Jennifer Morgan, President, SAP Americas and Asia Pacific Japan, and her husband Michael speak with MONTCO Today about their respective upbringings in Northern Virginia. Although their high schools were rivals, they hadn’t met until Jennifer graduated from James Madison and Michael graduated from Virginia, and both were working at Andersen Consulting.
Jennifer shares how she never spent too much time plotting her career, but always had a strong work ethic, which she attributes to her success today. Michael, who swam collegiately and missed the Olympic Trials by a hundredth of a second, is equally as ambitious and heavily involved in the community.
Where did you grow up?
Jennifer Morgan: I was born in DC and grew up, the oldest of two children, both girls, in Fairfax, Va. My father was an orthodontist, and my mother was a homemaker and worked in his practice.
Mike Morgan: I was born in Atlantic City, N.J., in the summer of ’69. My birth mother, who was nineteen years old, put me up for adoption when I was born. Only her mother, an aunt, and a cousin knew of me until I reconnected with her when I was 22 years old.
After I had been adopted, I grew up in Wenonah in South Jersey until 1980 when my dad’s company, Mobil Oil, moved everyone to Fairfax, Va., in Northern Virginia. I always loved the community. I can name the entire 1980 Philadelphia Phillies World Series Championship team, and the Eagles went to the Super Bowl.
JM: Mike loves people! I’m known around here as Mike’s wife, which I love!
What memories do you have of your childhood?
JM: I had an idyllic childhood. Northern Virginia seems big now, but looking back I remember my community was a great place to grow up. I went to a large high school, 850 kids in my graduating class, but I had a close-knit family.
MM: I remember everything and am very sentimental! I remember fondly so many details of basically what I’m doing now with my kids; little league baseball and summer swim team.
Did you play any sports growing up?
MM: I played a lot of sports, but I was best at swimming and swam at the University of Virginia. I swam sprint freestyle and butterfly and ended up missing the Olympic Trials by 1/100th of a second.
JM: I had a horse and took tennis and swimming lessons when I was young, but I didn’t play any team sports in high school or college. I consider myself a generalist athlete. I can hold my own when it comes to sports, but I don’t ever remember feeling the need to compete.
What kind of music were you listening to in high school and college?
MM: I love Classic Rock and Blues, and I was a big fan of the Dave Matthews Band and followed them early on in their rise – they are from Charlottesville, Va., and I went to the University of Virginia.
JM: I love all kinds of music including country. I try to stay up on the latest hits and artists so I can keep up with Ned and Eric.
What were your first jobs?
MM: I was a lifeguard, coach, and swim instructor at the community pool. I learned a lot of social skills including talking people into joining the pool, resolving customer satisfaction issues, always recruiting kids to be on the swim team.
Where did you go to College?
JM: I went to JMU. JMU had a great reputation for being down-to-earth, humble if you will, but hungry. I didn’t realize it until I had been out of school, started a career and had a family, but JMU’s core values played a big part in who I am and my success in life. I had the opportunity to deliver the commencement address last year at their College of Business and it was an incredible honor to go back to a place that is still so special to me to this day
MM: I went to the University of Virginia. I was a good student. I wanted to go to the University of Virginia, and that’s where I went. I majored in business with a focus on management information systems and marketing. While I was in college, I played water polo for a year and swam on UVA’s swim team for four years, was a member of a fraternity and was active in campus activities.
How did you meet?
JM: We both worked at Andersen Consulting after college. A girlfriend I was working with on a project told me about Mike and insisted I meet him. I told her I was picky and I probably wouldn’t like him. She introduced us, and the rest is history!
MM: We went to rival high schools and had a lot of friends in common but had never met. In fact, in middle school when I needed braces, I went to the orthodontist across the street from her father’s office.
Looking back on your respective careers, who gave you your big breaks?
MM: I started at Andersen Consulting in 1992 and stayed through the transition to Andersen becoming Accenture. I loved the “work hard, play hard” culture with a lot of travel. When start-ups slowed down in the early 2000s in the dot.com bust, I took flex-leave, a partial-pay sabbatical program, for one year.
Ned, our first child, had just been born. When Jen traveled, I would put Ned to bed, open up my laptop and get cranking on my community work. We always thought we would switch as Ned got older, that Jen would become the stay-at-home mom and I would resume my career. After a year, I was so connected with Ned and, being adopted, I wanted to be close to my son. Plus, I know Jen had potential and could crush it in the business world.
JM: My big break came when I took the job at Andersen Consulting, now Accenture. Andersen had a prestigious reputation, and I felt fortunate to be hired by them. Working at Andersen, I could consult with different disciplines, clients, and industries and developed a broad set of skills.
MM: After seven years at Andersen Consulting, Jen took a position at Siebel Systems. From there she met Bill McDermott and then joined SAP soon after our second child, Eric, was born.
Was there a moment, Jennifer, when you grasped your leadership potential?
I never spent too much time plotting my career or thinking about where my career was headed. I’ve always had a strong work ethic and have been ambitious. My father grew up the son of a grocer. Every summer from the time I was thirteen, I worked in my father’s orthodontist practice. He always reminded us that the blessings we had as a family were the product of hard work and focus and that stuck with me.
Taking the job at Siebel was a turning point for me. At first, Siebel didn’t think I was technical enough and wasn’t going to hire me. My headhunter convinced them I could do the job however and Siebel decided to take a chance on me. The sales consultant role at Siebel was a different role for me, and I was forced to learn the technology so I could properly explain how it worked. The experience rounded me out and gave me new skills.
