Andrea Hepnerová


One woman, two roles, two children and one big vision


Andrea Hepnerová, Director of SAP Services

Andrea, you mentioned that your career probably started by a programming course that you considered a great step out of your comfort zone.  How do you see this rather direct push in times when the approach has shifted to the development of natural talent where we already excel rather than improving weak areas?   

In fact, there were more courses like that and they were part of an elaborate training system of a company that understood the need to bring all fresh consultants to the same starting level.  Indeed, it was a huge step out of my comfort zone.  However, from today’s perspective, I keep remembering the victorious feeling after we succeeded carrying out “the string test“ for the first time. In addition to the distinct feeling of personal accomplishment, throughout the programming experience, we also learned to value teamwork. We could taste, in a realistic high-stress business simulation, how particularly important and significantly more difficult it is for an individual to perform successfully, yet also as a team player. This was an invaluable experience that came in handy in many further projects.  Looking back, I consider it a great benefit.  Is there any better or more suitable time for pushing your limits of development other than when you are young, even at the price of possible discomfort?  Specialization usually follows later throughout the various stages of one’s career.  This being said, one must bear in mind that there are exceptions.

When one compares the world of science with the world of humanities, while the first one has many perspectives despite being difficult, it is the other that seems to lure young people in the Czech Republic. Do you see such clash or conflict of disciplines? 

I am not familiar with any particular research that would confirm the above stated preference towards humanities or diminishing interest in the technical disciplines.  Such reality might be explained by the way science is being taught at both elementary and high schools and there is definitely room for improvement.  I do not dare to judge whether there is more opportunity for humanities or for science disciplines. We need to see beyond the current horizon into several decades in the future, imagining the people who are studying today, will eventually be part of the active workforce.  Speaking for my industry, today, it might seem that technology and IT are “the disciplines”, particularly when it comes to the latest societal development, labelled as “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” or the “Industry 4.0”.  As the speed of our lives has increased, mobile technologies, social networks, and virtual reality are becoming natural components of our lives. Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, and Internet of Things are the hype buzzwords of today. Development of microservices is creeping in the open window of opportunities to leverage all these data quantities in fantastic apps based on intelligent predictions and automated steps in the chain, with possibly minimal or no human interference.  This being said, we remain human beings with all of our basic needs and desires.  The famous Maslow pyramid of human needs is still a valid and applied scheme.  So if you see people preferring humanities, I would argue that it might be seen as a compensation for too many technological aspects in our lives… But again, I cannot confirm a statistical correlation in the statement.

You have experienced an interesting career shift.  After working for SAP, you left and founded a company and then you returned to SAP.  Today, you often act as “an ambassador” for large corporations, since they seem highly unpopular for the youngest generation when compared to start-ups and their “ethos”.  Do you often find yourself going “against the current”?   

The start-up theme is quite popular nowadays.  Negative connotation of corporations is to a great extent influenced by the media and so young people tend to prefer start-ups to corporations.  The overall perception created is that a young person might better avoid joining a corporation, otherwise he/she would be literally swallowed and become an anonymous cog in the wheel.  On the other hand, the start-up scene is venerated as the environment in which one can be truly oneself, act for oneself and progress faster.  Again, I am going to challenge such a popular notion.  How many students at the moment of making the decision whether to work for a start-up or a corporation have any direct experience with working for a corporation?  What about the statistics?  There are many start-ups, but only a handful of them manage to exist in the mid-term perspective. And then there are start-ups that are sponsored, nurtured, and supported by all available means of rich corporations. Usually, this relationship is mutually beneficial – the corporations gain a source of fresh innovation, while the start-up gets access to funding and often to the customer base and marketing of the corporation.  Personally, I believe that both experiences, both worlds, the start-up as well as the corporate, are great.  And, I am grateful for having worked in both.

Your view as of me going upstream is a good one.  More than 10 years ago, when I was selecting a school with a good executive MBA program, I chose Thunderbird University.  Besides having an excellent academic program focused on international management, the school culture is based on diversity and promoting the uniqueness of each student.  We call ourselves “misfits” and it is not a negative statement.  We just have a natural tendency to see and manage things differently than the mainstream.  So what seems upstream to you looks okay or natural to me.

You are a strong supporter of women leadership and diversity.  Why has diversity become such polarizing issue in the Czech Republic?

I support the notion that diversity as a variety is healthy and enriching in every society.  However, only under the condition that it is being managed.  If there are vague or no rules and outlines, then diversity becomes a nuisance and eventually a threat. I believe that it is the fear of the unknown that prevents people in the Czech Republic from framing diversity positively and enjoying its benefits. Let me give you an example of what I mean by managed diversity. At SAP Services, we have colleagues from over 30 countries. So, naturally, our required communication language is English. Also for the Czech-speaking majority that is the rule.  At the same time, the nature of the service sector attracts more females than males, which results in a roughly 70:30 female-to- male workforce ratio. So, we keep this ratio in the management as well…  If there is a framework that outlines the conditions of the game as well as their consistent application, then diversity brings many positive benefits to a company.  Employing differently abled colleagues helps strengthening the team and increases employee engagement. Employing various age groups brings an opportunity to learn and to be inspired from one another.  Companies that care about gender diversity have a proven record of being more innovative, care about their customers’ needs, and have a better relationship with their employees.  At SAP, we have a diversity element in each team and thanks to numerous programs and projects, such as Autism at Work or SAP Pride, we are richer and more successful.

