Why SAP goes the extra mile to help a neighbour
Support matters at SAP and staff at the German software giant’s Galway campus place great emphasis on the trust the company instils in them and their community
Denis McGauran, Susan Moran, Yvonne McArdle, Emer Neville, Katarzyna Korzeniec (Kasia) and Hayden Simpson of SAP Galway
Located on the outskirts of Galway city, global software giant SAP’s Galway campus has made itself an integral part of the community since it first opened its doors there in 2003. The company’s west of Ireland operations have mushroomed in the intervening years, as the need for talent has grown, and now comprises three buildings, employing more than 700 staff. With 63 nationalities and more than 47 languages spoken, this is a company with an inclusive culture that can be felt the second you walk through the doors.
SAP’s operation in Galway is a support centre for its SME and multinational enterprise sectors. It also has teams responsible for support, cloud services, IT support, technical writing, e-learning, translations, license auditing and partner services.
At lunchtime, the canteen is a hive of activity and has the feel of a school dining hall, not least because of the age profile. Seventy per cent of SAPs new recruits are fresh-faced graduates who eagerly buy into the SAP culture of getting on board and getting involved.
The company originally set up an operation in the Citywest Business Campus in Dublin in 1997, after “a lot of seeds had been planted by the IDA”, says SAP Ireland managing director, Liam Ryan.
“The IDA had been knocking on SAP’s door for about 10 years before they made the decision to set up in Ireland. SAP had been growing at an exceptional rate in the mid-1990s. We had just released a product called R/3 and it was taking the market by storm. They were seeking locations to help with support and services and looked to Ireland. It was chosen on the back of Ireland’s telecoms infrastructure, availability of talent and our costs,” he says.
After its initial launch in Dublin, SAP then looked at placing global support for Business One into Ireland too and the company was encouraged to look outside of Dublin. Galway was chosen, mostly due to the availability of multilingual talent. That was in 2003, and now, as well as the 700 people in Galway, the Dublin operation has about 1,400 personnel.
The average length of service in SAP is high and Ryan believes this is due to the fact the company provides engaging work for staff, with 85 per cent of them dealing with customers on a daily basis.
If you’re asked by a colleague to help them out, you will stop and help. That’s part of SAP culture worldwide
“We have a great culture and work ethic which revolves around customers’ needs. We also have a great support structure within the company, so you’ll never be left on your own. We really promote that. If you’re asked by a colleague to help them out, you will stop and help. That’s part of SAP culture worldwide,” he says.
Aside from this, Ryan believes the company’s interaction within the community provides a very valuable “feel-good factor” for staff. “We have a Community Involvement Forum and our social and sports clubs are very active in the community. Everybody at some stage will be involved in charitable work.
“The SAP Foundation projects are decided upon by employees – these are projects in their local communities that staff feel deserve financial support. We also get involved in volunteering, with each staff member allotted eight hours of time per year to volunteer in the community – that could be a beach-clean or painting a school,” he says.
In summer 2017, the company announced the creation of 150 more jobs in both Dublin and Galway, something that was greatly welcomed in the Galway community. Job creation is always celebrated in the regions but the Galway community knows more staff translates to more community involvement from this company that is willing to go the extra mile to help its neighbour.
Here’s an introduction to some members of SAP Galway's professional family.
EMEA HR business partner and diversity ambassador
Doran, who is Canadian, supports leaders who have organisations across EMEA but she also serves as the company’s diversity ambassador.
While she describes the latter as a “side gig”, in addition to her main role, this is an area she loves being involved in. SAP focuses on four key areas when it comes to diversity: its Autism at Work programme; gender equality; LGBTQ, which was set up this year; and lastly generational diversity, which is everything from early talent to older generations. Doran explains how they set up the LGBT network recently.
“We had a person who joined us because he had heard about the inclusivity of LGBT in SAP. Then he moved to Ireland and found we didn’t have a chapter. With his support we discovered there was a need and an appetite for it and that people wanted to see more formal events and the highlighting of that area of the population.”
As part of this, the company held a talk recently with GAA player Donal Óg Cusack and Tom Loeffert, SAP UK HR director, both members of the LGBT community, discussing their life stories and what it is that made them successful.
“It was the two of them talking about how to bring your true and authentic self to work and how to overcome adversity,” Doran says.
Meanwhile, SAP has a global goal to have 1 per cent of employees with autism hired and currently employs seven people on the autistic spectrum. Doran was responsible for setting up the Autism at Work programme.
“This is about getting organisations to understand how effective it can be. We have had great success with the programme because we have managers who are open-minded to the skills these people can bring to the organisation. There are still a lot of barriers to employment for people who are on the autistic spectrum. If we remove barriers, we find employees who are skilled, loyal and can add an enormous amount of value to the business.”
Head of global licence auditing services
Originally from Derry, Hayden Simpson moved to Galway when he married a native of the city. His background is in banking but he always had his sights set on a job in SAP. “I’d heard great things about the company culture, which is hugely important to me. I kept plugging away, going for interviews and I finally got in at management level.”
