Peck: Passionate player

SAP federal’s president draws on drive to help agencies fulfill missions

When Steve Peck took the reins of SAP America’s government division in 2002, it was the company’s weakest unit. By the end of 2003, Peck said, he had pointed it in the right direction and turned it into SAP’s strongest performer, as judged by revenue targets met, customer satisfaction and other measures.

Peck is, by all accounts, a modest man. In 2001, he and his colleagues at his former employer, Adaytum, went to a meeting on the 63rd floor of the World Trade Center’s north tower when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the building. He survived the devastating attack but doesn’t like to call attention to it. And on the job, he’d rather talk about how his group is helping federal, state and local government customers achieve their missions than about his role in building it up.

People who know and work with Peck highlight his respect and passion for the public sector as reasons for the division’s success. Phil Kiviat, a consultant at Guerra, Kiviat, Flyzik and Associates, which advises companies on doing business with the government, knows many executives in the federal arena. But Peck stands out, he said.

“I rarely can think of anybody being so passionate while talking to his employees about the need to support the customer,” Kiviat said. “And I have seen him argue with the company corporate management to spend [research and development] money on product changes that were good for the government customers. That’s a difficult thing to do when you’re dealing with a worldwide corporation whose business is mainly in the private sector.”

Maryann Hirsch, president of Knowledge Consulting Group, said that many people who work with the federal government try to deliver quality services and people, but Peck takes that effort a step further.

“Steve’s keen desire to truly understand the mission and its pain points and how he can better that the first time — bring the right resources to bear, deliver the right solution, improve the business processes, make sure the agency gets trained on the business processes — I think is just a little bit more unique,” she said.

For example, Peck once traveled to San Diego to take part in a town hall meeting with former Homeland Security Department Secretary Tom Ridge. The purpose of the meeting was to explain to the public how a new customs system would support safe commerce in the shipping industry. Peck didn’t have to do that, but he takes the time for such tasks, Hirsch said.

Peck, a 20-year industry veteran, said he doesn’t use innovative or unique methods to deal with his customers — he simply tries to listen to them. “I’ve always believed [that] at whatever levels that you’re dealing with people, that it’s always important to understand what’s important to them,” he said. “That’s on a personal level and on a professional level.”

In trying to turn the SAP division around, he spent a lot of time on Capitol Hill, talking with senior government executives and sitting in on meetings. Peck’s approach emphasized the importance of demonstrating thought leadership and providing help to agency officials trying to achieve significant transformation. It’s not just about providing a great product or applying the software, he said.

Part of achieving change is developing long-term relationships with customers and being proactive in their missions. That means offering resources and expertise during a potentially critical moment, not just reacting to a problem, he said.

Tim Vigotsky, who spent 25 years in the federal government before starting his own consulting business last fall, was formerly director of the Interior Department’s National Business Center, where he dealt with several SAP representatives before Peck took over.

Vigotsky said he could usually tell in the first two minutes of a meeting whether a vendor is “just in there to sell me something quick, make a buck and get the heck out of there.” Peck is in it for the long term, Vigotsky said.

“He made it a point to make sure that not only he personally, but the folks that work for him, took the time to understand the mission and the programs of the agencies that they were calling on,” Vigotsky said. “Not a lot of contractors do that.”

Peck traces his passion and respect for government back to his father, who served in the Army for 20 years and worked as a federal civil servant for another 20 years.

“He never made a lot of money,” Peck said of his father. “But he always went to work with a sense of duty and a sense of pride, and I just absolutely respect and love him for that. I think that’s pretty cool.”

Peck downplays the importance of his experience during the terrorist attacks. The entire country was affected, he said, and he “just happened to be 250 feet from where the plane hit.” He’s never had survivor’s remorse, simply saying it wasn’t his day to go. But he said he learned an important lesson that day: If “we don’t keep staying vigilant in the face of it, the red, white and blue flags we’ve been putting out on our doorsteps might as well be white flags,” he said. “We don’t want that to happen. That’s probably the one real passion I have. And when I see a firefighter or a police officer, I’ll walk across the block to say hello to them and thank them for doing the job they’re doing. A lot of them think I’m crazy, but all of them are appreciative.”

Peck said he’s interested more than ever in the nation’s security and follows what DHS does. The company is also involved in several major Customs and Border Protection initiatives.

Vigotsky said Peck brings energy to the people around him, and his excitement is contagious. “He’s just burning the candle at all ends,” Vigotsky said. “Fundamentally, his core values are so strong it reflects in the way he does his job.”

Peck said he wants to make every day count, something he learned from his Sept. 11 experience.

“If I could bring innovation and thought leadership to the way somebody approaches their project to make it successful, to make sure I can bring the right resources to bear, I think that’s where I can be innovative,” he said. “If I can use my personal experiences to bring some passion to how we get it done, that’s all the better.”

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