Shai Agassi leaves SAP
SAP has announced that Shai Agassi is leaving the company with effect from 31 March. He will be retained as a consultant to the board, but said he will spend most of his time pursuing other interests connected with alternative energy sources, environmental policy and the future of Israel, his native country. Agassi was an executive board and leader of product development, technology and industry solutions. He was widely perceived as the heir apparent to Henning Kagermann, the current CEO.

OVUM. David Bradshaw


The event that precipitated Agassi's exit, according to chairman of the board Hasso Plattner, was the extension of Kagermann's contract as CEO for two years - when SAP's policy is that executives over 60 should get extensions of only one year at a time. Plattner had discussed what role Agassi might take after Kagermann's eventual departure, and the role Plattner had suggested was that of co-CEO with Leo Apotheker, currently head of customer solutions and operations (and who now will step up to become deputy CEO). According to Plattner's statement in the press release, Agassi was 'not comfortable committing to a 10- to 15-year period, which was not in keeping with his personal career timeline'.

SAP board politics aside, what does this mean for the company, its competitors and its customers? The most damaging possibility for SAP would be that Agassi could be tempted back into the software world to lead a competitor. When asked if there was a non-compete clause in Agassi's contract, Plattner seemed to imply there wasn't. Instead he said that Agassi has ruled this out completely.

Even without Agassi going to a competitor, this is still a big loss for SAP. He was a charismatic and visible driving force for change within the company. He championed the development and adoption of its NetWeaver architecture, making it key to SAP's future as well as a vital part of its product, marketing and competitive strategy going forward. There's no lack of talent in SAP without him - indeed there are plenty of capable hands to grasp the career opportunities that such a senior departure throws up - but some of the excitement will be gone. Kagermann's oft repeated mantra, that SAP is good at doing the boring stuff, could come to apply to the company itself as well as its software.

From a competitive point of view, there's no immediate change. SAP may lose a few deals that Agassi's force of personality could have saved, but not many - customers make most of their decisions on rational, financial and functional criteria. But clearly, competitors will seek to use his departure against SAP. No doubt some will be calling Agassi to come talk...

From the customer's viewpoint, the only change is that SAP's user conferences will get duller. Agassi is a great speaker who could make the most turgid and boring material into a riveting presentation. But from the customer's viewpoint, the company's strategy, products and roadmap remain unchanged.