a leader part of my role is to contain the pressure, manage the stress and keep a cool head.

What, in your opinion, is the key to getting the most out of people in business?
Respect and trust. People work for other people, not for organisations. If you earn people’s trust and they respect you, they will work for you.

What gets you up every morning?
Success and the ability to make a difference, both for myself and for others.

Juliet Pitman
Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.