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SAP's EMEA finance chief shows how global experience can set you apart


SAP's EMEA CFO Benoit Fouilland

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Fifteen years ago Benoit Fouilland was in Hungary in his first senior finance post in industry working for French utility giant Compagnie Générale des Eaux, which later became Vivendi. His task was to manage the financial side of a newly privatised telecoms operator in a country which had only relatively recently thrown off the shackles of communism.

But he had a problem. He was managing a department of 25 women. Twenty-four of them only spoke Hungarian and Fouilland only spoke French.

"I had to be able to have a dialogue with the chief accountant. I had to learn to speak Hungarian. It was hard work," he recalls. One of the 25 spoke a bit of English – a language in which Fouilland is fluent – which also helped out a bit.

More than 15 years later, Fouilland, now chief financial officer and senior vice president for EMEA at enterprise software corporation SAP, admits that he's forgotten most of his Hungarian but he still looks back on his time in the country as one of his most satisfying career achievements.

He spent four years there working on setting up the new telecoms operator. "It was a major transformation from the previous regulatory landscape," he says.

"Establishing the team and giving it a sense of direction laid my leadership style for the future."

EMEA accounted for €6.3 billion (£5.5 billion) of SAP's €12.5 billion global revenues for the year ended 2010, which is hardly surprising given the German company's strong European roots. The corporation has been turning in impressive results despite the downturn.

For the second quarter of 2011, the most recent at the time of writing, global revenues were €3.3 billion, up from €2.9 billion in the same quarter of 2010. Operating profit was €857 million, compared with €774 million.

But SAP has set itself an ambitious target to double revenues between 2010 and 2015. At the same time, the company wants to improve margins from the current 31 percent to 35 percent. Can it be done in a world where growth is feeble in Europe and North America and uncertain in the developing world?

Fouilland is convinced the company is on track to achieve it. And he sees the finance function playing a key role in doing so. "We need to support the growth of the company in all its dimensions," he says.

Yet hitting those targets could present Fouilland with his toughest career challenge so far.

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SAP's EMEA finance chief shows how global experience can set you apart
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