On Tuesday, the 76-year old Hasso Plattner announced that his foundation has donated R100 million towards South Africa’s Solidarity Fund.
The Solidarity Fund is focused on providing food relief to struggling South Africans as well as funding and arranging medical interventions, including procuring emergency personal protective equipment. So far, the fund has received R2.6 billion in donations
Plattner, who owns the Fancourt Hotel and Estate in George with his wife Sabine, has a longstanding involvement with South Africa.
Here’s what we know about him:
Plattner founded one of the world’s most successful companies
He was born in 1944, in war-torn Berlin. After his parents divorced, he was sent to a strict military-style school in the south of Germany as a teenager. His father was an eye surgeon, but Plattner studied engineering (like his grandfather) at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.
He told the Financial Times that he wanted to be a rocker – but realised it wouldn’t work with his German accent
“I would have liked to grow up in Liverpool and become a rocker. I would have put my boots on, jeans and a leather jacket, and long hair and played the guitar. (But) when you have a language like this, you can’t start singing.”
Instead, he started his career as a programme developer with the American company IBM in Germany in 1968.
Four years later, seeing a gap in the market, Plattner and four of his colleagues proposed that IBM develop standardised, off-the-shelf accounting and payroll software for companies, which at that stage were forced to use expensive, customised programmes.
But IBM was focused on selling big machines, and rejected the proposal. So Plattner and his colleagues resigned to launch Systems Applications and Products (SAP), with borrowed money and equipment. SAP quickly gained traction, and would became a behemoth in business software to manage operations and customer relations. It has more than 100,000 employees worldwide, serving 400,000 business customers.
He changed the way businesses work
Plattner served as SAP’s CEO from 1997 to 2003, and has been described by Bloomberg Businessweek as a “red-meat-for-breakfast” executive, who “figures out what is wrong and fixes it with his own bare hands”.
While there has been some criticism of his confrontational style – Plattner has reportedly described himself as “a Berliner – fast, loud, obnoxious, industrious, brutally open” – he is credited with spearheading a successful strategy to drive the company forward. After SAP realised that it was being left behind in embracing the internet at the end of the 1990s, he is credited with coming up and driving a brand-new strategy within days. He quickly lead the launch of SAP software programmes which could be accessed online via a portal (mySAP.com).
While he retired as CEO in 2003, he became chairman of SAP’s board and continued to be hands-on.
In fact, he became involved in researching and contributing to a project that would speed up complex computations, which then became SAP’s flagship HANA database server product, launched in 2011. The product allowed businesses to quickly process huge volumes of data.
He recounted the start of the Hana project to the Financial Times: “I got a nice bottle of red wine and it was a nice day to sit in the shade with blank paper and pens and an eraser and I said [to myself]: ‘Do I have any idea how I would build a new enterprise office system?’ I got a few ideas and passed them to my group of PhDs. And I said: ‘Let’s have a day of open discussion about what a future system could look like.’ We basically defined the foundation of a radical system – the radicality was no redundant data. Never store data twice . . . that was the start of Hana.”
He’s among the 100 richest people in the world
According to Forbes, he’s currently worth $15.5 billion – making him the 96th wealthiest person on the planet.
He owns the San Jose Sharks ice hockey team, and has a keen interest in sailing and golf.
Plattner and South Africa
Plattner first visited South Africa in 1971, when he still with IBM. Over the years, his wife Sabine became involved in various African conservation projects, and established horse farms in South Africa.
In the 1990s, they bought a house in Constantia, and then in 1994, the couple acquired Fancourt after Masterbond – in essence a pyramid scheme – collapsed. By 2000, they had invested close to R1 billion in the estate. They also run various upliftment programmes in the country.
Plattner served on former president Thabo Mbeki’s advisory council on information, society and development, and established the Hasso Plattner School of Design Thinking at the University of Cape Town.
“South Africa has become a home from home for me and my family for decades. I am aware of the challenges and always eager to help create opportunities, through our own social responsibility projects or by supporting other impactful initiatives like The Solidarity Fund,” Plattner said on Tuesday.
Why does ‘R100 million and SAP’ ring a bell?
Two years ago, SAP admitted that it paid R128.6m to companies linked to the Gupta family. It faces allegations that the money was kickbacks to secure contracts from Transnet and Eskom.
As the details of these allegations leaked in 2017, Plattner “profoundly apologised to the people of South Africa” in an open letter to Biznews.
“The news about questionable sales commissions by SAP in South Africa was brought to my attention by my daughter Kristina. As you can imagine I was shocked and asked for an immediate investigation and suspension of the SAP people involved,” he wrote.