The Purpose-Driven CFO: A New Blog Series

Joel Bernstein

Introduction to the Purpose-Driven CFO series

Here at SAP, we are renewing our focus on our purpose. What drives us as a company? What excites our people? How can we do more good in the world?

As the CFO for Global Field Finance at SAP, I see a focus on purpose as playing a significant role in helping finance leaders become strategic CFOs capable of running an intelligent finance organization. By emphasizing purpose, the goal is to better serve our employees, our customers, SAP as a whole, and even the world at large.

The purpose journey

Finding one’s purpose – and living up to it – is a journey. Along the way, each of us will have many stories, experiences, and insights to share. That’s why I’m kicking off a new Digitalist blog series on the purpose-driven CFO. One of the goals of the CFO Knowledge section of the Digitalist is to help sustain a community of CFOs and provide the space in which to share experiences. Thus, we invite CFOs and finance executives of all stripes – here at SAP and our customers and partners – to contribute. What’s your purpose? How does it motivate you and your organization to do better?

Working on purpose

Recently, the entire Global Finance & Administration (GFA) leadership team at SAP came together for a workshop focused on the issue of purpose. It was a challenging event – but rewarding. It took many of us out of our comfort zones. Instead of professional competency, we had to focus on what motivates us personally, and how it links to the people around us and the planet as a whole.

Having gone through this process, let me share two immediate takeaways.

It’s not all about me

It is easy to think about one’s career as a continuous path of taking on increasingly more responsibility. Our teams get bigger, our expertise gets deeper, and our experience grows. It’s only natural that we step up to the plate for whatever company we serve and accept more of the responsibility for helping our organizations succeed.

This focus on responsibility is a good thing, especially for CFOs. But it also has a flipside where the tendency is to think primarily about meeting the organization’s goals, and within that context, meeting one’s personal goals. A focus on purpose helps broaden the perspective.

In our workshop, for example, we were encouraged to think of employees, company, and planet. This widening of scope shifts the emphasis from personal ambition and responsibility to outcomes. Success, in other words, isn’t all about me. It’s about the mission, which can be achieved by encouraging employees, working with customers, or plugging into global initiatives. How we get there doesn’t matter as much as getting there, one way or another. I would argue that this sort of perspective can free us up to be better leaders and better people.

The younger generation is key

Another takeaway from our workshop is something rather reassuring: the generation coming up has this purpose thing covered.

For many of us more experienced financial types, the exercise of defining our purpose caught us off-guard. In my own career, my focus had always been on landing the job, getting things done through collaboration with colleagues, and performing to the best of my abilities. While SAP’s purpose of making the world run better and improving people’s lives certainly resonates with me, the issue of how my own purpose intersects with this objective hasn’t been top of mind.

For the younger generation at the workshop, articulating their purpose came more naturally. Why? Maybe it’s because as digital natives, members of this generation feel a sense of global connectedness that hasn’t always been bedrock for their older colleagues. Millennials have grown up with more of an awareness of the global challenges before us – clean water, gender equality, sustainability, just to name a few. This connectedness and awareness breeds empowerment. Millennials (and the generation coming up behind them) understand that technology really can allow individuals or small groups to make a significant impact globally in a short period of time. They also know that this drive for positive change itself helps to push technological advances in a direction toward realizing this change – leading, we hope, to an ongoing virtuous cycle. For many millennials, when it comes to deciding what kind of company they want to work for, a big part of that calculus often factors in a company’s commitment to facilitating change and transformation locally and globally.

Tell us about your purpose

At SAP, our purpose is to help the world run better and improve people’s lives. Look for more blogs in this series that dive into exactly how we’re measuring up to this aspiration. And please share your own thoughts, experiences, and insight. To contribute, contact me at

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Joel Bernstein

About Joel Bernstein

Joel Bernstein is the CFO for SAP Global Field Finance, which includes responsibilities in the Cloud Business Group, Digital Business Services, and Global Customer Operations. In this role, he is responsible for leading the financial activities and profitable revenue growth for the company’s customer go-to-market organization and driving financial support for the Cloud and Professional Services organization. Joel’s direct Field Finance organization includes all finance functions in the multiple regions and market units worldwide for all SAP revenue-generating businesses. Prior to being promoted into this global position, Joel served as CFO for the SAP North America region. There he led all field finance-related activities for the United States and Canada. An accomplished finance professional, Joel earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting at Wilkes University. He is also a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Joel is an ardent supporter of SAP’s social corporate responsibility initiatives, often serving as the executive sponsor for programs that connect SAP employees in the communities where they live and work. Reflective of that commitment, Joel is a member of The Franklin Institute’s Board of Trustees, an esteemed organization founded in 1824 whose mission is to inspire a passion for learning about science and technology.