Simpson now heads up a team of 40 people in Global Licence Auditing Services. Aside from that, he is chairperson of the Community Involvement Forum, managing its budget for community activities. One of SAP’s grant programmes focuses on developing digital skills in children, particularly those living in disadvantaged areas, and it’s something Simpson is heavily involved in.
Speaking of one local group which SAP funds, he says: “This community group is located in an area of Galway that has 33 nationalities – a really diverse community right on our doorstep. Most are bilingual but they might see that as a disadvantage. They don’t realise that 3km away, being bilingual is a huge advantage to them. All they need to do is get the digital skills and then they’re highly employable.
“I’ve done career workshops with them, explaining that there are so many opportunities open to them, as they already have a second language.”
SAP is also involved in EU Code Week, with 55 company volunteers, including Simpson, teaching coding in 14 schools.
Following on from that, the company organises for volunteers to travel to Africa as part of Africa Code Week. Last year, Simpson travelled to Mauritius to teach children there, an experience he would never have thought possible.
“This is something good and you’re giving back. You get a buzz that the company supports you too. The MD is such a big fan and senior management buy in to it. When you’ve done it once, you want to keep doing it,” he says.
Chief of staff for global channels and general business
Emer Neville started with SAP as a University of Limerick (UL) graduate of new media and English in 2008. She never thought a job in software was on the cards but instead had her sights set on becoming a journalist.
“I met SAP in my second year, when I was doing a co-operative placement that UL offers. I organised the Careers Fair and I met SAP recruiters at that. They informed me they took graduates of English literature, which wasn’t very common at the time, so I kept in touch with them and just before I graduated they offered me a one-year placement,” she says.
Starting on the technical writing team, she was creating user interface documentation, before moving into a start-up entry role. Now Neville holds a senior role as chief of staff for global channels and general business.
Neville travels 50-60 per cent of the time, something she sees as a huge perk of the job. “I’m able to base myself in Ireland and travel the world as part of my career. I veered against doing the whole gap year thing and said I’d go ahead with my career and SAP has rewarded me for that,” she says.
She took on the role of chairperson of the sports and social group at a very early stage in her career, as well as working on the graduate programme – a lot of interns have followed her path.
“When I graduated in 2008, most of my class was going to places like Canada and Australia, but I got the opportunity to stay and then I loved the business. Even after all the cities I’ve travelled to, I still think Galway is number one in terms of culture. I’ve never struggled with work-life balance and I never have any fear of having a family, if that’s what I decide to do, as SAP genuinely looks after and pushes its leaders. A company like SAP doesn’t come around that often. I can’t see myself ever leaving,” she says.
Now in her fourth role within SAP, Yvonne McArdle says variety is just one of many reasons why she is still with the company, 12 years after she started there as a recruitment manager.
“Before SAP, I have only ever stayed two to four years in a job but for me SAP is a place where you can stay with one employer and have different career paths. You don’t ever get bored.”
As a working mother with two young children, McArdle says the fact she was promoted into a director role, whilst heavily pregnant with her first child, spoke volumes to her at the time.
“I would have thought I might not get the job because I was pregnant but I did. That made it clear to me that SAP really does support you as a working mother. I had my second child and then became HR director for SAP Ireland.”
With 33 per cent of the workforce female and 31 per cent of managers that are women, McArdle says “it is a very positive ratio for an IT company”. She says the company is “very focused on women in management” and more young girls need to be encouraged to study STEM and look at IT as a career. “Not all girls see that there is a career for them in IT and we do a lot of work to try to get that message out there,” she says.
McArdle says in SAP “employees work hard but are supported”.
“There is a strong level of trust – there is flexibility of hours and you can buy extra holidays, should you need them. My job is not 9 to 5, as I could take a call late in the evening but if I need to nip out to a parent/teacher meeting or a school play, or somebody is sick, it’s not a problem. There is trust there that you will get your job done. For me, that’s why I’m still here,” she says.
Global head of talent discovery
Previously a secondary school teacher of French, Moran says she knew teaching would not be a life-long career for her.
Instead she left her teaching position to take up a six-month contract with an IT company. Fast forward to today and she is globally responsible for the delivery of SAP’s talent programmes.
SAP now takes about 150 interns a year, from third year in university, with an aim to hire 70 per cent of them upon completion. “We put them through a rigorous interview process and learning experience. Our Co-operative Learning Programme starts in second year, we put them through two years, with dual learning and we want to retain all of these people as we invest significantly in them. Invariably we do achieve that,” Moran says.
She is passionate about getting the talent that is needed and in turn making sure universities are turning out graduates with the skills needed, including computing, language and leadership skills.
She says she has continually been pushed out of her comfort zone by the company. “They are strong in terms of identifying leaders. We have a global goal of 25 per cent women in leadership by 2017 and we’ve achieved that because there’s a focus on it,” she says.
Moran says part of this is getting more girls interested in STEM subjects, but from an early age, not just at university level.
“By that stage the subjects are chosen. It’s about what they see at home too and we need to encourage and educate parents, as there is a lot of fear around technology. For that reason, we work with a lot of transition year students and of course things like CoderDojo helps too,” she says.
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