Courage and curiosity

25th June 2019 |   Nick de Cent

Nilgün Atasoy’s wide experience, open mindset and empathetic approach have opened doors in her career.

Nilgün Atasoy specialises in expanding horizons. From her multicultural upbringing to her progression in the traditionally male-dominated technology sector, to her trailblazing role as one of SAP’s first female salespeople in the Middle East and a pioneering woman sales manager in Eastern Europe, she has helped pave the way for others.

Today, as Business Manager for SAP Digital Core in EMEA-South she is no longer in a typical sales role; she’s a member of the senior management team.

“I look at the Digital Core business in EMEA-South, which comprises South Europe, Africa and Middle East, with a 360-degree view. Hence, I oversee our organization´s ongoing operations and am responsible for the efficiency of business by designing and implementing business strategies and activities to drive growth.”

Nilgün Atasoy

Nilgün Atasoy: Diversity role model.

In common with others’ experience, it seems that the Masters programme has played a part in accelerating Nilgün´s career with a role change. “Yes, it was definitely triggered by the Masters; having gained insights into leadership focused on transformation, I was keen to apply my learnings in a role with a wider scope.

“My new role is very interesting to me as it allows me to balance the components of transformational as well as transactional management. As a true believer in collaborative change, I am in a work environment where I drive strategic initiatives with our stakeholders globally as well as locally. Having knowledge about the region and the customers from my previous roles, and the stakeholders is just an additional benefit.”

Nilgün Atasoy has been with SAP for 15 years during a career in which she became one of the company’s first female salespeople in the Middle East and first sales managers in Eastern Europe. Currently, she is Business Manager, EMEA South – Digital Core based in Germany.

“I started with SAP in 2004 in the consulting area and moved onto the development as well as sales domain – and I truly love working with customers.”

MBA versus MSc

Given that she is now working in a broader business role that extends beyond sales, was she ever tempted by an MBA as an alternative to the programme that she is currently following? “In the past I had also been offered the opportunity to participate in an MBA course, but what I really find intriguing is that this Masters course aligns with the SAP organisation. Also, in an MBA you study for yourself; however, in this Masters programme, as an insider researcher, I can also apply my research to the organisation and contribute to a positive work culture in our organization – for instance by coaching young talent to enable them to act.

Diversity in sales

As a woman in the male-dominated world of IT sales, and with a pioneering role in sales in the Middle East or sales management in Eastern Europe, Nilgün is something of a diversity role model both in gender terms but also due to her diverse background. “I was raised in quite a multicultural environment, with many languages.” Importantly, this background has enabled her to develop empathy across cultures.

It seems like I have, not deliberately, but somehow specialised in breaking into new markets as a female.

“The technology sector is a male-dominated industry and, back in the time when I was in the Middle East, I was also one of the first women working in Saudi Arabia. I already had quite an extensive knowledge of the SAP portfolio, but it was also crucial to establish credibility and trust in a male-dominated environment ultimately to enable customers to articulate their requirements, so that I could deliver accordingly.”

“So, it has been a continuous growth path on both a personal and professional level. I attempt to establish a platform of trust with my customers as well as my internal stakeholders to facilitate an authentic conversation. Furthermore, I also listen to feedback from customers or from internal colleagues; I think it is very important to create a ´metaphorical mirror´ enabling you to reflect on self-awareness and current work practices – to continuously improve them.”

In conclusion, Nilgün tells the Journal: “It seems like I have, not deliberately, but somehow, specialised in working in emerging markets as a female. It involves a great deal of courage and curiosity to be able to break into these markets and tackle the challenges, whilst keeping an open mindset. I do really enjoy it and I think it’s a privilege for me to have these kinds of experiences at SAP.”

Founder of the International Journal of Sales Transformation | + posts

Nick de Cent is the founder and editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Sales Transformation. A business journalist for over 35 years, he has been covering sales since the mid-1980s and has been a strong advocate of enhancing its professional status. He has freelanced for the Financial Times and edited the Sales Performance supplement in The Times. He also writes and edits extensively on behalf of corporate clients, including a Big 3 management consultancy and a top four global executive search firm.