Inspirational leaders are usually brought in to tell sales teams the sky’s the limit so there’s no excuse for not achieving targets. Not Hein Wagner, SAP’s inspirational ambassador for sustainable business. Blind since birth, he is living proof that the mind is the only limit.
Having conquered what most seeing people fear most—total darkness—Wagner is confident you can achieve anything you set your mind to, even something monumental like turning the tide of climate change.
“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at will change,” says Wagner, who uses technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) to help him lead a full life. The seeing app on his mobile phone, for example, can describe people, text, objects, color, currency, and even the contents of a can of food if he just points the phone at it.
It might take a moment for Wagner’s words of wisdom to sink in. There is a lot around us we don’t really see, like roadside plastic waste or extreme weather events on the news, because we’ve grown accustomed. Or, we only see what we want to see, like the sleek cars on the highway rather than the hazy smog on the horizon.
These things have become a backdrop to our modern lives, and we accept them blindly. But, they are all signs of the cause and effect of climate change around us.
No stranger to surmounting physical adversity, Wagner has competed in the world’s most grueling marathons and triathlons, completed the Absa Cape Epic—the toughest off-road bike race on the planet—and sailed in the Cape to Rio Yacht race. Deeply inspired by nature, Wagner passionately promotes technologies for clean energy.
“The climate is everyone’s responsibility,” he asserts. “We’re more capable of change than we think we are.”
As an inspirational ambassador, Wagner’s task is to help drive SAP brand narrative and employee advocacy around changing people’s lives. Wagner started his career in South Africa as a switchboard operator, but the rapidly growing technology sector soon inspired him to enter the IT industry, where he managed teams of sighted individuals at companies like MWeb and Thawte Consulting. He knows from personal experience that technology can help the world run better and improve lives.
Missing his sense of sight, Wagner has spent a lifetime honing his other senses into a sharpened sixth sense, providing him with an intuitive awareness beyond normal perceptions. As a five-year-old, he was ‘banished’ by his parents to a boarding school for vision-impaired children to prepare him for the real world. Today, he is deeply grateful for that experience because it forced him to leave the comfort of his protected, little cave to live in a world where everyone else could see the light and bask in its glory.
When he realized the neighborhood kids were not coming over to play in his backyard because they were all out riding their new bikes, he knew he would have to join them or be left behind.
“I had to borrow my older brother’s bike because my parents were like the normal parents of all other blind kids—they didn’t think of buying me one!” says Wagner with a chuckle.