A stipulatory tale of a dream realised

A stipulatory tale of a dream realised

A lot of sunshine, a little darkness and an uncontroversial account. In a world full of successful men who have a story to tell, there can be no dearth of advice — offered in a friendly manner or shoved down the throat.

Bill McDermott’s autobiography, Winners Dream, feels like the “friendly” kind. In fact, at points it is frank up to a fault. Then again, at other times, it feels condescending enough for the two feelings to kind of balance each other out for the reader. However, overall, the SAP chief executive officer seems to have quite a few lessons in store for managerial aspirants.

Co-author Joanne Gordon, who makes no bones about working with “business leaders and creative thinkers to capture their voices”, seems to have really helped McDermott put his best face forward. Their and the editors’ planning has given the book the kind of easygoing attitude that helps you saunter through without much problem. The prose rarely deviates from its lucid style, and loses a little bit of its sheen only when McDermott starts going into some of the slightly drier details of his work at SAP.

However, like the King in Alice in Wonderland said, let’s “begin at the beginning”, as does McDermott. The reader gets a glimpse of his early and late childhood, as well as adolescence, through his own eyes. Also, there are snippets of a family that sticks together to leave behind all sorts of hardships. McDermott and Gordon manage to humanise the elements of this bit of his life to such an extent that a lot of people identify with it.

Especially poignant in this part are the pinings of the family for a better home and a better lifestyle, but soldiering on despite a lot of obstacles. McDermott also throws in a few anecdotes about finding the right customers for his first place of business — a deli he first works in, then runs on rent, and then buys outright. Within these anecdotes lie some interesting managerial lessons. The trick would be to not take them literally, but understand their underlying philosophy.

Then comes a very important segment of the book — one that takes up the most significant portion of it. Here, McDermott details his career in Xerox, the all-American company whose growth seems to mirror the author’s, at least up to a point. Here, again, we glimpse a side of McDermott that seems to be a walking version of managerial lessons. From handling sales to handling teams, he can apparently do no wrong. However, the old caveat is valid here, too: Do not take these tales at face value; instead, understand their underlying philosophy and apply them according to situation.

However, while McDermott goes on to present a mostly sunny and rosy account of his progress up the corporate ladder — with rare mention of some hurdle and how he crosses it — the average reader looking for more practical things, like how he handled really difficult customers, or worse, team members, is disappointed. And that’s only the beginning of the journey.

Towards the second half of the book, the author begins to adopt such a sombre tone that the cheery, sunny first part is easily forgotten. The bright life-lessons give way to industry jargon being thrown around with gay abandon. Thankfully, McDermott manages to avoid the trap that could have turned this section into a half-hearted boringly dry corporate manual, but just about. The focus, as he tells his life story, remains firmly on the people. Except that it’s not reading individuals — it’s all about getting entire crowds of people to think and do what he believes they should. It’s also the story of how he turns SAP around, making the company’s American unit not only turn a profit, but actually tailor the market it is operating in! However, as with his time in Xerox, McDermott goes on only about the positive side, giving the reader the feeling that a lot of significant things remain unsaid.

In the end, Winners Dream is an overall cheery account of one of the world’s top executive’s rise to his position. One only wishes that there was some truly revolutionary idea in there — something that would have been valued and spread by the serious reader.

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