I first started working for SAP on the Newtown Square (shortened to NSQ for those of us in the know) campus in 2002.
Anyone who has visited our American headquarters is accustomed to the site of the complementary glass buildings, NSQ1 and NSQ2. Back in 2002 though, NSQ2 wasn't even a hole in the ground yet. SAP was situated in NSQ1 and several offices scattered across the campus. In fact, a shuttle bus drove across the grounds, picking people up and dropping them off for meetings in other buildings -- or just bringing them to the cafeteria in NSQ1 headquarters. (NSQ1 didn't house the only cafeteria on the campus, but it was widely considered the location with the nicest…although I had a fondness for the cafeteria SAP shared with Lyondell Chemical. More on that later.)
But 2002 was not the first time I visited the campus. I had been there several times in the 1990s -- before SAP had even set up shop -- to visit my dad.
From the late '60s through the early '90s, my dad was part of the Philadelphia Fire Department. He worked his way up the ranks, and by the time he retired from the department, he was a battalion chief responsible for the city's hazardous materials (hazmat) unit.
Jerry Janda Sr. Remember the Sr. part because I'll get back to that...
But Dad didn't stay retired long. A company called ARCO Chemical quickly came a'calling, and they hired him to head safety and security at their (you guessed it) Newtown Square location.
Throughout the '90s, I plied my developing writing/editing skills mostly in trade publishing (closing out that portion of my career with a magazine called Club Industry, where I worked from 1998 until 2002). During that time, I would occasionally visit my dad at ARCO Chemical. (When ARCO Chemical became Lyondell in 1998, my dad stuck around, until he finally retired from Lyondell for good in the mid-2000s.) Having spent most of my early writing/editing career laboring in a gloomy, brown-brick monstrosity on North Broad Street in downtown Philadelphia (where I was born and raised), I was still very much a city boy enamored with the rustic campus where my dad punched the clock. There hadn't been that much development on the Newtown Square property yet, and the grounds (once home to Ellis College for girls -- and registered at one point as an arboretum) was rich with history -- and very much rich with trees.
In 2001, the publisher of Club Industry (i.e., my boss) came to work for SAP as a contractor. He gave me the opportunity to join him a few months later, and I jumped at the chance. Together, he and I were part of a small team of contractors who served as the writers, editors, and proofreaders for SAP.com -- back when the site was small enough for a tight team to manage.
I wasn't quite an SAP employee, and I wasn't in NSQ1. I was in a small satellite office close by. But my office connected to the building where my dad worked, and for a few years at least, he and I could enjoy lunch together when our schedules allowed. We could meet at the (lesser) cafeteria that Lyondell and SAP shared, or if we brown-bagged it, we could eat while hanging in his office. (Jerry Janda Sr. had one. Jerry Janda Jr. was in a cubicle.)
Which brings me to my story about my very first Newtown Square ID badge. As the one-time head of security for the entire campus, my dad was already in SAP's security system when I started contributing to SAP.com. Since SAP couldn't add a second Jerry Janda into the system, I had to go in as Jerry Janda Jr. (Although, for the record, my full name -- and my father's -- is Gerald Thomas Janda (Sr. for he, Jr. for me). But neither he nor I has ever gone by Gerald a day in our lives. And I only add the Jr. for official reasons…or when I find myself in the same systems as my dad, which, as you might have guessed, is rare. Only happened once, in fact.)
Anyway, here I am, more than 20 years ago, posing for my very first ID picture, thinner, with nary a gray hair or wrinkle in sight. Oh…and if I look more than a little terrified: The security guys taking the shot knew my dad, and they were giving me grief because they assumed I had gotten my job through nepotism. They couldn't seem to grasp that it was just one of life's funny coincidences which led to Dad and Son employed on the same campus, and that Sr. (who worked as a hazmat specialist for a chemical company) really wasn't in a position to help Jr. (who worked as a writer for a software company) get his job.
The horror…the horror…
I eventually made the move from contractor to real SAP employee in 2006. I also made the move away from SAP.com. Over the years, I held a variety of marketing and communications positions with the company. At one point, I was even responsible for communications on the Newtown Square campus, and one of my beats included the construction of NSQ2.
