SAP's Sikka steps down, company reshuffles executive board

Vishal Sikka, the front man for SAP's technology and development efforts, has stepped down for personal reasons. SAP moved to build its management bench.

SAP said Sunday that Vishal Sikka, executive board member for products and innovation, has stepped down effective immediately.


Sikka, the front man for SAP efforts such as the company's cloud strategy based on HANA and the user experience, apparently left for "personal reasons." Sikka's bio on SAP's site highlights how much revolved around him:

Sikka has global responsibility for development and delivery of all products across SAP’s product portfolio including Applications, Analytics, Cloud, Database & Technology and Mobile. Sikka is also responsible for leading the design and end-user experience for SAP, and is responsible for driving all innovation globally.

To fill the void, SAP said that it will appoint Robert Enslin and Bernd Leukert to the executive board. The charge for Enslin and Leukert is to advance SAP's transition to the cloud.

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Enslin will continue to lead SAP's customer operations and Leukert, who led the effort to deliver SAP Business Suite on HANA, takes over SAP's global development.

SAP also said it will work to build its management bench and named Helen Arnold, who becomes chief information officer for SAP Group and lead cloud operations in addition to running the company's applications services, and Stefan Ries, head of human resources, to its management board.

In a statement, SAP Chairman Hasso Plattner wished Sikka good luck on the next step of his journey. Sikka made reference to an article in German publication E-3 on his personal blog and that smearing could have served as a final straw. E-3 documented an European-US rift in SAP and noted that Sikka was a "foster son" of Plattner. E-3 also likened Sikka to Shai Agassi, another tech leader who departed SAP, and speculated that Sikka's fatal flaw — and possibly co-CEO Bill McDermott's — is that he didn't understand the European way. 

Sikka's departure will be seen as a loss as he was considered to be a CEO candidate at some point. Observers are also likely to wonder if SAP remains a tale of two companies — the development teams are in Palo Alto and the corporate base is in Walldorf.

The biggest issue is this: Does SAP's research and development roadmap and the strategy around it still hold? In the short term, that approach will stick. In the long run, we'll see how the cloud, platform, mobile, and user interface approach changes. 

sap cloud model 4


Ray Wang, principal of Constellation Research, said that SAP is likely to shift from focusing on platforms to one that revolves a set of applications.

It's also likely that McDermott will be the sole CEO soon. SAP has its annual shareholder meeting May 21.

In any case, SAP's Sapphire powwow last month will add a bit more management intrigue than usual.