SAP's McDermott donates $420,000 pool win to local causes - it's about purpose

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy April 6, 2016
Bill McDermott, CEO SAP played with his head and in picking a pool winner and so was able to donate $420,000 to a cause close to his heart. That's serendipity. But there's more.

bill mcdermott
Bill McDermott, CEO SAP

It is rare that we get an opportunity to write this kind of story but it is one I am more than happy to tell.

SAP's CEO Bill McDermott bet $10,000 in Bloomberg LP's "Brackets for a Cause" pool on Kansas as winners of the NCCA basketball championship. He won $420,000 and promptly donated his winnings to a local cause with which SAP has a 10 year relationship.

In the US, this competition is affectionately known as March Madness and anyone who saw the final, when Villanova came back from behind in the last four seconds to win as the buzzer sounded, will know that the series is more than aptly named. As I said to a colleague, I usually find basketball deathly dull, like slow motion tennis, but there is no denying the excitement of those last few seconds in what I am told is one of the greatest victories of all time.

Despite my ignorance of all things US basketball, I was pleased to be among a crowd of several hundred in a downtown San Diego bar when the final points were scored. The place erupted with squeals of joy by some and groans of pain by others. That's true sports fandom.

But I only just discovered McDermott's story afterward. It tells of McDermott applying logic to figure out the bet he needed to place. From Philly News:

The grandson of NBA Hall of Famer Robert McDermott, a Long Island parochial-school gym rat, McDermott started coaching the game with his Dad when he was 12. In slighting eventual winner Villanova, McDermott bypassed his hometown favorite, the school down the road from his Main Line home, the college where his friend Father Peter Donohue O.S.A. is President, the sanctuary where he attends Sunday Mass when he's in town, to make a cold calculation.

And it worked: McDermott still won the $420,000 pot -- and donated it to the charity of his choice, the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, which trains city kids "to develop an entrepreneurial mindset" and pitch business plans -- because none of the other 41 CEOs in the pool picked the Wildcats, either..

...McDermott  won on points - he had UNC, correctly, losing in the final. He picked, in all, 46 of the 63 winners, besting No. 2, Starwood Capital boss Barry Sternlicht, who picked 43, and such high-powered competitors as T-Mobile boss John Legere, founder Marc Benioff, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn (who won last year), Cisco Systems' John Chambers, Microsoft cofounder Steve Ballmer, and Bloomberg's own Michael Bloomberg.

But it's the back story I find fascinating. According to Philly News, SAP has been working with Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship since 2006. McDermott is quoted as saying:

"These are kids like I was: in most cases they don't have any money. But they have dreams. They have ideas. You should see them present their business plans. Their winners' dreams. This wasn't lighthearted. I wanted to win for them.

"I had Villanova going a long way. But I had Kansas beating them. I was so happy when I was wrong."

This reminds me of the work Vandana Sikka does via Infosys Foundation. and of course let's not forget that Marc Benioff, CEO Salesforce has donated many millions to healthcare in San Francisco, while Bill Gates, former co-founder and CEO Microsoft donates billions of dollars to health and other causes. The commonality? They are acting with a purpose that extends well beyond the remit of a quarter end driven CEO. That matters. Purpose is something that Infosys CEO Vishal Sikka has talked both publicly and to me privately on numerous occasions as a pathway to what he calls 'realizing our full human potential.'

In a fascinating conversation earlier today, I heard John Battelle, serial media entrepreneur, talking about NewCo, a project that looks at purpose in the community and how the new generation of leaders and budding entrepreneurs want to leave a mark - make a dent if you will, and how they can get access to the best companies on the planet with which to work. It's a great idea, very much in the spirit of creating a new form of business that balances social responsibility with good old fashioned profit.

At a time when so many things seem uncertain, this is something well worth celebrating. So good on Bill for both winning and picking a great cause.

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