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In this episode of The Inner Chief podcast, I speak to Managing Director of SAP Concur ANZ, Fabian Calle, on being agile in a large corporate, leading as an introvert, and the career skills obtained from martial arts.
He has over 15 years’ experience working with SMBs in the computer software industry in a variety of roles at SAP Concur, including: General Manager for SMB; Senior Director of Regional Sales for SMB; and Director of Regional Sales for Enterprises.
Fabian’s expertise is in Business Process, Negotiation, Business Planning, Growth, Sales, and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and has a business degree from Deakin University in Corporate Law, Business Systems and Finance.
Fabian is also a keen martial arts enthusiast, having competed in karate, Muay Thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, claiming a national title in the latter only six years after starting.
In this episode we talk about:
✅ How working in the family business making boxes of strawberries for 2 cents each shaped his work ethic
✅ Manifesting agility and ideation in a large corporate organisation – Fabian articulates a wonderful story about creating a new product that led to it being 30% of the SAP global revenue
✅ The exact strategies he uses to manage his energy and get people to follow him as an introvert leader, and
✅ The incredible life and leadership lessons he has learnt from honing his craft as a martial arts competitor.
Connecting with Fabian Calle
You can connect with Fabian via LinkedIn.
Books and resources
- Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less – by Greg McKeown
“A manager once told me to stop trying to be so perfect; instead, get it 80% right, and we'll work out the rest, because otherwise you'll never do anything.”
On owning his first business
- We asked ourselves how do we do something that was completely different? And my business partner came up with that concept. Then it was a matter of how do we make this work because we both come from corporate backgrounds and we knew nothing about hospitality on the bar so we weren't really tied to the way things are done.
- As it was a completely different bar – there isn't anything like that at all in Melbourne and Melbourne loves a novelty – we said what is that we also need to hire staff that do not come from that industry either.
- The challenge was, as many people would know when they run their own business, you're on all the time, there's always something. I would walk into the bars (we had two – one downstairs and we had a cocktail lounge upstairs), but you'd always walk in and see things that needed to be fixed.
On agility in a large corporate
- SAP acquired us (Concur) in 2014 and before that we did have a lot more agility and some entrepreneurial flexibility. Then we moved into SAP where there are a lot more stringent conditions around the way we need to work. The one thing I can control, however, is the people and the culture and the environment within the group that I manage. SAP Concur itself only contributes about 3 to 4% of our total revenue.
- So how do I make them significant? What I was able to do is one of the things that we are known about within the business globally – we have the ability to try new things. Because, if it doesn't work, I'm not going to pull down the whole company. We're able to maybe take a different process or launch new products. We took a chance on some and now there’s one – our invoice processing – and it generates anywhere between 20 to 30 percent of our total revenue globally. Before, it was generating less than five.
- Why do I truly believe that people want to follow me and how do I get them to believe that we can actually make a difference when at face value our contribution is very small? Being able to truly understand people has been important, but along that journey of understanding people, I have learned probably more about me than I have about other people.
On how to succeed as an introvert leader
- I realized how deep of an introvert I am. I tried to be something that I wasn't. I don't have to be the smartest person in the room, but I do know what I'm good at. I had to find that out and I had to be very, very specific with that. I realised that there are many other people that are much smarter than me and they bring amazing skillsets.
- Once I gave them ownership of certain parts of the business, then they were my voice through the rest of the business and they started to become the creative parts of the engine. They started to promote it because they had ownership for it.
- Strategically, we had to find very specific people to hire into the business who brought us a certain skillset. We effectively bought skillsets and that just created this beautiful momentum, process changes, energy, ideas, and creativity. And then the next, the next minute I found myself just sitting in a meeting room, not really saying a lot and everyone else was leading.
- I thought I had to be the one that was yelling and screaming, getting everyone revved up. As an introvert, that's the worst thing in the world. Also, I've never been one to need someone to fire me up; my discipline comes from within.
- What I also learned was I'm now developing them and giving them the front line and creating a brand for themselves. My intent was genuine and I didn't realise this at the time, but I was actually using that as a coping mechanism for myself.
