Dietmar Hopp – The Driving Force Behind SAP’s Culture

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Visionary leader, innovator, and philanthropist Dietmar Hopp celebrated a milestone birthday last week. The ERP giant’s co-founder, former CEO, and Supervisory Board Chairman turned 80 on April 26th.  “Vadder Hopp,” as he is fondly referred to by employees, is credited for being the mastermind behind SAP’s culture and values. In this article, we look at the SAP co-founder’s beginnings, his impact on SAP’s culture, and his current endeavors.

Beginnings

Dietmar Hopp—the youngest of four children— was born in Baden Württemberg, Southern Germany in a family living in deprivation and hardship. Being born into an impoverished household, the SAP co-founder’s early motivations in life were driven by the desire to earn and prosper, which is what led him to take up telecommunications engineering at the University of Karlsruhe. This further propelled him to a system consultant position at IBM, a company he believed offered the best opportunities in terms of monetary gains. 

It was while working at IBM that he developed a vision to create a business software system that utilized real-time computing in data processing. In 1972, after being told that their enterprise-wide software project was being canceled, he left the company together with his four colleagues and co-founders (Hans Werner Hector, Klaus Tschira, Claus Wellenreuther, and Hasso Plattner) to launch what would become one of the largest provider of enterprise application software worldwide.

Shaping SAP’s Culture

Hopp emphasized the importance of technical innovation as the building blocks for SAP’s culture. To achieve this, the SAP co-founder believed that investing in employees’ well-being is imperative:

“Its top managers had operated from the very beginning by creating as flat a hierarchy as possible to create an internal environment where people could take risks and try new ideas of their own choosing. If mistakes occurred or projects didn’t work out, employees were given the freedom to try a different approach. Hard work, teamwork, openness and speed were the norms of their culture.”

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He cultivated a supportive work culture of openness and trust which resulted in employees who were 100% committed to SAP’s mission of creating superior software products and becoming the leader in technological innovation. It was Hopp’s belief that employees were the voice of the customer and so it was necessary that the company ensured that they are enabled to contribute and that they feel valued so that they are able to produce the best work they can.

This commitment to enhancing employee experience and well-being was (and still is) a key part of SAP’s core business strategy. This is mirrored in the numerous employee awards the company has received. In 2018, SAP won 175 awards. Last year, they won the “Best Places to Work Award” from Glass Door, and was named “Number One Best Place to Work” in Germany. Employees enjoy a number of well-being programs such as:

  • Onsite Health Services (medical and psychological services, emergency management, & health training)
  • Health Ambassador Network that covers 90% of its global workforce
  • Parent Support programs (daycare programs and on-site childcare facilities, parent coaching classes, and generous paid family leaves)
  • Flex Appeal Program in the US (flexible work hours that can be applied in cases of personal circumstances)
  • Dinner to Go Program (provision of healthy meals that can be ordered via the “SAP Dinner to Go” app)
  • Mental Health & Emotional Well-Being Program
  • Search Inside Yourself (mindfulness and emotional intelligence workshops)

Dietmar Hopp’s Current Endeavors

The SAP co-founder has distributed around $900M to various causes close to his heart through the Dietmar Hopp Stiftung, a private charitable foundation he established in 1995. These causes include medical, sports, educational and social programs. The foundation’s funds mainly come from Hopp’s SAP shares, and contributes €1.5 million yearly to the Heidelberg Institute, in support for HI-STEM research.

He has also become a significant biotechnology investor. Recently, he was reported to be one of the largest shareholders for German drugmaker CureVac—a biotech firm on a mission to develop a coronavirus vaccine. He has invested a total of $189 million into the company according to CB Insights.

An avid sports fan, Hopp also has investments placed in the TSG 1899 Hoffenheim soccer club, the Adler Mannheim hockey team and the Rhine-Neckar Lowen handball team.

Dietmar Hopp has received a number of awards for his philanthropy and contributions to social enterprises.

Awards Received

  • 2010 Initiative Award in recognition of his public service in the Rhine-Neckar region
  • Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesverdienstkreuz am Bande)
  • Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (Verdienstorden 1. Klasse)
  • 2019 Honorary Award for his social engagement
  • Honorary citizen of Walldorf and St. Leon-Rot

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