Do you have the same work ethic and ambition Jennifer does?
MM: I do. In everything I do I want to excel all out. I want to do well.
JM: He probably works as many hours a week on his community activities as I do here at SAP!
You’re still involved in a lot of community activities, Mike. When did you realize you had the ability to keep so many balls in the air?
MM: I’ve always sought quality and quantity of life and been able to manage a busy schedule. I always want to do a lot and meet a lot of people.
What motivates you to be so involved in the community?
MM: Community is family to me and being involved in the community is very fulfilling. Whether it’s the chamber, little league, swimming, or the parents, teachers, students, and administrators at Episcopal Academy, I like to give back, pay it forward, and make an impact on the community. That’s important to me. When I coach swimming or little league baseball, I try to channel my best coaches by bringing what they taught me in what I teach the kids.
JM: Its interesting to watch Mike’s involvement in the community. Travel makes it’s hard to engage as much as I would like to in the community. Being married to someone so involved in the community like Mike, I’ve become keenly aware of the small group of people who really make a difference for so many other people. We all remember being kids and the big impact a coach can make on a young boy’s or girl’s life.
I remember being at a swim banquet when we were leaving Virginia to move to Newtown Square. I knew the kids Mike coached loved him, but I didn’t appreciate how much! When I saw 18-year-old kids telling Mike, through tears, he had been the most impactful person in their life to that point, expressing their appreciation for how he had pushed them and saying they would never forget how he believed in them and motivated them, I realized the impact and fingerprint he was leaving on their lives.
How do balance your busy lives?
MM: It’s not easy to balance, but being sincere and genuine is essential.
JM: People want to work at a place with a sense of purpose and where there is parity and opportunity. Authenticity is important. Being around people where I can be my authentic self and where there’s not a cookie-cutter approach to how things get done. A workplace that embraces that authenticity not only unlocks each individual’s potential but enhances the results each team can deliver as well.
MM: People expect that Jen and I are so driven, that working with us is going to be top-down driven. We’re not like that at all. We’re all about talent, not title. She’ll use leadership approaches at work that I use volunteering and coaching and vice-versa.
How does your family balance the rigors of work and life?
JM: I’m not sure achieving a perfect work life balance is possible. Every family is different but I think the best kind of balance comes when you make conscious, deliberate choices with your family, accept the inevitable stretches of imperfection and imbalance, and embrace every moment – big and small. It’s not always about the quantity of time spent but about the quality of time spent – and the moments and memories have always mattered most to me.
The concept of guilt often comes up when I talk to working mothers. When our kids were younger and Ned or Eric would tell me I was the only mother not at an event, I felt a lot of guilt. It killed me! I would flip it around, however, reminding them they were the only kids at the event with a dad there, and remind them of how special and different having their father present was.
There’s also the assumption that women in my position have their act together, that somehow, I’ve got it all worked out. Nothing could be further from the truth! I have the same challenges everyone else does. Our kids have moments where they talk back and are sassy. Being authentic allows me to convey it’s alright to talk about our challenges. When I leave work to be at one of my sons’ events, I’m very vocal about stating what I’m doing and why.
MM: I received volunteer and coach of the year awards in Loudoun County, Virginia, but sometimes I’m not the coach of the year in my own house! When I coach baseball or swimming, I have other guys coaching with me because we have a hard time coaching our own kids. My sons will take guidance from another coach hook, line and sinker which they may not accept from me.
JM: Mike and Eric, our younger son Eric, are avid golfers. Mike will pick up Eric and play nine holes after school. Those are the moments that kids remember.
MM: I had a big ski accident four years ago. I hit a tree going 60 miles an hour. I was pretty banged up. The experience reminded us all how fortunate we are to be alive and to have each other, our family and our friends, and showed us how much they appreciate all I do as a volunteer and coach.
What about your new role at SAP, Jennifer?
My focus is on keeping our momentum going. I’m fortunate to be at a company with a 45-year legacy with an even brighter future before it. I’m honored and humbled to be part of the legacy and future.
The secret to my success is the people who make my life possible every day. I couldn’t do what I do without Mike. Growing up, I always felt my father’s love and knew he was proud of me. In fact, I never thought anyone could be more proud of me than my father. I was wrong. I know Mike is as proud of me as even my father is of me – that’s an incredible feeling.
Finally, what is the best piece of advice you ever received?
JM: Mark Testoni, a leader I work with here at SAP, once told me that things are never as good as they seem and never as bad as they seem and that I shouldn’t ride the highs too high or the lows too low. What he meant was when I have a great quarter, or feel everything is going great, that’s a time for complacency to creep in.
To battle that natural tendency toward complacency, I always try to stay humble and hungry. I don’t put too much weight in the press clippings singing our praises and always remember when things aren’t going so well, it’s going to be OK. Being bold and fearless is easy when I hit a rough patch. Remembering to be bold and fearless when times are good however keeps me sharp and natural complacency at bay.
MM: I always see opportunity in whatever adversity might be there. We’ve been fortunate not to have any major adversity, except for the ski accident I mentioned earlier, in our lives.
John Brewer, Principal at Dominion High School in Virginia, is an incredible leader. I coached Dominion Swimming for years. Brewer always talked about living a life of significance. His advice reminds me of the importance of doing great things in the world, to serve other people and to make a difference in the world.