Rumours of early SAP CEO departure divide analysts

The rumoured early resignation of SAP AG’s co-Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Hasso Plattner, and the assumption of full control of the company by his counterpart, Henning Kagermann, has analysts divided on whether that would be good or bad for Europe’s largest software company.

The 58-year-old Plattner may step down before his contract expires in late 2004, and SAP is already preparing for Kagermann to run the ERP (enterprise resource planning) software maker, according to a Friday report in the Financial Times Deutschland newspaper, citing sources close to the company.

Evidence of that would be the fact that Kagermann will deliver the opening keynote at SAP’s user conference Sapphire in Lisbon next month, with Plattner scheduled to speak a day later. Also, Kagermann is talking more to the media, with interviews appearing in the Economist and the Financial Times Deutschland.

“This is only speculation and noisemaking,” commented Markus Berner, a spokesman for SAP, based in Walldorf, Germany. “We have two CEOs.”

Industry analysts say they had not heard about a possible early retirement for Plattner, but aren’t surprised.

“I would not blame him and it won’t be a tremendous upheaval for SAP. They don’t have to go out and bring somebody in, they have Kagermann in place. My guess would be that Kagermann has a lot of influence already on how SAP is run at the moment,” said Marianne Kolding research director European services at IDC.

Forrester Research BV Senior Analyst Charles Homs said putting SAP in the hands of Kagermann would be “an unwise move.” Kagermann is not the flamboyant and visionary leader that a company like SAP needs, according to Homs, who likens Plattner to Oracle Corp.’s Larry Ellison and Microsoft Corp.’s Bill Gates.

“Kagermann would focus on the running of the company, but as soon as he gives a speech you feel like you landed in a university auditorium. I don’t see Kagermann as a replacement for Plattner,” Homs said. “Kagermann is more a chief operating officer than a chief executive officer.”

Being at the helm of a large software company, according to Homs, is not “only about money and how effective the developers are, but also about carrying out a vision and being a missionary.”

IDC’s Kolding believes Kagermann would do fine. “As long as he can listen to visionaries, he does not need to be one,” she said. “He has been around for awhile and knows exactly what is happening at SAP.”

Plattner is the last of five former IBM Corp. employees who founded SAP in 1972 still active at the company. In an interview with leading German daily the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung late last year he said he had almost 10 years to go before matching the retirement age of former General Electric Co. CEO Jack Welch.

“Currently the things we are doing are too exciting that someone would change from for the improvement of a golf handicap,” Plattner said.