Acquia Taps Former Autonomy and HP Exec Sullivan to Be Next CEO

[Updated 11/13/17, 3:37 pm, with comments from executives.] There’s about to be a new leader at Acquia, one of the Boston area’s more closely watched enterprise tech companies.

On Monday, the Web content management software company named Michael Sullivan as its CEO, effective next month. The 52-year-old, pictured at right, has spent more than 25 years in tech, including holding management roles at Hewlett-Packard.

Sullivan succeeds Tom Erickson as part of a leadership transition Acquia announced in May. Erickson led the company for eight years. Acquia co-founder and chief technology officer Dries Buytaert will now serve as chairman, a role previously held by Erickson, who will remain on the company’s board.

Buytaert started Acquia in 2007 with Jay Batson. The idea was to build software products and services on top of Drupal, an open-source Web publishing system Buytaert created in the early 2000s.

Over the past decade, Acquia has grown to 800 employees, and it generated $153 million in revenues in 2016, a spokeswoman says in an e-mail to Xconomy. (That’s up from $100 million in sales in 2014.) Investors have pumped around $175 million into the company. Acquia’s business growth and sizable venture capital haul make it one of the Boston area’s top IPO candidates. But despite speculation for several years—including IPO talk from Acquia itself—the company hasn’t turned to the public markets. [This paragraph updated with 2016 revenue total.—Eds.]

Now, we’ll see if Sullivan can push Acquia to new heights, as the company expands its technological capabilities and product offerings for digital marketers and brand executives.

Sullivan’s past experience includes working as a software developer at Raytheon, and in the 1990s he founded and led Steelpoint Technologies, which helped manage unstructured data. Later, he was a senior vice president at California-based Zantaz, which got acquired by U.K.-based Autonomy in 2007 for $375 million. Autonomy was later acquired by HP in an $11 billion deal that turned into a disaster: it resulted in HP writing off $8.8 billion of the deal’s value, sparked lawsuits and counter-suits, and led to an indictment of Autonomy’s former chief financial officer for alleged fraud and taking steps to inflate the sale price. (He pleaded not guilty.)

At Autonomy, Sullivan led a business unit focused on risk and compliance products for large enterprises, according to an Acquia press release. After the company got bought by HP, his roles included senior vice president and general manager of software-as-a-service and information governance, according to his LinkedIn profile. Most recently, Sullivan oversaw the information management and governance business at Micro Focus, a British firm that acquired part of HP’s software business—including the remaining Autonomy assets—last year for $8.8 billion, according to The Guardian.

In his new role, Sullivan says he’ll initially focus on helping Acquia execute on product initiatives already put in motion.

“It’s a company that’s experienced a huge amount of success in the Web content management space, but the space is changing quickly, and the opportunity for the company has gotten much larger … around intelligent, digital experiences that so many companies want to deploy,” Sullivan says in an interview.

Marketers are trying to make online “experiences” more personal and contextual for consumers, Buytaert says in an interview. Acquia has rolled out new products intended to help, like one for developing and managing marketing efforts across different channels—websites, e-mail, social media, and so on—and coordinating tools such as marketing automation and mailing list software, Buytaert says.

“Companies can start to reimagine how they build customer experiences, how they interact with their customers in a digital way,” Buytaert says. “It’s basically a re-architecture of the Web. I feel like we’re in the early days of a pretty large transformation that will not only lead to new customer experiences, but also new business models.”

When asked if Acquia is marching toward an IPO or an acquisition, Sullivan says he’s taking a “long-term view,” and it’s too early to say which route the company might take.

“We think we’re in a very good position to be a company that leads in this space,” Sullivan says. “We know that we have a lot of [investor] interest in the company.”

Jeff Engel is a senior editor at Xconomy. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @JeffEngelXcon

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