Germany’s SAP, the world’s biggest maker of business software, took another hit on Wednesday night with the departure of research and development head Shai Agassi, long tipped as the group’s future chief executive.

People close to SAP said Mr Agassi’s decision led to the appointment of marketing head Léo Apotheker to the new post of deputy chief executive, formalising his status as the heir apparent to Henning Kagermann.

These people said Mr Agassi seemed to have lost hope of speedy promotion or did not like the prospect of becoming co-CEO with Mr Apotheker. He did not appear to be switching to a rival software company, they stressed.

The loss of Mr Agassi, 39, a former software entrepreneur, could further worry investors beset by doubts that SAP can appeal to smaller businesses after coming to dominate sales to big companies.

Mr Agassi’s move comes only weeks after chief executive Henning Kagermann, 60, extended his contract by only one year – a clear sign he was preparing to hand over the reins of the company soon.

Though seen as a successor to the cerebral Mr Kagermann, Mr Agassi’s youth and his base in California always made him more contentious among SAP’s German staff than Mr Apotheker.

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