Düsseldorf When the question comes up again, for the third or fourth time, Hasso Plattner gasps into his microphone. The topic annoys him, which can be felt on Wednesday: “What will the handover of the chairmanship of the Supervisory Board look like in the next 24 months?“, a shareholder representative wants to know at the digital Annual General Meeting. The chief supervisor starts: “As I have already mentioned in my speech …”
As a technical pioneer, he has been shaping SAP for 50 years, and to this day he has held a powerful position as Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Dax Group. At 78, however, he is older than his own articles of association provide and some prominent investors consider acceptable.
Nevertheless, he wants to be elected one last time. For two years just to make the transition, as he points out. Shareholders support the plan, but not in unison. This is shown by the questions, this is confirmed by the vote: 90.48 percent of the capital votes for him. The result is clear, but worse than for other candidates for the Supervisory Board. It is a request that SAP must emancipate itself from the last still active co-founder.
As early as 2019, Plattner had already declared that he wanted to stand for election one last time and only for a shortened term of office – until he later stated in a Handelsblatt interview that continuity was important in the troubled corona period and that it was no longer important “for a few more years”.
Now he is making similar arguments: CEO Christian Klein wants to make the software manufacturer a cloud specialist in the course of a strategic realignment, and the “changeable global environment” is also making business more difficult.
Can’t Plattner let go of his life’s work?
At this stage, according to Plattner, he does not want to impair success “by changing the leadership”. And another conceivable succession plan had broken down “for reasons of illness”.
At SAP and also in the financial world, on the other hand, many have the impression that Plattner cannot let go of his life’s work.
The co-founder is not a normal head of the Supervisory Board, he is considered someone who dominates the board and thus exerts great influence. Who regularly calls the board members. Who influences the technological orientation and strategy in his role as “Chief Software Advisor”. There is little going against him to this day.
Some investors are unhappy with the situation. “We have been criticizing poor succession planning for years,” explains Ingo Speich, Head of Corporate Governance at the savings banks subsidiary Deka Investment. “We are critical of Mr. Plattner’s concentration of power and would like a more independent Chairman of the Supervisory Board who can also accompany the management team for more than a decade.“
The announcement of a new candidacy was a surprise, says Hendrik Schmidt, an expert on good corporate governance at asset manager DWS. We expect “a transparent, sustainable solution to this very special succession for the next 24 months”.
After all, something has already happened in recent months. Plattner has handed over the chairmanship of the Human Resources and Governance Committee, which is responsible for the appointment of the Executive Board. The same applies to the Nomination Committee, which determines candidates for the Supervisory Board.
We are looking for successors with a deep technological understanding
In addition, the committee has created the function of “Lead Independent Director” (LID). Friederike Rotsch has assumed this role, which is intended to ensure the interests of independent shareholders. The lawyer heads the “Legal &Compliance” department at the pharmaceutical company Merck and has been on the Supervisory Board of SAP since 2018.
However, an obvious candidate for the succession is not in sight. Ideally, this would be someone who has experience in top management, has a deep understanding of digital technology and at the same time has the necessary time – which means that active board members of other companies are leaving.
“Together with his colleagues,” he is working on a solution, says Plattner. “I hope that we can win a member of the Supervisory Board for this task and do not have to bring someone from outside.“
The shareholders are likely to watch it closely – and continue to ask many questions as long as there is no regulation.