A fitting farewell to a remarkable man.

Yesterday I attended the memorial for Klaus Tschira, the SAP founder, who died suddenly on the 21st March. It was a fitting tribute to a brilliant, modest and kind man. Thank you to the team that organized it. All the speeches were very moving, and the SAP Symphony performance was very fitting. The  local paper covered it here.

My thoughts are with his family.

Bill McDerrmott asked several of us to contribute our reminisces for his speech, and I thought I’d share what I sent him here. Thankyou Bill, for delivering them so poignantly.

When one reviews the press obituaries for Klaus, they rightly mention the enormous financial and personal investment he made into science and science education. My kids go to a school where the science lab is funded by his foundation and largesse. His impact on research over the last 20 years has been profound, spanning core math, computer science, life sciences, physics and astronomy research . Klaus has helped 1000s of children and adults understand our world better. That is an immense legacy, and he will be remembered as one of Germany’s greatest philanthropists.  As a parent, I’m grateful for what Klaus has done for science education.

My personal relationship with Klaus highlights a different side of the man. I first joined SAP in South Africa in 1995, working on the HR product, and I was  sent to Walldorf for training.   I met Klaus in a meeting and I was totally captivated by his vision for how SAP technology  could revolutionise HR and business, and he listened intently to my rather naive views on HR systems. He took me aside, and together with Steve Lamy, he suggested that I move to Germany.  Klaus’ vision for HR technology remains the lodestone upon which SAP built the leading HR solution in the world. It is as relevant then as it is today. He understood the power of globalisation, and more than anyone else, he grasped the power of integration. I remember him saying the goal of the HR system should be to help the business run better. Make plants safer, have the right people, with the right skills in the right place, and  use technology to help managers and employees do a better job.The payroll that he built still pays more people in the world in more countries than any other solution.

I worked for a short while as Klaus’ assistant before he retired. I stayed in contact with Klaus, occasionally visiting him in Villa Bosch.  He was a crime fiction fan, and I fondly remember introducing him to the works of Elizabeth George. Klaus had a wicked sense of humour and word play, and a whimsical taste in sculpture and ties. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the history of science,  he was fascinated by languages, and he was an avid collector of facts of all varieties. He had an insatiable curiosity, but he had no interest in cars, or sport.

Before his focus on HR technology, Klaus played a fundamental role in developing ABAP, so his impact is much broader than just as the inventor of SAP HR. Klaus was a mentor and friend to many. He inspired love and loyalty in those that worked with and for him. He will be missed by many, and the HR technology community has lost a giant, but his vision and ideals remain an inspiration.

My colleague, Andreas Elkeles, said it best, though. Here are some of his comments.

I met Klaus the first time in 1988. I was a young university graduate and went to CEBIT to look for a job. I knew that SAP was my favorite so I went to the SAP booth and asked to speak with a recruiter.  Luck meant, that Klaus was the recruiter in charge for the next available slot.  I introduced myself and found an easy connection with Klaus. No idea had I that I was talking with one of the company’s  founders. Klaus asked me whether I would mind to work in development for the HCM module (it was called RP in those days), and the rest became history. One of my first tasks was to take over a program Klaus had written in one of those weekend coding exercises. It was the program which managed the integration between payroll and financials, then called RPRIBU00. I was amazed how clearly the program was structured,  how elegantly it was programed. And Klaus was actually inserting practical jokes into the program documentation. I am using the analogy of Mozart composing  a piece of music with the same amount of time other people would take to play the same piece of  music. In a way Klaus was like a Mozart in software development.  I know that Klaus loved music, so he probably would like this analogy.

The Mozart clarinet concerto in A, 2nd Movement has always been one of my favourite pieces of music. Now, every time I hear it I will think of Klaus. Here it is, performed by Martin Fröst.

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