It was a fine Monday morning as we headed towards the International Technology Park in Whitefield for our interview with the co-director of SAP Labs (India), on the 12th floor of this building called "Discoverer". Being a German company, one naturally expected a very private, closed-door, hush-hush type of environment. Surprisingly, it wasn't so. Even more surprising was the man himself - Clas Neumann. Again, one expected to encounter a serious "Ja", "Nein" Professor-type. Instead we found him pretty amiable and friendly, well versed in English though the German accent was predominant, which was understandable. Our accent wasn't typically English or American, either.
Clas Neumann's background as he says is from "the economic side" and always interested in the Asia and Asia-Pacific region. He studied marketing in Germany and this included a one-year stay in China. He did some programming during his studying days to earn some extra money. In 1995, he joined SAP in Germany and his initial assignment was to manage the China business. Three successful later he was asked to take up this position in India.
It would surprise many to know that amongst the top ten software companies in the world, SAP is the only non-US company. Clas sprung more surprises when he told us that SAP was founded in 1972 in Waldorf, near Heidelberg. If he had told us that they initially started out to churn out components for printing machines (which is what Heidelberg is famous for) and then switched over to IT, that wouldn't have come as a surprise. But this one did.
Since time immemorial, Germany has been renowned as for its industrial prowess. Heavy-duty machinery, cars, huge factories and things like that. The large number of technical collaborations India has on various industrial fronts bears testimony to this fact. But to hear that Germany was in the Information Technology arena and that too from way back in 1972 may as well be accorded "founding father" status. Yet, as compared to the US, Germany's entry into the IT arena is considered "rather late".
Clas attributes two major reasons for Germany not raising its head in IT early enough. Firstly, there wasn't any such thing as "venture capital" and to be listed in the stock markets wasn't as easy as making plum-pie. "The precondition was that one had to prove having earned profits for three consecutive years before getting listed. Capital which really was needed by any kind of business was extremely difficult," says Clas. The second reason for this "slow start" has its roots at the educational level. He says," IT wasn't really enforced by the governments and therefore, there weren't enough people coming out of Universities with IT knowledge." Because the German industry was hale, hearty and healthy, no one really felt the pressure or the need for IT.
"The mindset has changed," says Clas commenting on the recent relaxation of immigration rules, which now entitles techies to obtain work permits into Germany. Once upon a time work visas were extremely difficult to obtain. Germany is gearing itself to jump onto the IT bandwagon and realization has dawned that they need IT professionals to take this initiative through.
At SAP "they don't sack people", says Clas. "Even if things are going down we can still employ everyone." Indeed heartening to hear and unlike what's happening in the US, the signals from Germany sound positive. " A lot of American companies are more often run by the analysts," he adds.
Clas has been in Bangalore for almost two years now and enjoys living in the Garden City. Yes, he agrees that the infrastructure needs to improve. "IT is actually driving Bangalore to improve," he adds.
He has one regret though, "I can't get a Pizza delivered to my place."