Leo Apotheker throughout his quick reign at Hewlett-Packard in 2011
By Michael Dempsey
Know-how of Enterprise reporter
Why can’t Europe replicate the dazzling achievements of Silicon Valley?
“We’re not only a bunch of incompetent Europeans who’re solely good for going to the seashore,” says Leo Apotheker.
Mr Apotheker ran SAP, a German enterprise software program firm that rose to dominate its area. He additionally had a brief interval as chief govt of US large Hewlett-Packard.
He believes Europe has obtained loads to supply.
Partially retired, the 69-year outdated divides his time between Paris and London and has spent the final decade advising small software program corporations.
At the moment he has a brand new function, as considered one of a workforce of tech veterans decided to finish Europe’s underwhelming file of manufacturing large expertise corporations.
Mr Apotheker is a part of Boardwave, the brainchild of Phill Robinson. Mr Robinson is a British former software program boss who has lived in Silicon Valley and retired after a prognosis of Parkinson’s Illness.
Boardwave grew out of Mr Robinson ruminating on what he might do to raise Europe’s tech scene to Californian ranges.
Mr Apotheker joined Boardwave the day after its web site went dwell. As Mr Robinson places it, “we’re grateful for the careers we’ve had and the chance to share what we all know.”
Each are pushed by a urgent sense of passing time and a want to spare future generations of tech pioneers the pains they endured.
Mr Apotheker factors out that Europe does have some leaders. He highlights specialist fields equivalent to industrial design packages and the UK’s lead in monetary software program. London’s monetary expertise (fintech) scene wins his approval.
However why aren’t there extra?
Silicon Valley is the house to Apple, Alphabet, Fb, eBay and plenty of others
He rejects the standard argument that discovering cash is way simpler within the US.
“I don’t assume that is about elevating capital, Europe is awash with enterprise capital corporations.”
Buyers will sink $50bn into European tech companies in 2023, in accordance with enterprise capital agency Atomico.
One downside for European tech entrepreneurs is an absence of friends.
“I lived in Silicon Valley and there’s all the time a bunch of individuals round who may give you recommendation. After I ran SAP and wanted recommendation I talked to the wall!, ” says Mr Apotheker.
“Boardwave is attempting to mentor different firm bosses to assist them develop. Being in cost could be a very lonely job. You are concerned about one thing in the midst of the evening and it retains on chewing at you. The worth of choosing up the telephone and speaking to somebody is large.”
He sees Boardwave’s workforce saving his youthful successors from these sleepless nights and guiding the large concepts to fruition.
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Mr Apotheker nonetheless needs he might have had a sympathetic information to share issues with when he ran SAP. “There have been quite a lot of selections I struggled with at SAP and I want I might have talked with somebody who’d been there earlier than me, somebody I might bounce concepts off.”
Boardwave was additionally born out of a way that point is just not on the facet of sensible older guys. “Of the few hairs I’ve left a number of them are gray. So I’m prepared to spend the time I’ve left on this.”
That features speaking about selections that didn’t work out.
“We discuss errors we’ve made. We’ve made quite a lot of errors, and obtained a couple of issues proper!”
European scepticism is commonly cited as a poor distinction to the overwhelming optimism of Silicon Valley.
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But Mr Apotheker values the power to ask penetrating questions in an business with its justifiable share of fraudulent ventures equivalent to Theranos, the Silicon Valley start-up whose founder Elizabeth Holmes has simply begun an eleven-year jail sentence for defrauding buyers.
“I’m of combined German/French heritage and I could be cynical and sceptical however I flip that to a bonus.”
His colleague, 58-year outdated Mr Robinson, is candid about how Parkinson’s Illness motivates him. “I’ve gathered quite a lot of information of the software program sector and I wish to share it with others earlier than my mind will get mushy.”
He took one of many first laptop science levels within the UK and labored in Silicon Valley on the age of 23, starting a formidable profession in enterprise software program.
“I consider Europeans have a fantastic expertise pool nevertheless it’s fragmented. We’re 1,000 miles throughout whereas Silicon Valley is 40 miles lengthy.” He based Boardwave on his kitchen desk in 2022 and it now has 800 members, chief executives and founders throughout Europe.
Europe’s tech scene is fragmented says Phil Robinson
Begin-ups registered with Boardwave can join with these mentors. Boardwave goals to shepherd them in the direction of the essential stage of £100m turnover after they can unfold their wings on the worldwide stage.
Different established initiatives echo Boardwave’s drive to increase Europe’s high tier of tech. Finland hosts an enormous annual gathering, Slush, the place tech start-ups can meet potential buyers.
The boss of Finnish success story WithSecure, a cybersecurity enterprise that confronts the worldwide menace of malware, hacking and ransom calls for, is Juhani Hintikka.
He too does professional bono teaching for native start-ups and agrees with the idea behind Boardwave. “Folks do ask for recommendation and I attempt to do my bit.”
However he admits innovators are curbed by Europe’s fragmentation, with a number of enterprise cultures versus the huge dwelling market US corporations can faucet into.
Ever bold, Mr Apotheker cites planemaker Airbus as a fantastic European guiding mild. “European airline makers got here collectively to tackle Boeing and Airbus is now the biggest on the planet.”