SAN JOSE -- Decades before he became a billionaire high-tech magnate and the man atop the Sharks' ownership hierarchy, Hasso Plattner was a teenager growing up in Berlin about to discover hockey.

"We had a TV, black and white. It must have been in the '60s," Plattner recalled after taking the reins of the NHL franchise last week. "We watched Russian hockey -- every single world championship."

Flash forward to 1993. Plattner, by now spending time in the Bay Area as co-founder of SAP, was invited to a Sharks game.

"The announcer says Makarov ... Larionov ... Garpenlov," Plattner said. "Not possible -- I see two of the top players I watched for more than 10 years. And here they are."

The reference is to Sergei Makarov and Igor Larionov, two-thirds of the famous KLM Line that played for the Soviet Union in the 1980s before reuniting for a short stay with the Sharks. Plattner voices his regret that the Sharks told Makarov he was finished two years later, gesturing around his own waist to illustrate the organizational belief that Makarov was out of shape. An upset Larionov was traded shortly after that.

"When Larionov left, I was very sad because he was a fantastic player," Plattner said, "and I'm glad he won three Stanley Cups with Detroit."

That kind of emotional connection may suggest that Plattner -- whose $7.2 billion net worth makes him the 127th richest man in the world, according to Forbes -- may be the kind of owner who will lean heavily on his hockey staff, led by general manager Doug Wilson.

But when there's an attempted joke about German-born backup goalie Thomas Greiss getting more starts, Plattner indicates that's not his style with a reference to two former Sharks with German roots -- Marcel Goc and Christian Ehrhoff.

"This is wrong when somebody says I like Goc and Christian and you have to play them or you can't let them go. It doesn't work that way," Plattner said. "How many games have I played? Zero. How many games has Doug played? Who makes the decision on who comes and goes? It's Doug."

Not that Plattner comes across as someone reluctant to offer advice when asked.

Already the Sharks majority owner before the Jan. 30 announcement that he had purchased all shares held by Kevin Compton and Stratton Sclavos, Plattner carries himself with a confidence that comes with money and power. He talks about it very matter-of-factly.

Maybe that's because the money wasn't always there. His family was too poor to buy him the proper skates to play hockey as a boy. It's a story Plattner prefers not to be retold, perhaps because its rags-to- riches theme is too much of a cliche, but his family's economic situation was noted in a 1997 interview with ComputerWorld.

That detailed oral history, timed to his winning an international technology award, offered other insights into his background. How he may have inherited his engineering interest from his grandfather, how his father kindled his love of sailing when times were still tough.

He listed his top sports hero as Jesse Owens, the African-American track and field star whose four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics were a direct slap to the politics of Nazi Germany. His top political hero was Nelson Mandela for his ability to guide South Africa out of apartheid.

To this day, Plattner's philanthropic efforts include establishing programs to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS in South Africa, where his mother moved, as well as establishing a design institute at Stanford.

Plattner was working for IBM in Mannheim, Germany, when he and four other European-trained engineers left to form SAP -- now the acronym for Systems, Applications and Programs in Data Processing. Global expansion followed, and SAP now rivals Oracle as a provider of business software.

That competition with Oracle and CEO Larry Ellison extends to the courtroom, where a software piracy case will be retried after Oracle rejected an appeal judge's reduction of a $1.3 billion judgment against SAP, and the open seas.

Though he and Ellison no longer go head-to-head in regattas, competitive sailing is still part of Plattner's life -- but maybe not for much longer. After spending last weekend at the Super Bowl, he was heading to Barbados to train for what he said could be his final race at age 69.

"I sail against 25-year-old girls weighing 120 pounds and weight corresponds to speed," Plattner said. "And they are as strong as I am and this really pisses me off."

He has a house in Bermuda because of his love for boats, but Plattner has no shortage of other places to spend his free time that might open up.

There is his home in Germany. His Bay Area residence is in Portola Valley, not too far from SAP's offices in Palo Alto, but he also is building an estate-size house overlooking the fairways of the CordeValle Golf Course that he owns in San Martin.

There's also another home in Aspen, Colo., and four other golf courses in South Africa.

Plattner indicated he wants the Sharks to operate in a business-like fashion. But at this point in his life, financial considerations are not necessarily the top priority.

"You cannot make money with a hockey team," he said. "You cannot make money with a hotel, either, and you cannot make money with a golf club. I have all three of them. When you have a certain amount of money, you do silly things -- because it's pretty to have a golf course and it's interesting to have a hockey team."

For more on the Sharks, see David Pollak's Working the Corners blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/sharks.