Partnerships

Building on Alliances, from Office to Open Waters

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SAP’s Carrie Hotz-Barth (in kayak), and IBM’s Bob Breitel team up for a 2019 race on Lake Memphremagog in Newport, VT.

Bob Breitel likes to swim a bit.

You might find him marathoning across a placid lake connecting the US and Canada, or training for 5 miles in open ocean off the Florida coast, where alligators fear to tread. So, while Bob swims a bit, he tests himself a lot—and not just alone or on the weekends, it turns out.

Adversity is an engine. It can be the basis for powerful alliances, and even forge relationships that embolden partners to seek out challenge for its own sake.

For years, SAP and IBM have partnered to navigate uneven terrain across technology sectors, coauthoring a well-told success story.

But earlier this year, a lower-tech story also worth the telling began stirring in the margins of day-to-day corporate affairs. This story started with a conversation between friends, and ended with beef jerky, choppy waters and a lifetime supply of maple syrup.

Bob, IBM’s Director of SAP Global Alliances and Executive Sponsor for the IBM LGBT+ Business Development Team, isn’t picky about where he swims. He’s competed in Maui, St. Croix, Lake George and Valley Forge, to name a just a few. Bob has over 150 open water races under his belt (seven of which have been classified as marathon-swims), and shows no sign of slowing down

Carrie Hotz-Barth is the SAP-IBM Alliance Leader at SAP, and a friend of Bob. “Which races are you training for this year?” she recalls asking him, when the two corporate counterparts met at the 2019 SAP Kick-off Meeting. “Bob told me about a race in Vermont, and then asked if I’d be up for joining in as his kayaker.”

Carrie possesses serious planning and leadership skills, complemented by the enviable ability to improvise solutions when plans change. Notably, at the time of this conversation in January 2019, she also possessed no experience moving a kayak through water.

“So,” she continued, “I texted my husband and said, ‘I am going to Vermont in July, you can come along with the kids, if you’re interested.’”

We did 5 miles in the ocean because most of the waterways around the island are filled with alligators.

Having never been a part of a swim like the one in Vermont, Carrie wasted no time reaching out to a friend who owns a Kayak adventure company. By the time she met Bob on Amelia Island in her home state of Florida where two had agreed to practice, Carrie had become – to the surprise of no one – skilled at piloting the craft.   “This type of an event isn’t something you just wake up and do—or do alone,” Bob points out. “You both really need to dedicate yourself to the challenge at hand. That’s why our training trip was crucial. It tested our preparation and cemented our readiness…Carrie was amazing.”

For those who aren’t familiar with competitive open-water swimming, it’s almost fair to say that the relationship between kayaker and swimmer is like the one between caddie and golfer. Except, to make this analogy work, you need to imagine a blindfolded golfer who’s granted their caddie autonomy over which clubs she might choose.

While the distance-swimmer’s skill and might allow them to push through uncertain waters with speed and grace, they rely fully on a kayaker to manage pace and direction. As the member of the team with the complete view of the terrain ahead, the kayaker needs to be the swimmer’s eyes, ears, coach, pacer, even feeder.

In short, marathon open-water swimming is a true team sport. Without the swimmer, there’s no race. Without the kayaker, there’s no swimmer.

Similar interdependence underlies how Bob and Carrie collaborate Bob and Carrie between 9 and 5, most days of the year: “When things are at their best in business, the same dynamic describes our partnership: collaboration isn’t magic, it is a result of hard work,” says Bob.

“As the swimmer, I put my trust in Carrie, my kayaker, to navigate the course and guide me correctly, just like in a successful work partnership. And trust is key.”

And, like so many of their business enterprises, the Vermont race was a success. “We finished in 1st place overall for the 10-mile swim by 4:33 minutes,” recalls Carrie, “and Bob was awarded a hand carved walking stick, beef jerky, and a lifetime supply of maple syrup.”

The spoils of victory notwithstanding, both Bob and Carrie now talk about the swim in terms of “we,” illustrating how the experience was a transformative win—not for each, but for both.

In one email, Bob writes: “It was amazing experience and we can’t wait for our next swim.”

In an entirely separate message, Carrie writes: “The journey of friendship, partnership, teamwork, endurance, and commitment to training that paid off. We authored a priceless experience. We’re already planning for 2020, our next swim.”

For more on the SAP, IBM partnership, visit here.

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