SAP's head of software products, Shai Agassi, will resign because he was unwilling to wait to become the next chief executive, and sales chief Leo Apotheker was named deputy CEO, the company said on Wednesday.
SAP co-founder and supervisory board chairman Hasso Plattner told a conference call he was disappointed that Agassi had not wanted to stay with SAP after the company extended CEO Henning Kagermann's contract until 2009.
"It became apparent that Shai was not comfortable committing to a 10 to 15 year period which was not in keeping with his personal career timeline," Plattner said.
The world's biggest maker of business software said Agassi, a 38-year-old executive board member whom SAP had considered a future CEO, was leaving by mutual agreement to pursue interests in environmental policy and alternative energy sources.
Agassi, the youngest-ever SAP board member and the first non-German speaking director of Europe's largest software maker, would not be joining a rival software company, executives told a conference call.
SAP shares in New York fell 1.7% to $44.46.
SAP said Agassi's responsibilities would now be distributed among other top managers. SAP also announced the creation of an executive council, some of whose members would report to Kagermann and the others to Apotheker.
Agassi's departure follows long-running analyst and investor speculation that either Silicon Valley-based Agassi or Paris-based sales chief Apotheker were the two leading candidates to succeed Kagermann who has led SAP for ten years.
Plattner declined to say whether Apotheker, 53, was now Kagermann's most likely successor. "I will not let myself be pushed by anybody to make public statements about successors," he said.
Kagermann, asked whether SAP's strategy would now change, answered: "From a strategic direction -- no changes."
In a phone interview with Reuters, Kagermann denied that business performance had anything to with Agassi's departure. In January, SAP said it fallen short on its target for software license sales while arch-rival Oracle has been gaining ground.
"You can trust me there is nothing performance-related. We are in very good shape. What is in the statement is exactly 100 percent what has happened," Kagermann said of the company's explanation for Agassi's department.
Asked whether the timing of Agassi's departure spelled trouble ahead of the company's quarterly results due out next month, he declined to comment on near-term prospects.
However, in the long term, he said. "I don't see any impact on our business. At the end of the day, Shai was not part of the field organization. And the field organization runs the business," Kagermann said.
Israeli-born software entrepreneur Agassi joined the German software maker's executive board in 2002 and was responsible for the development of SAP's flagship NetWeaver platform, which aims to make SAP's software more modular and less unwieldy.
He founded TopTier Software in Israel in 1992 and later moved the company's headquarters to California, before going on to co-found several other software companies with his father.
In 2003, Agassi was named by Time magazine and CNN as one of the year's most influential people in global business. He will be retained as a special consultant to Plattner's office.
Plattner said Agassi's departure had "nothing whatsoever" to do with a lawsuit filed by archrival Oracle , which accuses SAP of stealing copyrighted software from it. Kagermann added he was aware of no evidence of wrongdoing. "What they (Oracle) claim is not something people should do and we are not doing those things," Kagermann said.