Kirsten Sutton, SAP Labs Canada

2018 Influential Women in Business Awards Honouree

I’m quite proud of the day I beat my dad at chess. Whether I was two or 22 or 52, he never let me win. I used to think people would say, “Oh that’s really cruel. You should let your daughter win. Let her have some success.” And he said, “No. I don’t want to teach her how to play poorly. I don’t want to teach her to win if she didn’t earn it. I want to teach her to do this the way that’s right, and to want to win.” Finally, she did. That was a great day.

My mom liked to move around a lot. I’ve lived in 39 different houses in my 52 years, all of them in Vancouver. I went to the University of California first and then I moved my way back up, slowly up the coast to Western Washington University. It was a great chance for me to spread my wings and be on my own. My parents were psychology professors at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University. They’re very dedicated, very brilliant people. As a child I spent lots of hours there, and it represented a place where my parents worked. It was their job rather than a place where I was going to go study.

I started out as a chef. I was classically French-trained so that’s my de facto. Had I known that the Food Network would come over I might have stuck with it. I really love cooking; I love feeding people, which isn’t so different really to what I enjoy now at work: that collaborative environment, working together, creating things that are brand new.

I graduated with English and I did technical writing. I was a big computer user. I loved games. I met my first serious boyfriend online after high school. I came in through technical writing and then quickly moved into different subjects through technology. I worked for a firm in Washington state that wrote the manuals for a product called Crystal, built here in Vancouver. Crystal Services was acquired by Seagate Technology, which became Seagate Software. Then they were sold and became Crystal Decisions, a privately held company. We were bought by BusinessObjects, and just 10 years ago we were purchased by SAP.

My hand was always the first in the air. I’m pretty good at stepping forward and stepping in, and so it’s been really fun taking on different roles within the organization. All pretty much inside of development though, and I have no computer science background.

You would think it would be intimidating, perhaps you’d feel a bit like an impostor, but the truth is I’m not there because of my technical skills. I’m there because of my organizational skills, hopefully my people skills, and definitely to help people to scale and run efficient operations. Because of that, I’m not worried that I don’t know the best architecture for the next iteration of the product. That’s not my purpose.

It takes a lot of energy to be out in front and sponsoring people and championing your business or your employees. Leadership is stamina.

I think leadership is being authentic. You have to be the same you at work or at play or at home. I learned the greatest lessons at home on how to compromise, how to work with people, how to build on people’s strengths. And I take that to work, and I bring work back home.

Join us to celebrate this year’s honourees at the 2018 Influential Women in Business Awards on International Women’s Day on March 8, 2018, hosted at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel. For tickets and event info, visit