At a celebration marking SAP co-founder Hasso Plattner's 60th birthday in 2004, then German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder had just one complaint: "To get Germany moving economically, we need a lot of Hasso Plattners and a lot of SAPs."
At a time when computer networks were just beginning to become business staples, Plattner's vision was to create a program that would become the foundation upon which companies would be able to link departments and automate basic processes such as accounting, inventory maintenance and work-flow management before Microsoft and Windows had become household names. Plattner's bosses at IBM didn't think the idea fitted with their strategy, so Plattner and four colleagues formed their own company, called SAP, which went on to become the world's biggest manufacturer of enterprise software.
Now one of the richest Germans, Plattner can spend freely on his private passion, regatta racing on the high seas. He shares this extravagant hobby with Larry Ellison, the founder of software company Oracle. Staunch rivals for the business computing market, the two engage in fierce battles at sea.
Plattner also employs his wealth for social projects. In 2003, he donated 36 million to establish a program to fight AIDS in southern Africa. He has a private foundation to finance university facilities, including one at Stanford in Palo Alto, California, to promote research in corporate software systems. A venture capital fund, which he established last year, focuses on innovative start-up companies.
These initiatives and institutions are producing tech-savvy entrepreneurs and exciting new companies, perhaps even the Plattners and SAPs that Germany and the world needs.