This SAP exec shares insights on tech, career and staying on track.
Kevin McManus has built a career on next-generation technology and applying it to business transformation projects. Since 2005, he has held a variety of leadership positions with SAP, where he currently serves as Head of Sales, North America Services. He has a wealth of fond memories from his EY days, as well as lessons that he still applies today. We caught up with him recently and learned more about his approach to life and work.
Tell us a little about your career journey.
In my time at EY in consulting, I worked on the first deployment of the technology we have all come to know as SAP. It was an exciting time. But after five or six years, I just needed a break. I left in the late ’90s and effectively went and built data centers for clients and did a lot of high-tech work. Then I got a call from a recruiter who described a company needing a professional with this weird background – someone with a mix of accounting and technical and functional and analytical skills and who also could sell. I said, “OK, I am such a crazy person, and where would I go?” So, I ended up at SAP. The irony has not been lost on me – that the work I once needed a break from has now defined my career, working on SAP-related technology projects all over the world.
How did you get started at EY?
I interviewed with Julia Anderson, who was a partner in Dallas, and I said, I have these criteria on any job I might consider. Julia said, let me see this list. I literally pulled it out of my pocket. It included things like, I wanted the ability to travel. I was interested in a job that wasn’t structured. Then I wanted a job with a company that valued formal education. Julia looked at my list, asked me no more questions and said, you’ll have an offer this afternoon.
I applied that principle everywhere I went at the firm. I think of it as living on purpose – to put your purpose out in front of you and then formally allocate how you’re going to evaluate if you’re on track, living the purpose you’ve set for yourself. Julia taught me that’s valued at EY.
Who are some other people who stand out from your time at EY?
I did a lot of work with a partner, Steve Ingram. Steve had come from Australia. He had very high expectations and was super intelligent. Then there was James Taylor, who was a very leading thinker for the firm. He’s still a leading thinker, and he’s now in Palo Alto, California, with a small firm of his own. I still have lunch with Jim Dayton, who is Chief Technology Officer for Southwest Airlines. I keep in touch with the group of people I came up with and I still find them remarkable.
One of the ways you stay in touch with EY alumni is at home.
My wife and I were married before we worked together at the firm, and she was at the firm slightly before me and stayed a little after I left, so she holds that over me. She was a manager at the firm in consulting, working in a different group, and still is one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever worked with. When my kids were interviewing, to have them drawn to EY was something we both found remarkable because it left such a huge imprint on both of us.
What does the alliance between EY and SAP mean to you?
It’s not just about implementing technology for us, it’s about doing something particularly extraordinary that wasn’t possible alone and we found that with EY, we’ve had those moments where there has been this imaginative use of our technology that we wouldn't have been able to create on our own.
What can you tell us about the recent acquisition of Qualtrics?
We think of it as the marriage of X and O – the experiential data and operational data. Often, to have really complete information, you’ve got to go create data. Qualtrics spent the better part of 20 years figuring out how to do that. Some of the insights are like: people will report frustration with an early-morning flight, and then we find out it’s because the coffee shops weren’t open until an hour after the flight’s departed and people are pretty grouchy at 5 in the morning with no coffee. So, the airline using this data said, well, let’s set out some coffee pots for that first flight in the morning. All of a sudden, their feedback scores shot up. We think this [acquisition] will be a powerful moment in our history, where we’re going to bring this full body of wisdom to problems we’ve never imagined or attempted to resolve before.
What’s one of the cooler things that you’ve gotten to work on in your career post-EY?
At SAP, we recognize we’ve got to go create the technology the world hasn’t imagined yet. One of the things my team did over the last year was come across a use case with the NHL. The coaches needed to be able to monitor the players on the ice, make real-time decisions, get feedback and real-time analytics. So, when you watch those guys behind the benches and they’re holding up a piece of technology, they’re getting real-time data in terms of player performance – this player or that player, have they slowed down, are they favoring a left foot or a right foot, have they changed some characteristic? We’ve got monitors on the players, on the skates, on the puck. For us, that’s a very business-oriented type of application. But it’s also an exciting one that speaks to people.
What do you want your legacy to be?
We’ve got to have something that gives our people, particularly the newer generation of people coming to the workforce, meaning in their work – something that rises beyond just, “I’m here to make a buck.” We have an obligation as professionals to find out the purpose for our people and to guide them, to help them as they self-discover.
I think a lot about, “How can I leave the world a little better today?” And this is going to be a complete reflection of: Have I invested in all the people around me to the maximum degree that opportunity gave me to do so? Just commit yourself to empowering them with everything you have, and when you do that, it not only makes you a more effective leader, it really establishes your legacy.
More about Kevin McManus
Heritage of humor: An Irish America profile cited him being from a long line of McManus “funny men.” His great-grandfather was an early vaudevillian, and Kevin calls his father a great storyteller.
For kicks: Soccer is a big passion for Kevin, who has coached young people for years and found that it translates to coaching others in his professional life.
Purpose in action: Kevin and his family take yearly trips to Africa, raise money and sponsor relief work, including for a women’s hospital in Uganda. His passion was born from seeing his oldest son make such trips and seeing how it “became an enduring part of who he was.”