Klaus Tschira 1940-2015

Death of a Software Titan

klaus tschira tim wegner laif
Klaus Tschira, one of the SAP co-founders and one of Germany's wealthiest men, died Tuesday at his home near Heidelberg. He was 74.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Klaus Tschira, a former IBM executive and co-founder of SAP, developed the original computing language for the company’s first software products.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Mr. Tschira was born in Freiburg, and lived near Heidelberg.
    • Forbes last estimated his personal wealth at $8.6 billion.
    • Mr. Tschira was one of the four co-founders of SAP, the world leader in business management software.
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  • Audio

    Audio

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Klaus Tschira, a genial, light-hearted German software engineer from IBM who became one of the founders of SAP, the world leader in business management software, died on March 31 at his home in Heidelberg.

Mr. Tschira, along with Hasso Plattner, Hans-Werner Hector, Dietmar Hopp and Claus Wellenreuther, were instrumental in creating Germany’s most successful software firm back in 1972.

SAP, valued this morning at €82.6 billion, or $86 billion on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, supplies the world’s biggest companies with complex hardware and software systems and services that manage all facets of business, from back office to sales, personnel and customer relations.

The success of Mr. Tschira, who was 74, made him one of Germany’s richest men, but he continued to lead a modest lifestyle in an anonymous single-family home near Heidelberg, where he was often seen driving around town.

Forbes Magazine last estimated Mr. Tschira’s net worth, which he oversaw through a Swiss money management firm, Aeris Capital Management, at $8.6 billion.

Mr. Tschira, along with his SAP co-founders, helped reshape the software industry at a critical time in its nascent development.

“The influence that Klaus Tschira has had on the European software industry through SAP has been immense,” said Eric Duffaut, a former SAP executive and the chief customer officer at Software AG, Germany’s second-largest software maker. “Europe only has a handful of truly global software companies.”

Mr. Duffaut said it was imperative for Europe to do more to “emulate his example.”

Mr. Plattner, an SAP co-founder who had known Mr. Tschira for 47 years, described him as an energetic, tireless advocate of the venture that would become SAP.

Mr. Tschira toiled late into the night to write the first versions of the programming language that would enable global businesses for the first time to digitalize and organize vast amounts of corporate data.

At IBM, Mr. Tschira was instrumental in the U.S. technology company’s early business management software efforts, developing the first international system for tractor maker John Deere, the first system for IBM’S main frame computer at Euromöbel in Bensheim, Germany, and the first system under IMS, IBM’S software for real-time systems, Mr. Plattner said.

“Many of SAP’s successes would be unthinkable without his input,’’ Mr. Plattner told Handelsblatt Global Edition. “His name will always be linked to SAP’s programming language, ABAP, whose first three versions he personally developed.’’

Following its founding at the beginning of the software era, SAP struggled to assert its own products against bigger, better-known competitors such as IBM.

The German company’s big break came in 1979, when SAP developed R/2, a business software management tool that was relatively easy to use and versatile, enabling companies to collate and manage huge reams of data.

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