Bill McDermott of SAP Reveals His Key Principles for Success

From deli owner at the age of 16 to CEO of the world's largest business software company, Bill McDermott's life story offers success lessons for every business owner.
November 18, 2014

As a teenager, I remember reading several inspiring books on business, leadership and living a purposeful life that had a tremendous influence on me. The guiding principles in two books in particular, The Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino and Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl, helped shape the person I became and kept me on the right path during my impressionable years.

That was 30 years ago. Today, millennials have a new book to help guide them. It’s called Winners Dream: A Journey From Corner Store to Corner Office, and it's the story of Bill McDermott and his incredible journey from a working-class neighborhood on Long Island to his current role as CEO of SAP, the largest business software company in the world.


At least a dozen lessons for business owners and corporate leaders can be found in Winners Dream. McDermott writes at length about the importance of having five key values in business: success, accountability, professionalism, teamwork and passion. He also stresses the importance of having a strong, consistent work ethic and never losing hope, regardless of your situation. I chose seven principles from the book to share with you because of how strongly they resonated with me.

The Magnificent Seven

1. Success means hustling with a will to win backed by a strong work ethic and integrity. The combination of hustle, a strong work ethic and integrity will help you get past many, if not all, the obstacles that stand between you and your goals. McDermott warns that you must never waver in your commitment to each component of success and that you'll have to hustle twice as much when facing uphill battles.

2. Never let the circumstances of a moment supersede the size of your dreams. This is one of McDermott’s favorite sayings. It reminds me of another saying I once heard: “Face your problems, and mountains become molehills; run away from them, and molehills become mountains.” Don’t let someone or something stand between you and what you want in business or in life.

3. Trust is the ultimate currency. This one truly hit home with me—if someone can’t trust you, how can you expect them to work with you? Trust can take years to develop, but it can be lost in seconds. You're better off losing a deal or a client than having someone else lose their trust in you. No matter what, always take the high road.

4. If you want to succeed, you must know who your customers are and why they buy from you. In speaking with thousands of entrepreneurs and business owners over the years, it startles me how many of them don’t understand why their customers chose to do business with them over other companies in the marketplace. They say they're just happy to have the business and don’t want to jeopardize the relationship by asking the client why they won their business. But if you don’t know why customers buy from you, you'll never know if your unique selling proposition is accurate.

5. The simplest way to approach business is by being you. For many business owners, they, and not their business, are the brand. And that’s absolutely OK. After all, people want to do business with people they like. So be you while delivering exceptional customer service, and people will like and buy from you.

6. “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” This quote, from mythologist and writer Joseph Campbell, underscores the message in the fifth principle above. The fact is, life is too short to try to be someone else. At times, being you may require you to take the proverbial road less traveled, but if you're a person of integrity and high standards, you won’t mind the solitude.

7. The audacity of any dream must be paired with the micromanagement of reality. This principle recognizes the critical role that execution plays in making a dream become reality. Success truly is in the details. You can’t just want something to happen; you must will it to happen. Your long-term goals in business and in life are probably outside your comfort zone, and breaking free from the gravitational pull that keeps you in your comfort zone can be daunting. You may fail several or even many times when trying to achieve these goals. But in your struggle to achieve them, you must ask yourself one very important question: “How badly do I want it?”

Winners Dream reaffirms many of the success principles I first read about 30 years ago. Used correctly, these principles can be the road map to help get you from where you are now to where you want to be in business and in life.

Take time to read the book and decide where you want to be in 2020. Create your own road map, and use the principles above to help guide you. Then prepare yourself for your own incredible journey.

Have you read the book? Share with me in the comments below whether you agree with my choice of these seven key principles or if you'd change the list.

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