Alicia Tillman, Global CMO of SAP
Alicia Tillman
Global CMO SAP logo

SAP’s CMO Shares How Being a Mom Shaped Her Approach to Business

There's nothing like parenthood to fine-tune your management skills, notes SAP’s Alicia Tillman. While seamlessly blending career and family can be a challenging feat, parenting provides life skills that are transferable to the workplace. Here, Alicia shares how being a mom has shaped her management style and other helpful insights on how to be a strong leader.

Tell us about what you are doing now. 

I’m responsible for creating and accelerating our marketing strategy and brand recognition at a global level... My role is all about creating meaningful brand experiences that drive deep customer connections and enable our customers to improve the world. I see it as my responsibility to be the voice of our customers and communicate our company story, what it is and stands for in a way that is reflective of what buyers are looking for, which is truth, authenticity, and courage.

How did you get to where you are today?

After college, I started my career as a management trainee at Rosenbluth International, a global, B2B travel management company. This role gave me the opportunity to spend two weeks in each department of the organization. After two months, the CEO offered me a job as his head of business management. In that role, I learned all aspects of how to run a business – from finance, tech, HR, PR and marketing and I was able to learn how all of these different business functions work together to sell a product or service.

Rosenbluth International was later acquired by American Express and eventually where I built an 11-year career year, working my way up to running the marketing for the company’s global business travel division. My introduction to SAP came when I was hired as the CMO of SAP Ariba – the world’s largest business-to-business marketplace.

What pivotal moments did you face along the way? 

"Being a mom... has taught me the importance of having balance in your life."

One of the most pivotal moments in my life was becoming a mother and learning how to fit all my responsibilities together and feel a sense of organization, and pride. Being a mom – to now two amazing children – has taught me the importance of having balance in your life. It’s shown me that I’m incredibly strong and that it’s okay to ask for help. At the same time, having children has completely shaped my approach to business and working with people. It’s made my approach increasingly human, and I couldn’t be more proud and honored to juggle both mom-life and my career!

I’ve also had the challenge and opportunity of working at companies during great periods of change. For example, the rebrand of SAP Ariba and the reinvention of our brand story at SAP, both of which are changes I oversaw as the CMO of these companies. I’ve come to realize that change is inevitable so it’s important to be able to adapt and be agile. During these times, it’s also important to listen to new ideas and what people are thinking, what they desire and value in life. Too often, I see leaders come into roles and they are so anxious to prove themselves that they don’t take the time to listen to those around them and ultimately, they don’t get the followership that they need to be successful long term.

What do you see as the major opportunities and challenges for women today?

I think one challenge is not getting caught up in all of the issues that often plague women in the workplace. While we’ve come a considerably long way, there are still many injustices that exist. As women, we must not let these hold us back or deter us from going after a promotion we want, for example. While we may need to speak a little louder to have our voices heard, it’s this very fight that will ultimately help women advance in the workplace and earn their seat at the table.

I also encourage women to share their success stories with other women to help show them what’s possible. Having support networks both in your personal and professional lives is also important. We need to increasingly lift each other up to reach new heights in the workplace. Nothing in life is easy, but when women have a strong support system of other men and women that share the same values and beliefs, they find the inspiration and support needed to achieve their goals.

What can organizations do to play a bigger role?

I believe that companies need to hold themselves accountable for their part in improving the gender disparity in the workplace. All organizations should have strong metrics and reporting processes in place to keep them honest on things like salaries and women in leadership positions. It’s not enough just to walk the walk, you have to show that as an organization, you are truly doing your part to be inclusive and increase diversity.

What advice can you share with other professionals?

I encourage women and men to have a defined personal brand and be consistent in how you deliver it. It’s so important to constantly sharpen your skills and to find ways to differentiate yourself from others. One example that comes to mind is public speaking. If you are not a strong public speaker than you should step outside of your comfort zone and find opportunities to speak. By finding ways to share your voice and point of view, you’ll further strengthen that skill set which will ultimately help your personal brand.

I’ve also learned the importance of creating diverse networks. It’s so important to meet and speak with new people – these diverse perspectives are valuable and it’s critical to make sure those views are heard and respected. You don’t want to only surround yourself with people who think like you and also work in the same industry.

Who helped you in your journey and how did they help shape your thinking? 

"I believe the greatest quality a leader can bring to a team is inspiration."

My first boss at Rosenbluth International really helped shape me into the leader that I am today. He always emphasized the importance of putting your people before the customer and while it’s a provocative thought, the rationale behind it always made sense to me. When I think of my leadership style, that has been what’s shaped me the most. I believe the greatest quality a leader can bring to a team is inspiration. You have to provide a strong vision because your team looks up to you. I would say that the leading success in my career has been the ability to attract and shape high performing teams.

Another influential person in my life is my mom. She worked her whole life while being a great wife and mother. She showed me that women really can do it all, which delivered inspiration to me in a way that’s helped me build strong character.

How have you found the right balance between your personal life and career?  

Organization is key and has helped me maintain a balance between my career and personal life. I have to be clear with my priorities in both my personal and professional life and diligently manage both every single day; whether that’s ensuring I have a good support network for childcare or taking time to catch up with my husband. I’m also a big list person, so each day before I sign off, I write out a list of everything I must get done the next day. When I wake up, I feel focused and aligned on my priorities and it helps me jump start my day. Ultimately though, work-life balance is all about your mindset. I have learned that it’s ok when things don’t always work out as planned – life isn’t always perfect and sometimes we can be our own worst critics.

If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, money or talent would be no object, what would you be doing? 

I would be the Editor-in-Chief of my local beach newspaper! I would love to write stories to appeal to all the beach-goers, keeping them interested and invested in our tiny slice of heaven.