SAP CEO Bill McDermott's lesson in losing eye: How could I get this lucky?

Mr Bill McDermott, chief executive officer of SAP.
Mr Bill McDermott, chief executive officer of SAP.PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE/FRANKFURT (BLOOMBERG) -  Mr Bill McDermott, chief executive officer of SAP, thought he had told his life story when he published his memoir in 2014. Then he lost his left eye in a fluke accident last year. He has now decided to write another book, this one about how people can bounce back from adversity.

"I never thought that I would do the second book," Mr McDermott, 54, said during an interview in Singapore. "I do have the next book in me now. It's going to speak to not just the underdog who's got the dream, but to the people that have been knocked down in so many ways."

His accident happened when he fell down the stairs in his brother's home while holding a water glass in the middle of the night. A shard of glass lodged in his eye. He was knocked unconscious and when he came to, he found himself lying in a pool of blood. Instead of panicking, he said he felt oddly serene. His mind was telling him that it was okay to go to sleep because if he stood up, it was going to be harder.

"I started thinking, 'I gotta get up and I gotta make it because my story hasn't been told yet'," said Mr McDermott, who was wearing a pair of tinted glasses and still has prominent scars on the left side of his face and neck.

He staggered outside and lay down on the street until someone called the emergency services.

Mr McDermott's near-death experience adds more drama to the life he chronicled in his book Winners Dream: A Journey From Corner Store to Corner Office. Born to a blue-collar family on New York's Long Island, he made his way from a working- class upbringing and climbed the ranks to run SAP, one of the world's largest software companies with about 75,000 employees.

SAP this week reported preliminary fourth-quarter sales and profit that topped analysts' estimates as businesses signed deals for its latest flagship software. Shares rose 3.7 per cent to 74.25 euros on Tuesday (Jan 12) in German trading.

Under Mr McDermott's leadership, SAP has moved into cloud computing and rolled out a major update to its core software for running finance, manufacturing and logistics at tens of thousands of businesses. It has also expanded to new services through acquisitions including its US$7.4 billion (S$10.6 billion) purchase of Concur Technologies.

Since he became the sole CEO of the German software giant on May 21, 2014, SAP shares have climbed 30 per cent through Jan 11, compared with a 3.6 per cent gain in the Bloomberg European Technology Index.

At SAP, he's deepening the company's healthcare business by focusing on digitised information that can easily be shared and analysed. He said the patient's ability to access their complete medical records could be vital in an emergency if they are being treated by doctors who otherwise wouldn't know their history.

"Why would the patients have to keep repeating the same story?" he said. "The system is messed up."

One of the realisations from his own ordeal is that God doesn't take anything from people without giving them something back, according to Mr McDermott. What he got in return, he said, was a rare perspective.

"The outlook that I have now is so calm, so clear, so in control that it's almost awe-inspiring even to me," he said. "I'm like, 'How could I get this lucky?' That's how I feel."

To tell the rest of his story, he said he has quietly started working on the second book.  "There is another way you get knocked down that I've got some insight into now," he said. "You will get your test. The question is what you do when you get it."