Les Hayman, global HR director for SAP says that taking time out from the
function and branching out into more generalist areas is the most effective way
to pick up useful skills. By Lindsay
People who really want to make it in HR should leave the HR department – at
least for a while.
Stark advice this may be, but Les Hayman, the global HR director of Europe’s
largest software company, said it is the only way to break the schism between
personnel and business strategy.
Hayman, who has 40 years of experience as a programmer, running his own
business and leading SAP’s Asia Pacific region, believes HR professionals have
too little experience of real business problems, and will not attain
board-level influence until they roll up their sleeves and help to solve some.
"It is critical that HR professionals understand business basics,"
he said. "People in HR wanted to do things because it was the right thing
to do, because this was the direction that HR was taking. But in many cases, I
could not see how it would help me run my business.
"I’ve been pushing my HR people out into the field, into software
development – not as business partners, but working in the business, looking to
solve non-HR business issues," he added. "It is critical that they
get a business environment, and not just the HR environment."
In just over 30 years, SAP has grown to become the world’s third largest
software company that is independent of any hardware providers. Starting out
with five former IBM employees in 1972, it now employs around 29,000 people.
But such growth would be impossible without hiring and developing the right
people, Hayman said.
"Our whole survival is based on the quality and capability of our
people – there is nothing else," he said. "We don’t make money out of
property or out of making tools. What we sell is intellectual capital, and
business transformation based on that."
Because of this drive to develop talent, HR is now being reorganised as a
global unit, with dual reporting lines to national businesses and direct to the
corporate headquarters. Only by thinking about HR in this way can you really
deliver for a global business, Hayman said.
"HR has to become part of the business strategy and business direction
rather than being responsive to what the business asks for," he said.
"That is the tough step for HR to take. To do it effectively it has to
This view has created a new perspective on outsourcing – one of the more
controversial trends in IT in recent years. It involves creating offshore
business units for software development, predominantly in India, China and
eastern Europe, and often in a drive to reduce costs.
This year, SAP intends to hire 1,500 new employees, and 500 of these new
jobs will be in India, adding to the 1,000 developers already working there.
Critics have argued it will inevitably damage the development of high-tech
skills in the UK, but Hayman disagrees.
"If you think of yourself as an international company, then it is
offshoring, but if you think of yourself as a global company, then it is global
sourcing – that is what we tend to call it," he said. "We have
development centres in Japan, Canada, the US, Bulgaria and China as well as in
India. We tend to look at where we can get talent, rather than where we can get
"India may be inexpensive now, but it will not be in five or 10 years’
time. What you have to do is source talent where it is available, and India is
a rich source of talent. There are more educated young people than there are
jobs available. So you can go into the job market and have a really good choice
of sharp, young people," he added. "In India, when we advertise for a
job, we get 6,000 CVs."