Photo credit: Personal Archive

Founded in 1972, SAP is a German company known as a market leader in end-to-end enterprise application software, database, analytics, intelligent technologies, and experience management. Stephanie Dubois is the Program Director for SAPPHIRE NOW, SAP’s flagship event and a reference in the event industry. SAPPHIRE NOW is a multi-layered, cross industry, cross LoB event, and a 3-day celebration of business and technology. It annually welcomes more than 22,000 attendees and guests from over 100 countries. The event that mobilizes hundreds of marketing and communications professionals, as well as dozens of agencies, includes presentations and workshops from SAP employees, partners, customers, and brand ambassadors. Stephanie Dubois took over the management of the event in September 2018. We talked to her about her work, the event itself, its vision, as well as about her own role of an ‘equal opportunity mediator’ inside SAP.

Q: SAPPHIRE NOW is a huge event. How big is the team behind it, how do you manage it, and what is crucial in running a team of this size and diversity; what is your mantra?

The SAPPHIRE NOW team has a small team of full timers, and many people dedicated to the event full time for at least half  the year – as the event gets closer, there are literally hundreds of internal stakeholders, vendors, and partners, who work on the event in some capacity. The team is a real mix … Most of the team are based in North America, but we have some in Latin America, Europe, and even Asia. We also have a mix in experience – every year we welcome newbies, as well as some people who’ve been involved for over 20 years!

The key is to find the right balance between a clear governance – and the ability to be flexible and agile enough to respond to the inevitable changes.

To do this, my personal mantra is ‘Team first’. Everyone’s role is clearly defined, with each person empowered to do whatever they need to do to get their job done, and we make sure we celebrate the intermediary victories, big or small, individual or collective, that will lead us to success as a team.

Q: How do you decide for the location of the event? What does it need to provide?

With over 22,000 attendees in 2019, and growth every year, the obvious criterion is capacity. Besides that, the most important thing to us is local sourcing. In the spirit of sustainability and partnership we want to partner up with local DMCs, restaurants, transportation agencies, hotels, and even the airport, to foster a strong bond and mutual trust with the destination’s players.

The story is the driver. SAPPHIRE NOW is a vessel to convey the company’s strategy, goals, and capabilities.

Q: You took over the management of the SAPPHIRE NOW in September 2018. What has so far been the biggest challenge that you faced at the preparation of the event and how have you overcome it?

My biggest personal challenge is the time difference and the distance. I live in Paris, France, and with most of my team based somewhere in North America, I’ve had to find ways to be flexible when it comes to taking late calls or travelling. It’s been an adjustment, but luckily, my family is very supportive.

Q: How or in what ways story-telling gets incorporated into events? And why is it an important part of events?

Telling a story is the best, most efficient way for humans to communicate. We, as a species, have always gotten our messages across through stories that create empathy and emotional connections to create lasting memories. For a company like SAP, with a large, complex portfolio, telling our story in a compelling way has always been a challenge. SAPPHIRE NOW is a unique opportunity to tell one end-to-end, integrated story – and not just tell our story, but show it, and allow our customers to experience how they can rely on SAP to become their trusted partner for innovation and digitalization.

Sapphire Now
Photo credit: SAP

Q: What does the best content experience need to include to reach the goal?

As it turns out, many things! We’re re-designing our entire content experience for 2020.

We started with a comprehensive research exercise that included behaviorists, adult learning experts, environmental designers, and the very people who deliver the content on our show floor. Taking these findings, we’re going to deliver an engaging experience that’s very purposefully designed, takes into account different learning styles, and provides multiple interaction scales and levels of immersion.

Q: What do you wish for the SAPPHIRE NOW to achieve in a few years? What are your plans?

SAPPHIRE NOW was created 30 years ago and was the first of its kind – inspiring many events in the industry. We aim to remain a leader in terms of attendee experience, content delivery, use of technology, and overall value. We know our goals are ambitious but intend to grow our reach, both onsite and online, both during the event and throughout the rest of the year. Another goal that is front of mind is sustainability. Each year, our efforts push us further towards our zero-waste goal.

My advice to women is: don’t wait to be given permission to succeed.

Q: All in all, what is the main aspect of managing such an event? What does it drive it all?

The story is the driver. SAPPHIRE NOW is a vessel to convey the company’s strategy, goals, and capabilities. We design the event around the content we want to deliver. First, we craft the story, then we build the platform that will amaze our customers and provide them the experience of a lifetime.

My personal mantra is ‘Team first’.

Q: In March 2018, you were appointed ‘equal opportunity mediator’, responsible for dealing with individual cases of gender inequality. Would you describe this interesting role that you have inside SAP?

SAP has taken immense steps to close the gender gap, but we all know it’s an uphill battle, and that’s why the role was created – to support women who feel they face gender discrimination. SAP France has trusted me to coach individual employees on career management and negotiations, to empower each woman who asks for my help to take the next steps in their development. I get to work with HR and management to ensure each case is given the proper attention and appropriate solutions. It has been a very rewarding experience.

Q: In 2019 edition of SAPPHIRE NOW there were also events that were focused on women in the industry. Was it the first time that they were incorporated and were they result of your leadership? More and more events are pointing out the importance of acknowledging women. Why do you, personally, find it important and what would you suggest to women in any industry?

Women make up more than half the world’s population. Yet overall, they have fewer career opportunities, lower wages, and in many countries, poorer education. Empowering all women to reach their full potential would solve or help solve all the major economic issues in the world.

I wish I could take credit for the increased focus on women in tech at SAPPHIRE NOW, but SAP has strong corporate values, including Diversity and Inclusion. So naturally, I am delighted to ensure such values are reflected in our flagship event. It goes beyond gender too, and includes efforts on accessibility for people with disabilities, cultural awareness, mental health and well-being… My advice to women is: don’t wait to be given permission to succeed. Know that you’re allowed to succeed, be prepared to fight for it, and don’t let disappointments or even failures discourage you.

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