SAP exec on Amazon HQ2 bid: Philly needs to do better at retaining and developing talent

Per Lloyd Adams, the company's local managing director, says Philadelphia put itself on an international stage as a finalist in the bid frenzy, but there's more work to be done.

There’s a long, nuanced list of pros and cons to Philly’s failure to attract Amazon’s massive HQ2 project.

The ecommerce giant’s second headquarters project, which promised a long-term goal of 50,000 jobs for the winning city, ended up being split between Long Island City, N.Y. and Arlington, Va.

After the cities were formally announced as winners of the bid on Nov. 13, Philly and Pennsylvania released the numbers behind the incentives package they pitched to CEO Jeff Bezos. All told, Amazon would have received $5.7 billion in long-term incentives to choose Philadelphia, more than twice the $2.4 billion in incentives it stands to gain from New York and Virginia.

Ask SAP’s Lloyd Adams — the managing director for the German software company’s Eastern U.S. region, whose North American HQ is in Delaware County — and he’ll tell you the decision wasn’t about money: It was about access to talent, and that’s an area Philly needs to work on.

“The biggest learning for me is that the one thing [Philly] needs to lean into is the development and retention of talent,” Adams told “With a vibrant college and university programs that feed into the employer market, we need to better retain and develop talent.”

Adams’ reasoning is echoed by Wharton School professor Robert Inman, who told PlanPhilly that no amount of money would have swung the Amazon bid Philly’s way. It was, and still is, about access to highly specialized talent amid the company’s increasing interest in the media sector and its interest in staying close to the hub of political power.

Adams will also point out a pro of Philly’s participation in the bid process: By making to the top 20, the city put itself on an international stage. It’s a signal of growth, said the exec.

“I think 10 or 15 years ago we wouldn’t have been in the top 20 in a project like this,” said Adams, a member of PACT’s board of directors who’s been at SAP since 1998. “It can only mean good things for the area in terms of future similar opportunities. It was an inflection point in Philly and there’s a lot to learn from this.”

For SAP, which has 3,000 employees at its Newtown Square headquarters, what has worked when it comes to nabbing the elusive high-end talent? Adams says the company’s retention rates are around 95 percent because of empathy toward employees.

“We’ve put employees at the center of the process, and set up holistic programs that care for the whole person,” Adams said.

Companies: Amazon / SAP

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