The paper “ What Experience Has Had the Greatest Impact on Me? " is a breathtaking example of an admission essay on management. Once the American celebrity Sasha Azevedo famously said “ I certainly don't regret my experiences because, without them, I couldn't imagine who or where I would be today. Life is an amazing gift to those who have overcome great obstacles, and attitude is everything” . I cannot agree with her more, because I am today where I am because of the lessons I learned from a few forceful experiences that tested my attitude and skills.
Whether I came out with flying colors or not, I value them all equally important in my journey of life. The greatest of those experiences happened to me a little more than a year ago. In 2007, I was part of the team that SAP assembled to present our world class Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions to Shenhua, the largest coal company worldwide and No. 52 of Global Fortune 500 companies. This was a top assignment because its successful implementation would open the doors for SAP into the largely untapped set of corporate customers in the worldwide mining industry.
My team was also excited at the prospects of becoming an important unit for the company by being instrumental in SAP’ s endeavor to take ERP and advanced IT solutions to the mining industry. However, contrary to our expectations, things did not go smoothly. Our sales team had executed their series of presentations on the solutions and the benefits for Shenhua Management, focusing on the ability of SAP solutions to make mining operations more efficient. Despite the clear benefits and closely tailored product presentation, the Shenhua executives were unimpressed and our team was relegated from closing an easy sale to calling an emergency strategy meeting to try to salvage an engagement. We were all baffled by what it was that Shenhua management expected from the project.
Then I realized our mistake. The sales team had approached the project from our standard angle of offering known solutions to a traditional mining company. To them, we were just outsiders shouting how we could make them better. I did some research and came up with an idea for a radically different solution.
I found out that Shenhua is not simply a coal miner; they also operate in the coal-based chemical, coal-related mechanics and coal-source electricity fields. I suggested that instead of implementing the system in the mining operations, we offer a multi-industry management platform, encompassing all the subsidiaries and group companies - a comprehensive IT system that would bring the best practices, benchmarking and cross-industry strategy development to the enterprise, a system that could take Shenhua to become a global force in coal, rather than a mere global source for coal. The convincing part was very tricky and it took a very careful process of consensus- building from department to department before we won the order. The results were nothing short of amazing, the value of SAP’ s project revenue increased four fold – a record, Shenhua’ s operational efficiency improved three fold, and I became the first Chinese person to become a domain head at SAP, in Mining Industry.
This experience catapulted my career, skipping several rungs on the ladder of growth. More importantly, I learned how today’ s business complexity blurs functional boundaries, how innovative thinking must be matched with consensus building, and how leadership— even from the position of team member— can transform not simply an entire engagement, but an entire organization.