When Herbert Heitmann was asked by the board of German software leader SAP to become head of the company’s global communications operation, he inherited a team of 17 full-time staff and budget of less than €5 million. The communications function was neither global nor integrated, with responsibility for several key stakeholder relationships diffused throughout the company.
Over the past decade, Heitmann has transformed the function, building a corporate communications infrastructure with more than 200 people around the world (supported by global agency Burson-Marsteller) responsible for a broad range of activities including media relations (including social and digital media), employee relations, investor relations, government relations, executive communications, corporate social responsibility and sustainability communications, industry analyst relations, SAP user group relations, creative services and measurement and research—in which SAP is an acknowledged leader.
It’s an approach that has allowed SAP to speak with “one voice” to all stakeholders around the world and to earn the company a reputation for its world-class public relations capabilities. In addition, Heitmann was responsible for bringing SAP into the World Economic Forum as an industry partner, and attending nine forums with our CEO as a participant or supporter; negotiating the company’s Formula One sponsorship engagement; and developing SAP’s own branded CEO event, now a core part of the company’s brand building, with a membership of more than 60 multi-national CEOs.
Heitmann—an engineer by training—was guided throughout the transformation process by a conviction that communications objectives must be linked to business objectives and approached with the same discipline and rigor as other management disciplines, and the belief that properly managed the function could earn the respect of the CEO and other senior executives and make a significant contribution to corporate success.
His success is evident in the words of Bill McDermott and Jim Hagemann Snabe, who took over as co-CEOs at SAP earlier this year: “Herbert Heitmann and his strong team of international professionals have evolved SAP’s communications function into a truly global organization covering all communications disciplines in a highly integrated fashion. SAP’s global communications serves as an important strategic advisor to the company’s executive management team and has been instrumental in strengthening SAP’s reputation and thought-leadership position, most recently around the topic of sustainability, and we value them as among the very best in the communications profession globally.”
Heitmann has more than 15 years of experience in corporate and public communications. He joined SAP in 1998 as a speechwriter for co-founder Hasso Plattner directly from the German Parliament where he served as a political consultant on technical, educational, and scientific issues. Prior to his government work, Heitmann worked as a chemical engineer, responsible for paper products design optimization at Procter & Gamble; the automation of consumer testing at Henkel; and efficiency gains in the gold refinery process at Johannesburg Consolidated Investments.
Heitmann has served since 2007 as chairman for the Commission of E-Business, IT & Telecommunications of the International Chamber of Commerce, and led the Communications Advisory Task Force for the European Roundtable of Industrialists. He was also founding president of the European Association of Communication Directors, an organization that has grown to include more than 1,200 senior communications executives across the region, and is a board member of the Arthur W. Page Society.
Heitmann announced his departure from SAP in March of 2010.