May - 2006 - issue > Leadership
Harish Revanna
Wednesday, May 3, 2006
There is something about Martin Prinz that is intrinsically distinct, or rather divided. Given the fact that his designation is shared with Georg Kniese, he often holds distinct-perspectives on any topic. Lets say, leadership. He says, “Good leaders not just lead but manage.” We say, vision. He says, “Execution is better appreciated than vision.” We say, recognition. He says, “There is downside to every recognition.” We say, lonely-at-the-top. He says, “Georg is with me.”

It is eight-years since Martin Prinz, Joint Managing Director of SAP Labs, moved to India and the fountain of his energy and commitment springs from the same Bangalore campus that he helped set up some four-years back. As he laddered up from being a development manager to joint managing director, the techie transitioned from the inner sanctum of his cabin to become more so of a people’s man—and is still trying. And this involvement has not just energized him, but also recharged his employees in turn motivating the entire SAP Labs India. Today, Prinz is spearheading this two-way energizer mechanism to make SAP a very exciting place to work. And his philosophy: “aloof leaders are more lonelier than the one who enjoys being with people.”

2500-employees is what SAP has witnessed in India. Prinz, the man behind this growth engine believes that this continued momentum in some ways makes him feel like a starter every time. “You start new every time when you set up a new location, office and manage new employees,” he says. Growth has brought the responsibility of shouldering quality on Prinz. And along side is the turn-around-every-stone-everyday strategy that Prinz wants to implement as the next step of efficiency and technical innovations. “Considering the sheer growth of India center, it is hard to lean back and turn around on my swivel chair,” he notes. Interestingly, like his last name sounds: Prinz likes to be on the war footing. He often expects the same from his employees just to get his intolerance to flood. “I was very intolerant in the start… I wanted results and no excuses from anyone,” he says.

Intolerance in performance has not made him look like an eccentric, though he is an executioner. He says, “Putting up vision and getting people excited is good, but better than good would be to execute and deliver results.” Prinz attributes some of his learning to the football game he played as a youngster in Germany. “A football captain should find the right chemistry in the team and help them gel, it is the same in any business as well,” he says. “You cannot succeed at play having a charismatic leader with a vision. Nothing falls from sky.” Prinz may not answer to your call as a leader, visionary or strategist, he may not even talk about what he does to achieve a great thing, but sure portrays, and loves to talk about, the winning gut of an athlete: hard work, practice, performance, sustenance, teamwork and confidence.

Such ingredients are what Prinz is really passionate about and believes these will develop a common pride among employees. However, it is this transfer of passion that took a while for Prinz to get it right in India. And there is a story behind it. When Prinz moved in as the joint managing director he dwelt more on the desk job of checking emails, spreadsheets et al. He kept all the passion limited to his administrative role, to realize soon that if he doesn’t proactively percolate his passion to connect with people, then sooner or later there will be a problem. Since then Prinz has chalked out various face-to-face meetings with all his team members and tried to do the ice breakings. “This took time merely because of the cultural difference between India and Germany. And my being German, I expected more hands on and independent functioning like it usually happens among German engineer,” he says. Prinz, today, feels that there needs to be a lot of handholding and guidance for Indian engineers until certain time. And this could possibly be due to the apparent differences in average age between a German and Indian, i.e. 29:24—which leads to obvious maturity level differences in understanding work and career paths.

Passion, says Prinz, is not something one can fake. “If you are not passionate about what you want to do, then employees will know you are faking,” he says. Prinz demands anything communicated within the company to be feelers of sort. Parties, events and forums are few of the feelers that he is nowadays busy with. But geeks hardly party, and so Prinz struck a chord with Code-Olympics for them. Code-Olympics is one such Friday-to-Sunday night event that gets all the geeks voluntarily to jam up at SAP’s swanky campus and challenge some of the software coding problems.

Prinz’s conviction is that great developments are yet to come from SAP Labs India. He says, “Healthy competition has made SAP employees communicate across channels at different business units eventually increasing innovation. And innovation has identified large tracts of untapped potential within SAP.” Serendipitously, this has also gotten employees out of silos and comfort zones to bridge the gaps and expose themselves to newer ideas. Interestingly, Prinz has avoided any kind of monetary perks to such achievers and participants. “Money spoils the show,” he says. Rewards and recognition is something Prinz handles very cautiously. “There are ill feelings when there are rewards and recognitions done publicly. Not because of jealousness, but it is impossible to get 100 percent accuracy in judging who’s winning. And who’s contribution went into solving a problem,” he says. At times, Prinz also thinks monetary competition could lead to a Dolphin Show Syndrome—a situation at Disney Land where Dolphins performs only when you feed them.

Dolphins are not what Prinz wants to make out of his employees, but inherently motivated people. He sure believes in appreciating good work and that is a risk which he thinks should be taken publicly. “Managers can’t keep sitting on the fence and weigh the pros and cons of their actions. They need to make decisions and take the team along. And that transforms them to leaders,” he says. For which, you don’t have to read management theories, but just follow your intuition based upon external and internal facts. Incidentally, Prinz is not all gung ho about management theories these days. “They are like different religions, languages and customs in the world; you pick one out of the choices but not one is necessarily true,” he says.

Truth is what Prinz has learnt in the hard way: if you have to succeed in India then get the growth map of both your organization and your employees. Have a bar on the collaborative and co-operating mindset. And, don’t waste time convincing the wrong people. Take the willing people in, crank the boat and set your sail.
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