How do you manage your energy and enthusiasm? I know that not only do you handle two positions simultaneously, you also connect various spheres, you are a mother of two children…What do you do and also, what do you tend not to do?

Well, I do not have a patent or a recipe. In general, I try maximizing the time spent on topics and things that I am passionate about, and minimize, delegate, or completely outsource those areas that I do not like. Still, I get up early and go to bed late and tend to catch up with the sleep deficit during the weekends.  Working from home helps, especially when a day looks like a long chain of confcalls.  Having a family and friends is very important for me, I am lucky and grateful to have a few good old friends, whom I love, and our relations are not maintenance heavy. My children can call me anytime and they also often come to my office after school and then we go home together.  I try not to work in the evenings, and definitely avoid chasing after e-mails.

Blending the two most important roles – the professional one and the one of a mother – is an issue that is also relevant to most of my female colleagues at SAP Services.  I am proud to say that we have 67% of women in management positions.  Contrary to other companies, there is no leaking pipeline in terms of women reaching senior positions at SAP.   We try to support as much as possible the above mentioned blending of roles by various means.  In addition to shorter working schemes allowing flexible and part-time home-office work, we also have a fully equipped children’s corner for toddlers as well as pre-school-age children.  Toilets with baby-changing diaper units as well as comfortable breast-feeding areas have been designed as a natural part of our new office space.

Let me ask about your initiative, project Autism at Work, that can be considered your third child.  Last year, you proudly presented this initiative at the Conference dedicated to Social Development Goals.  How is this child, or project, doing?  

Thanks for asking, it is doing pretty well.  From a baby project, it has grown into a big program, based on a revolutionary approach to recruitment, education, and employment of people with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) particularly those having Asperger syndrome.  The program is moving ahead thanks to the support from the whole team.  The idea of employing people with Asperger in IT positions originated in Germany in 2013, but in Prague we applied it to employees in other roles, not only IT positions.  Besides Germany and the Czech Republic, it has been launched in the U.S., Brazil, Canada, India, and Ireland. SAP has a goal to have 1% of employees with ASD globally by 2020, which corresponds to the total amount of people on the spectrum in the general population.  It is necessary to say that a candidate with ASD is hired for the same position, as any other candidate would be.  Colleagues on the spectrum share offices with other neuro-typical colleagues with whom they consult not only for work-related issues, but also personal matters.

What are your plans for 2017?  What are you looking forward to?

At SAP Services, we are looking forward to go “cloud” with HR systems; a global project such as this is a great platform for collaboration between diverse local, global, business, and IT teams and most of my staff participates in this creative exchange…  Locally, our cooperation with several universities promises relevant talent feed channels.  In January, we completed three assessment centres for the “Talent Incubator‘ – our pool of our youngest colleagues…

We are continuing to implement robots for the automation of certain tasks at SAP Services, which will bring another positive change, such as routine work being performed by machines, so people can profit from more creative jobs and tasks that would contribute to their development.  I am sure it is going to be another exciting year.

By Linda Štucbartová

Andrea has been managing SAP Services in Prague since 2010. SAP Services is a daughter company of the major German software leader SAP. Established in Prague in 2004 with the aim to provide business shared services to the SAP branches throughout EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa),SAP Services has grown into being the largest global service center of SAP.

Besides financial and business results, one of Andrea’s foremost priorities today is the continuous strive for sustainable social innovation through diversity engagement programs.

Andrea’s concurrent role at SAP is Global Head of Data management within Human Resources data domain. This role is means leading a robust data management delivery team, as well as leading an HR data governance, data protection and privacy and any compliance topics. This role, besides its focus on delivery, is requiring constant innovation as well as continuous improvement in all of its aspects, processes as well as IT systems.

Andrea is also a member of the Board of Directors of ABSL (Association of Business Services Leaders) Czech Republic, where she focuses on human resources topics that form a natural common platform for exchange and cooperation among most of the ABSL member companies in the Czech Republic.

Prior to managing SAP Services, Andrea implemented SAP software and provided software consulting services through Accenture and other local SAP partners to various clients in Central and Eastern Europe. She holds a degree in Economics from the University of Economics in Bratislava, Slovakia, and an Executive MBA degree in International Management from Thunderbird, Global School of Business, in Glendale-Phoenix, AZ, USA.

Andrea has two sons and lives with her family in the countryside outside Prague. She loves to sing and dance, do sports, read books, travel for fun and occasionally cook for friends or family.