Hasso Plattner Interview

Ivor Wilkins/courtesy Sap

Hasso Plattner didn't get into the America's Cup to best business rival Larry Ellison, who provided the lion's share of the $80 million budget for the Oracle/BMW Racing syndicate. He is equally as adamant that his personal relationship with a number of Team New Zealand sailors had the smallest of roles to play in his company, the software giant SAP, signing a major sponsorship deal with TNZ. This is, first and foremost, a business decision for SAP. But, he allows with a smile, it was personally satisfying to be able to support the New Zealanders who have put in countless miles on his race boats--all named Morning Glory. And if it's TNZ, flying the SAP logo on its spinnakers, that ends up claiming the trophy that Ellison spent so much money and effort trying to win, you get the sense that the 59-year-old Berliner would be far from disappointed.

In late 2002, Sailing World was granted an exclusive interview with Plattner at his offices in Palo Alto, Calif. The gregarious, outspoken CEO of SAP spoke about everything from the America's Cup to his FD career in the late 1970s to the year he windsurfed 92 days. A portion of the interview, focusing on the America's Cup, appears below. In Sailing World's March issue Plattner will talk about his two new boats, his relationship with Larry Ellison, and why he dropped out of the 2002 Farr 40 Worlds halfway through.

Sailing World: I know you have a history with the individual team members, but how did SAP become involved with sponsoring TNZ’s America’s Cup defense?

Hasso Plattner: I’ve been sailing with members of Team New Zealand since 1996, ever since I had a maxi, and so we know each other. When they started the current campaign we talked briefly about this and is it interesting for SAP. I said probably not, we do Formula 1 and golf. A little bit later they called again and said they have nearly enough financing but they needed a little bit more. I approached my marketing manager in New York, Martin Homlish--he is not a sailor--and explained to him what the opportunity is and he started talking to them. Obviously, they found common ground.

SW: So while you set up the initial meeting, you were not an active player in the negotiations?

HP: I was in no meeting and I didn’t do anything. On purpose, I didn’t want to be--German companies are a little bit different in regards to PR. So I kept this completely professional and asked marketing to investigate whether it’s a good investment. Actually now since BMW joined Oracle, that beefs up our stake in an interesting way in Team New Zealand. TNZ is already in the final and if Oracle makes it to the final carrying the brand name of BMW, this whole thing will get bigger attention.

SW: SAP sponsors both Formula 1 and Golf, but in both of those cases you have a no-lose situation, sponsoring the event instead of individual teams or athletes. In this case you’ve picked a side.

HP: Yes, it’s interesting. We have a little bit [of an individual interest] in Formula 1, we sponsor the McLaren team and this year they didn’t win so much, one race. There is an association with a winner. Here it is more pronounced. But I think if [Team New Zealand] lose, they will lose in grace and with drama, and I think that is not negative. It has nothing to do with our product, so it’s just that we are on the wrong horse. I am not afraid. There are other areas where probably betting on a person and the win rate of a person in marketing might be more sensitive.

SW: Can you tell us how much money you’ve committed to Team New Zealand?

HP: No. We are one of the Family of Five sponsors.

SW: On a personal level was it satisfying to support they individuals that you’ve had a good relationship with for a number of years?

HP: It was nice to call Tom Schnack and say, "SAP is interested in doing that, but you have to sell it." It was not done easily, it took several iterations.

SW: How did your relationship start with TNZ?

HP: Actually the first one was Matthew Mason, who sailed with OneWorld as the mast man. He sailed in the 1996 Cape to Rio race where we won over the line. From then on, he did what every good Kiwi does, bring more Kiwis on the boat. Barry McKay came for a while to manage the boat, we sailed with half of them for a good two or three seasons.

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| Courtesy SAP|

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| Hasso Plattner, the billionaire CEO of computer giant SAP.* * *|

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SW: Obviously you respect their ability, and you put together some very strong results. Was there anything about them as a team or individuals that particularly impressed you?

HP: The team around Russell was outstanding.The New Zealanders are very well educated, low-key. Unfortunately, we were not successful. During the time we sailed together, I lost the mast four times. The fifth big issue was that the hull of that boat [the 81-foot maxi Morning Glory] delaminated and the boat was, for more than 12 months, decommissioned. But it got repaired and we sailed again, with a new team, the Dean Barker and Hamish Pepper team. We had some good wins, Antigua, everything you can win in Antigua. We won the race around the Isle of Wight. With the old team we won Sydney Hobart, despite the mast, and broke the record.

SW: That was where you had to fly a new mast in at the last minute?

HP: That was a little drama. But everybody helped. Qantas helped. There were a lot of stories--that I paid Qantas $250,000--they were all wrong. It was $50,000 Australian dollars for the additional fuel they needed because instead of Melbourne they had to fly to Sydney and then to Melbourne. They said roughly $50,000 Aussie dollars, and I said, "Done!" And they did it for free, to pick up the mast in Auckland and bring it to Sydney, and I paid for the fuel. You can’t get a cheaper and easier deal.

SW: As this Cup unfolds, Russell seems to be displaying unparalleled skills as a leader, a CEO-type. Is that something you noticed when he was sailing with you?

HP: A good leader, but with still the skills to sail fast. Everybody was very much focusing on Russell.

SW: Finally, do you have any plans to be a 17th man during the finals?

HP: I’m too much a sailor and a driver. It’s not something that I get a kick out of. It’s great when Tiger Woods plays golf with me . But, to sit in my favorite sport, where I have success, in a bystander’s seat, that’s not attractive.