Jets GM, SAP co-CEO share game plans for winning
A picture hangs in Bill McDermott’s basement that his son
treasures more than any other.
It’s the one prominently displayed in the pool room of the
family’s Philadelphia-area home with 18-year-old Michael McDermott
posing next to New York Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum.
”That was the first time I ever took my son to meet another
executive or sports figure, and the first thing I asked Mike to do
was to take a picture with my son,” said Bill McDermott, the
co-CEO of SAP and a die-hard Jets fan. ”Michael’s a huge fan as
well and he just loves that picture.”
As a leader at one of the top providers of business software,
McDermott has rubbed shoulders with some of the biggest names in
his field and shaken hands with a who’s who of sports figures: John
Wooden, Ernie Els, Oscar Robertson and Gary Player, to name a few.
A passion for sports runs deep in McDermott’s blood. After all, his
late grandfather, Bobby, is a member of the Basketball Hall of
So when an eager Tannenbaum called a few months ago to set up a
meeting at SAP’s North American headquarters in Newtown Square,
Pa., McDermott jumped at the chance to exchange thoughts on
leadership and business philosophies.
”In running an organization, I think there are a lot of
parallels, which is why I felt so fortunate that Bill allowed me to
come down there and spend a few hours with him,” Tannenbaum said.
”Ultimately, it’s about people, it’s about dreams and it’s about
goals, and it may be business software or trying to win a Super
Bowl, but I think there are more parallels than there aren’t.”
The three-hour meeting in late-May spawned an instant friendship
between one man who has led his company to five straight quarters
of double-digit economic growth since taking over and another who
hopes to deliver on his team’s goal of winning a long-awaited
second Super Bowl title – and first since McDermott rooted for
Broadway Joe as a kid growing up in New York.
”I’ve never enjoyed any meeting, on an interpersonal level,
more than my meeting with Mike Tannenbaum,” McDermott said by
phone from Germany, where SAP’s global headquarters is located.
”Not one. That’s saying something.”
The high praise is mutual.
”Bill’s a remarkable guy who has walked with giants,”
Tannenbaum said. ”I know I’m better off because of that
McDermott and Tannenbaum were so comfortable with each other,
that a few minutes in, the talk turned to McDermott suggesting what
Tannenbaum could do to improve the Jets’ roster.
”Mike actually humored me and was interested in my opinion,”
said a laughing McDermott, who watched the AFC championship game
against Pittsburgh while he was in China by using Slingbox.
Turns out, Tannenbaum thought McDermott was right on with most
of his assessments. And he wasn’t surprised after watching the man
”Bill’s attention to detail is fascinating,” Tannenbaum said.
”It’s a multibillion dollar corporation and just how everybody is
treated in that building and the eye contact and the morale, it was
just very apparent to me that everybody was going in the same
As an NFL general manager, the 42-year-old Tannenbaum knows
better than to be complacent. That’s why he has reached out to
several top business executives during the last few offseasons. He
has met with Kevin Plank, the CEO and founder of Under Armour;
Frank Bisignano, the chief administrative officer at J.P. Morgan
Chase; and even three-time national title-winning coach Jim Calhoun
of the University of Connecticut. Tannenbaum also has been able to
glean leadership skills for years from his own boss, Jets owner
Woody Johnson, whose family founded Johnson & Johnson.
”I’ve filled up yellow pads with information, things I’ve
learned from everyone I’ve met with,” Tannenbaum said. ”I have an
affirmative obligation to Woody and the franchise that, are we
doing everything we possibly can to be the best franchise in the
world? I really did look at the NFL lockout as an opportunity to
get out of our comfort zones and get out of our routines. This was
an opportunity for us to get better.”
Since Tannenbaum took over as GM in 2006, the Jets have been to
the playoffs three times – including reaching the AFC championship
the last two seasons with Rex Ryan as coach.
”You look at our stadium, look at this facility, look at Rex
and look at Mark Sanchez,” Tannenbaum said. ”The foundation is
there to truly be the golden era of this franchise and I want us to
leave footprints for a long, long time. That’s our goal.”
A lot of that success can be traced to Tannenbaum’s aggressive
approach to free agency and willingness to make tough deals,
sometimes parting ways with popular and productive players with an
eye always on the future. McDermott has gone so far as to call the
Jets his ”role models.”
”I’ve been with the Jets since the 1960s and I’ve suffered
through some very tough years with them,” McDermott said. ”What
I’ve seen Mike Tannenbaum, Rex Ryan and Woody Johnson do is nothing
short of just stunning. I think if you compare that to any
turnaround, whether it’s sports or business, it’s truly a case
study in excellence. I wanted to learn from Mike, and I have.”
The 49-year-old McDermott often talks about how an organization
believing that anything is possible is a key to accomplishing its
mission. That’s why he was so fired up, just as so many other Jets
fans were, when Ryan declared at his introductory press conference
in 2009 that the team would win the Super Bowl.
”A leader owes an organization a couple of things: a vision
about what they can be and a winning strategy,” McDermott said.
”I give them unbelievable marks for the vision and changing
people’s minds for what the New York Jets could become.”
McDermott is a straight shooter, much like his favorite team’s
coach, and took a unique path to success. He bought and ran a deli
on Long Island as a teenager, and showed a knack for doing things
in an unorthodox way when he caught someone shoplifting and ended
up hiring that person as an employee. McDermott later was the
youngest person to become a division leader at Xerox, and
eventually landed at SAP America in 2002 – and promptly replaced 13
of the 14 people who reported to him directly.
McDermott became SAP’s co-CEO in February 2010 and had his
contract extended this week through June 2017 along with colleague
Jim Hagemann Snabe. He recalled how the company was thriving
globally when he first arrived, except in the Americas.
”It had let the company down in 24 of 25 quarters, and there
were five CEOs in six years,” he said. ”So, I go to a kickoff
meeting in New Orleans and I basically tell them that we’re going
to double the business in five years and we’re going to do in five
years what it took the other guys 20 years to do.”
A deafening silence followed. Well, except for two senior
executives sitting in the front.
”They were snickering as if to say, `I guess we’ll have a sixth
CEO in seven years after that speech,”’ McDermott said. ”Instead
of letting it go, I looked at them and talked to them and said,
`You are the very reason I am here, because I will never let anyone
rob this team of their dreams ever again.’ That was a magic moment
because it was calling out the senior people. It’s never the
players. It’s always something wrong with the leadership or the
management of an organization.”
That’s an approach something that can be applied, McDermott and
Tannenbaum say, from the biggest of businesses to the smallest.
”To me, it says so much, and that’s what we’re trying to
encapsulate here, that we’re going to try to give every player that
comes here the chance to be successful and work in a collaborative
way and that their success is our success,” Tannenbaum said.
”That’s where the business software and players like a LaDainian
Tomlinson truly have alignment in that they all have dreams. As
leaders, our job is to help them get there and enable that to
Tannenbaum will have plenty of big decisions to make when the
lockout ends. The Jets have several big-name players scheduled to
become free agents, including Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and
Antonio Cromartie, and McDermott has already, of course, presented
Tannenbaum his wish list.
”I would advise any of the players, if you want my true gut
opinion on this, to not screw around for small change when you’ve
got a chance to play for the Super Bowl-winning New York Jets”
said McDermott, throwing in his own Namath and Ryan-like guarantee.
”That’s something you can carry around with you for a lifetime,
long after you’ve blown a lot of cash. So, if I was advising any of
these players, I’d say they should re-sign with Mike Tannenbaum as
quickly as you can.”