Martin Metcalf, CEO of Basis Technologies


Basis Technologies CEO and classic car lover Martin Metcalf with his restored 1959 Jaguar XK150. Photo: Supplied

Martin Metcalf started out as a structural engineer before converting to IT. Today he is CEO of UK-based Basis Technologies, a global software company founded in 1997 that has raised over $50m to help global brands including Boeing, Diageo, Honda and Sony embrace business transformation.

Prior to Basis, Metcalf was MD of software giant SAP, responsible for a region employing over 1,400 staff and over £500m in turnover.

I joined software giant SAP in 1993 and for a brief period of time my boss was Henning Kagermann — or herr doktor professor to give him his full title — as he transitioned from being CEO of Europe to managing the whole group.

He was very hands-on and I remember a meeting I had arranged with a colleague of mine and Barclays Bank and invited Henning over from Germany. The Barclays CFO asked Henning to describe his vision of the banking sector. ‘I don’t work with visions, I work with facts,’ he responded.

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It wasn’t the traditional response and he continued to articulate the challenges that banks will face over the coming years. They were very impressed.

Henning is a physicist by training, very mathematical and factual and he doesn’t try to be a charismatic, visionary leader. I also learned about understanding as much as you are capable of, together with the subject matter of your customers.

Henning Kagermann headshot, as SAP chief executive officer, photo

Henning Kagermann speaks during his time as SAP chief executive officer. Photo: AP (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

In another meeting with HMRC during a bid process, Henning came over and essentially told them, “I understand that my software doesn’t work the way you work [it didn’t do cash accounting the way central government worked], but I will get my team to change it and I know what I’m saying when I say this.”

He was deeply knowledgeable about the size of task he was committed to, while the gravity in which he said it told the customer that he really meant it.

This authenticity came through in every meeting and every word he absolutely meant.

It was a very powerful learning tool and this was added to by Les Hayman, a Kiwi who was SAP’s group chief people officer and taught me some strong fundamentals. To such a degree that when I took over at Basis, I asked Les to come and join as my chair. He sadly passed away in 2017.

“Martin, there are no problems in business, there are only people problems in business,” he once told me.

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Les also gave me five key questions that every colleague should be able to answer. He didn’t invent them but they have been important for shaping the business where I am today:

1. Why are we here? (for example, our purpose is for customers to unlock their full potential and a for us to gain a deeper understanding of a customers’ SAP journey). 2. What is expected of me? 3. How am I doing? (regular feedback). 4. What’s in it for me? (such as incentives, career, financial) and 5. Where do I go if I need help? (the feedback we get from new starters today at Basis is how helpful everyone is).

Martin Metcalf leads a company which reports 96% of enterprises fear business disruption from SAP change.

Martin Metcalf leads a company which reports 96% of enterprises fear business disruption from SAP change.

SAP went from obscurity in 1993 to global market dominance in 2000 and I was fortunate to learn from great people like Henning and Les. The opportunity to learn from them and take that forward is a massive bonus for anyone, while the culture, I’m told, is a healthy one at Basis.

Something like 80% of all global transactions touch an SAP (Systems Applications Products) system. When SAP was first conceived it was designed to have one single global system and integrated under one software package. Today it’s totally hybrid and there are different processes; customers need to be agile and flexible which SAP wasn’t originally designed for.

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Basis Technologies has developed over the last 25 years to drive change and when I first joined as CEO I wanted to meet our first 10 customers.

I met up with Anglian Water and during the meeting the CIO knocked and came into the room. He apologised for interrupting but said our product was the only one that said what it did on the tin.

No matter how bad everything else was, that was dynamite for me and a customer-focused company which I had inherited.

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