Good management requires smart thinking and crisp execution, but a little bit of luck doesn't hurt. Henning Kagermann, 57, CEO of software giant SAP (SAP ), has had plenty of all three in the past year. Under the steady hand of the cerebral manager, the Walldorf (Germany) company has more than survived the tech bubble -- it has strengthened its position as the global leader in software for accounting, sales management, and manufacturing. Profits for 2004 are expected to surge 20% over the previous year, to $1.7 billion, on revenues that grew 6.7%, to $9.9 billion. SAP's suite of software packages now serves as the central nervous system for more than 24,500 of the world's largest companies, making it the No. 3 software company on the planet.
Kagermann deserves credit for keeping SAP's costs in line and hanging on to budget-conscious customers during the downturn. His task got an unexpected boost from the protracted campaign by Silicon Valley-based rival Oracle Corp. (ORCL ) to take over software maker PeopleSoft Inc. (PSFT ). Many customers were nervous about the outcome, so they turned to stolid SAP. It helps, too, that under Kagermann, who took over as CEO in May, 2003, after sharing the job for five years with Chairman Hasso Plattner, SAP has remade itself as the industry's honest broker. Rather than locking customers into its own products, SAP offers tools that tie competing packages into a seamless whole. Analysts forecast revenues will climb another 10% this year, surpassing Oracle's expected 8% growth. Success like that depends on a lot more than luck.