Provo-based Qualtrics was in the news a few weeks back when the company announced they were being acquired by SAP for a whopping $8 billion. It’s the second largest SaaS acquisition ever and a huge win for the state of Utah. Having gone to college in Provo, I closely followed the details of the acquisition.
I couldn’t take my focus off Bill McDermott, the CEO of SAP. Each picture and video clip showed him wearing sunglasses. I kept thinking, Why on earth does this guy wear sunglasses indoors? Who does this guy think he is?
Well, eventually I took the incredibly difficult step of entering “SAP CEO Sunglasses” into the Google machine. It turns out there’s a very good reason for those sunglasses. In July 2015 McDermott was walking down the stairs at his brother’s house, holding a glass of water. He slipped and fell, shattering the glass, and a shard went through his left eye. He was in surgery for over nine hours the night of the accident and had more than 10 surgeries in total. Eventually he lost the eye.
McDermott actually said that losing his eye changed his life for the better. “You fall down stairs and get knocked unconscious and the glass hits all the wrong parts. You’ve got to find a way to get up. So I don’t get rattled by the chaos. I get inspired by beating it back and finding out how gorgeous it is on the other side.”
Immediately upon reading the article, my view of McDermott was flipped upside down. I went from thinking he was probably an egomaniac to being totally impressed by how he’s coped with a serious setback.
I saw him do something I thought was odd (wearing sunglasses inside) and judged him for it. My judgment was way off. The experience was a needed reminder that when we see others act in a way that is peculiar, or somehow different from what we expect, we need to give them the benefit of the doubt. First impressions are often wrong.