Oh, those were fun days, watching NSQ2 go from a gigantic hole in the ground to the gleaming majesty that seems to hug NSQ1 today. Did you know that NSQ2 achieved LEED Platinum certification, the highest rating given by the U.S. Green Building Council? I did…and not just because I went to Google to find an old press release. Because I wrote about the topic almost once a week for months leading up to the grand opening of NSQ2 in 2009. You want to talk about how the building was designed to allow natural sunlight to shine across every floor? The ways in which the exterior collects and uses rainwater? About the torn-down trees constructed into its beams? The recycled glass in the floors? The ice in its air-conditioning system? I wrote about it all, and I could tell you all about it.
Don't even get me started on those low-flow toilets and waterless urinals!
Not only did I write extensively about NSQ2, that building eventually became my semi-permanent home on Newtown Square. Prior to its completion, I bounced between NSQ1 and a variety of satellite offices on campus, but once we opened NSQ2, those smaller locations became obsolete. I was there for the grand opening, which included several local dignitaries/politicians. I may have even written the opening remarks for the SAP executive who spoke at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
I sat at several desks over the years in NSQ2, almost always on the second floor. (If you're ever on the second floor and you'd like to know where I sat, look underneath the desks. If you see holes in a desk, you probably found one of my former sites. Keyboard trays are not standard equipment on the desks, but I was able to get permission to have one installed wherever I sat. So whenever I moved desks, the keyboard tray would come with me, and the facilities team would need to remove the tray and drill it into my new desk, leaving holes behind and beneath.)
My keyboard tray on the left, 2013. I was working on IT comms back then.
That keyboard tray traveled with me to a half-dozen desks or so over the years. It was a staple during my tenure in NSQ2. Another common sight at my desk during those days: Funko Pops. If you were ever searching for my desk and didn't notice the name plate, you could locate it by keeping an eye out for this colorful collection:
My Pops army grew steadily and took up quite a bit of each desk's real estate, and these guys continue to keep me company at my home office, where I've been working steadily for several years. Because as much as I love the Newtown Square campus, the time finally came where it just didn't make sense to head into the office anymore -- even pre-COVID.
I still sat within the same vicinity of people from former teams, but I no longer worked with any of them. And while all my Community & Influencers colleagues hail from around the globe, none of them resides in Newtown Square. Still, I didn't mind coming into the office because I had friends around me -- even if we were no longer part of the same organization. But then many of them retired -- I was pushing 50 by then, and several of them were even older than that -- or moved on to new opportunities. Before long, the desks around me were empty or occupied by people outside of my professional circles.
Don't get me wrong: I got along well with my new neighbors, but it's tough replacing the camaraderie that comes after sitting side by side with someone day after day for a decade. You can joke with each other in a way that becomes special. Like the one time after hours 7 years ago, when I was working late and a long-time colleague texted to ask if she had left her vest and scarf on her chair, and I replied with this picture:
"Why, yes. Yes, you did."
Something tells me the people who barely knew me wouldn't have appreciated the humor.
Well, that colleague eventually called it a career, and others followed in her footsteps, and soon thereafter, that hour-long commute (one way) didn't feel as appealing, especially when I was putting in long hours without any familiar faces.
A late night in the office in 2017. One of my last pics in NSQ2. Quite a different look compared to that young, frightened gentleman in the ID photo.
So I gave up my desk, packed up my Pops, and settled into my home office (where I am currently typing this post).
I would travel to the Newtown Square office now and then for special meetings (although COVID put a stop to that...until recently). When I visit the office these days, the ongoing development on the campus does sadden me. I remember those untouched lands of the '90s, back when I'd visit my dad, and I reminisce about landscapes long gone, now replaced with office buildings, luxury apartments, housing, medical facilities, and more.
That being said, when I do make the trek to Newtown Square, if I'm able to find one of my older unoccupied desks, I'll take a moment to settle in, sit back, and quietly admire the views…because this old city boy can still appreciate the woodlands on display beyond the windows of NSQ2.
How about you? Have you ever visited SAP's Newtown Square campus? Any stories or impressions you'd like to share? If so, please leave a comment.
Or better yet…
Maybe tell me in person!
I'm trying to arrange an in-person meeting for Friday, February 10 -- and regularly moving forward. Learn more in this discussion.