On living as an introvert
- I’d get up so early in the morning, but I needed that time to get my energy up. I needed the start of the day to be about me, my time, my energy. I used to get up as early as I possibly could before my kids would wake up because I needed that to get me through the day.
- Someone explained it to me as coins. An introvert wakes up with say five coins and then as we get to people, they take a coin away. So by the end of the day, they have none left. And an extrovert starts without any coins and they're just around collecting as many as they can during the day.
- What I needed to do was really manage my time and my productivity and where I would focus my energy. I do believe in things like decision fatigue, so I really had to be very specific around what I did and didn't pay attention to.
- I remember speaking to one of the founders of the business when I first joined and I said to him, “I'm, I'm busy, I've got emails and calls and all these sort of things. I can't imagine how you do it.” And he said, “You just don't prioritize at all. You focus on the wrong thing and just shrug your shoulders.”
On his martial arts career
- And I think like one of the leadership traits I take from that, I'll take it to it is like just to be a continuous learner. I love the fact that I had something that I was absolutely a novice in.
- We know that we grow when we're in uncomfortable situations. And I just really liked that situation where I was in something that I knew nothing about. Now I have something that I could probably do forever.
- People ask, you know, what did I learn about leadership in business? I think most of the lessons I've learned, were from football, or martial arts.
- and they become some really stressful situations where ultimately you, it's up to you. You give up. The ultimate form of of a win is when you make somebody give up. And you have to be humble with that. So when I come to work, this isn't stressful. That's really, yeah, I know it's all relative.
- There's a completely different, thought process to people who train in the gym. and they, they're in a gym to now put you in, you're right. One of the most vulnerable situations. You can be in front of thousands of people, you and another person and everybody's watching you. one tiny little mistake could end the whole event for you. and it's that strategic. It's that strategy of learning and understanding.
- The thing I learned about competitive about being competitive though is no one really cares whether you lose except for yourself. your coach just hopes you do, you expect you to do the best you can. Your family just wants you to be safe. yeah, everyone says, you know, you did great. You tried.
- He takes a video of a role that I've had, and then we dissect it, we go through, these are the things you could have done, you shouldn't have done, and we, and we problem solve, and I love that part of it. I love the part of problem solving, it's very, a lot of it's situational, conceptual, those, and that's exactly how I like to learn.
- I'd be in the reserves and it was frustrating. And then one year I thought, I need to be undeniable then I can't give you a reason to ever take me out and that's on me, not on you. That's not your fault. You're just doing your job. so I went through and thought, what are all the things that I need to change? I went through and changed them all.
- I think from that lesson, then I thought I truly understood what it was to be accountable for my own. My own actions and my own, growth experiences.
On progress not perfection
- I didn’t prioritize enough. But I think what you have to do is you've found my non negotiables these. And when I found those, I didn't just apply them to work. I applied them even to things that I eat.
- You've got to find those non negotiables and when, when you find those, it's amazing how much time it frees up, even things down to emails.
- And it's the amount of time it's saved to allow me to then blocks of, uh, during the week. And I might, I might put in a couple of hours in a week where it's just about how do I make my business better?
- Stop trying to be so perfect, get it 80 percent right, and we'll work out the rest. because otherwise you'll never do anything. And he was 100 percent right. And I thought, wow, I've been procrastinating on these things for a long time that we were talking about. And it was amazing from that point on, I decided that we get, let's get as much as we can get right. Whatever it might be. things just moved really quickly. You know, as things move quicker, then it opens up opportunities for other things to come in a lot sooner too.
- Everybody has a bad day. Everyone had their individual challenges. They, they deal with adversity in their own way. you know, they have self-doubt, injuries, if it's a, if it's a sporting analogy. but the best don't dwell for too long. They look at it, they, they get their emotion. They understand what it is. but then they pass. And then they just get on with it.
Final message of wisdom and hope for future leaders
It's okay to be vulnerable and you don't have to be the smartest person in the room. the thing I love the most about the position I'm in is when we have a lot of young people that come through, and they, they don't care, they really come through with some amazing ideas. I think you can learn from absolutely everybody and I love when they come through with some amazing things that are super creative.
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