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Software executive touts his beginnings as LI deli owner

Marianna Savoca, assistant vice president for Career Development

Marianna Savoca, assistant vice president for Career Development & Experiential Education at Stony Brook University, talks with Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP, during a fireside chat in the school's Charles B. Wang Center on Tuesday. Credit: Barry Sloan

Bill McDermott, the first American chief executive of Germany-based SAP Software Solutions, a global provider of business software, recounted his journey from owning a Long Island deli as a teen to running a multibillion-dollar company to students and faculty at Stony Brook University Tuesday.  

McDermott, 57, who grew up in Amityville, started his business career in earnest at the age of 16 when he took out a $7,000 loan and purchased a small deli from his former employer. From there, McDermott used profits from his business to pay for college, and he would later successfully pursue a job as a door-to-door salesman for Xerox in New York City.

“My superpower was just wanting it so much more than they wanted it,” the executive said of his facing stiff competition for the Xerox position. McDermott then went on to become one of Xerox’ youngest corporate officers.

During the presentation, hosted by the university's career center, McDermott spoke about his decision to take an assignment to turn around Xerox’ worst performing sales division in Puerto Rico. One year later, that division would go on to become the company’s most successful. 

By tackling tough assignments like this with a sense of corporate service, professionals can position themselves for greater recognition, he said. “All the leverage is in taking the assignments no one else wants because the expectations are low, and when you do well you get tremendous leverage,” he told attendees at the event.

Throughout Tuesday’s fireside chat, the executive spoke about the power of determination and empathy in leadership and the importance of instilling and maintaining trust among employees and customers.

“Trust is earned in drops, it’s lost in buckets,” he said regarding leadership. “It’s not just being the best. But it’s creating this lasting emotion, these memories that live on that really matter in the lifetime of a leader when you look back on it.”

McDermott joined SAP in 2002. He was named co-CEO in 2010 and was made chief executive of the international coompany in 2014. 


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