Episode 7 - Leadership Reimagined: Transformation Tips from Jim Hagemann Snabe

Redefiners Podcast
Hosted By:
November 16, 2021 | 37 min
Jim Hagemann Snabe
Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Siemens AG
Chairman of AP Moller Maersk A/S

“I do believe leadership is about followership at the end of the game. I often say as a joke, ‘If you think you're leading and you look behind and there's no one behind you, maybe you're just out for a walk.’”

Whether he's leading from the C-Suite, chairing a Board, or authoring books on leadership, our guest Jim Hagemann Snabe is revered across industries as a master of transformation. In this insights-filled episode, Jim shares his refreshing and trailblazing leadership model that has enabled him to deftly lead transformation and change at SAP and at 100+-year-old companies, Siemens and Maersk.

We'll discuss Jim's views on reinventing from a position of strength, culture change, and navigating an unpredictable future. We'll also hear about his redefining moment in India that most deeply informed his perspective on leadership: to use leadership to help progress some of the world's problems all while running a smart business. It's been his mantra ever since. At a time when sustainable leadership is more critical than ever, Jim explains how it's as good for the balance sheet as it is for the environment, employees, and the world. This episode will leave you inspired, energized, and emboldened to dream big and unlock potential for both your organization and you.

Jim Hagemann Snabe is a leader who is always pushing the boundaries: whether it’s challenging employees to take cues from vastly different industries, getting executives and board members to fundamentally change their mindsets, or making audacious sustainability goals at one of the world's largest shippers—then exceeding them. It’s this approach that helped him lead the transformation of Siemens and Maersk (both companies more than a century old) as well as SAP, where he started as a trainee and eventually made his way to co-CEO.

We talk with Jim about his early formative experiences, his philosophy of pairing leadership with social good, and how to unleash human potential to do things that are not in the business plan. Jim will also share the four tasks, in order, of any forward-looking board.

Here’s a taste of what you’ll hear from Jim in this episode (edited for length and clarity):

Jim’s Redefiner Moment: Leading for impact, not power
My redefining moment was actually on a journey. I went to India for a week via a program with the French business school INSEAD that was about teaching global leaders about the environments and societies in which we operate companies. I met some of the richest people on the planet and some of the poorest people on the planet. I saw a 23-year-old woman who had found a way to educate young kids on construction sites in Mumbai. I realized that leadership is not about the power you have, but the impact you can have. When you have leadership, there is no problem that is too big to be solved.

I came back a completely changed person. I decided to use my leadership in companies to help make progress on some of the world’s biggest problems while of course still making a good business. And I've tried to pair those two problems ever since.

On the role of boards in transforming companies
I believe the board plays an important role in transformation. Early in my career I observed that many boards spend a lot of time looking in the rearview mirror: revisiting last quarter's results before the earnings calls, wordsmithing the CEO’s quotes. In my mind this is not a very valuable activity because the last quarter is already done. The board has an important role in creating space for a discussion around the future.

In the boardrooms I chair, my rule is we discuss the past until lunch and we discuss the future after lunch. I give management permission to decide when we have lunch, but never later than two o'clock. At the beginning of my chairmanships, lunch was a little bit late because the tradition was to dwell on the past. Nowadays we have early lunches because it's obvious that in these times of such traumatic change, we need to spend time discussing our assumptions for the future.

On sustainability and corporate leadership
The goods transportation industry is 9% of global CO2 emission, and Maersk is not insignificant.  So it was obvious we needed to do something. We asked ourselves the ambitious question, "What would it take to be zero carbon?" Not carbon neutral, which is like, "I buy some trees,” but zero carbon shipping.

In 2018 we decided in the boardroom to commit to zero carbon shipping by 2050. We were quite scared about committing to this because we did not know how to do it. Now three years later, we know how we are going to do it, and we have ordered the first vessels that will sail carbon neutral, in 2023. Which means something that seemed impossible three years ago, now three years later is going to be a reality.

So it inspires me to argue that leaders need to have the courage to dream big. And it inspires me even more to see that when human beings get such a challenge, they typically find a way.



Jim Hagemann Snabe
Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Siemens AG
Chairman of AP Moller Maersk A/S

Jim Hagemann Snabe is Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Siemens AG (D), Chairman of A.P. Moller - Maersk (DK), Vice Chairman of Allianz SE (D) and Member of the Board of C3.AI (USA). He serves as a member of the Board of Trustees at the World Economic Forum (WEF) and is an Adjunct Professor at Copenhagen Business School (CBS). He is former co-CEO of SAP AG and holds a Master’s degree in Operational Research from the University of Aarhus, Denmark.

Through his 25-year career within the IT industry, Jim Hagemann Snabe has continuously built on his experience and knowledge, starting as a Trainee in SAP AG in 1990. Throughout his career, he has held multiple leadership roles at SAP and IBM as well as leading consulting, sales, and product development organizations. He was appointed member of the Executive Board of SAP in 2008 and co-CEO of SAP AG alongside Bill McDermott in 2010.

Jim Hagemann Snabe is actively engaged in efforts related to the digital transformation of business and society. These efforts bring together policymakers, business leaders, and leaders in society to understand current issues and shape a better and more sustainable future. He is Co-author of “Dreams and Details” - a book about leadership in times of change and Co-author of “Tech for Life” - a book about putting trust back in technology as a force for good.

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If you like this episode, you may also enjoy our conversation with Joe Kaeser, President and CEO of Siemens AG.

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