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Splunk CEO Godfrey Sullivan Steps Down (We Have the Memo)

Doug Merritt, a senior VP, will take the helm.


Godfrey Sullivan, the CEO of Splunk who in 2012 saw the software company through what turned out to be the first IPO of a company devoted to the idea of big data, is retiring, the company said today.

Splunk named Doug Merritt, a senior VP, as the new CEO, effective immediately. Sullivan will remain as non-executive chairman.

Sullivan led Splunk for seven years, landing there in 2008 after running Hyperion Solutions from 2001 until its $3 billion acquisition by Oracle in 2007. Splunk’s IPO was one of the more successful tech offerings in recent memory, pricing at $17 a share and jumping 108 percent in its first day of trading. That began a two-year run that peaked in early 2014 when Splunk shares hit $92.75. Today they closed at $62.76.

Merritt is a former executive VP at software giant SAP and spent six years there, ending in 2011, including a stint running its global on-demand solutions business. He then spent a year as CEO at Baynote, a mobile commerce software company. He then took a gig at Cisco Systems as a senior VP for product and solution marketing. He moved to Splunk last year and sits on the board of Birst, a business intelligence startup.

The news came on the same day that Splunk announced quarterly results. It posted earnings per share of five cents on a non-GAAP basis, beating the estimates of analysts, who expected a one cent per-share profit. Revenue was $174.4 million, ahead of the consensus view of $160 million. Splunk shares rose 2 percent in after-hours trading.

Re/code has obtained an internal memo written by Sullivan and shared with Splunk employees announcing the management change.

Greetings everyone,

Today we are announcing that your favorite CEO (that would be me)) is retiring from Splunk. I will continue to serve Splunk as non-executive Chairman, which is a fancy way of saying that I’m not an employee (after Jan 31st) but still considered an insider by all the regulatory agencies. All of this is effective today, as I’m delighted to announce that Doug Merritt, one of my favorite people on this planet, is taking my place as your new CEO/President! More on Doug in a minute, but first I should explain my decision.

I want everyone to know a few really important things. First, I’ve had more fun leading Splunk for the last seven years than anything else I’ve ever done. Not even a close second to this disruptive and irreverent place – it’s a perfect match for a non-conformist like me! Second, I’m 100% bullish on the future opportunity for Splunk. We’ve gone from a fragile startup to an important company, and customers worldwide depend on us to keep delivering success for them. Third, I love all of you in a way that’s most similar to how a parent is proud of their kids. You want to explain it, but you get choked up trying to get the words out. Everything about Splunk is good, but it’s time for me to spend more time with Sudz and family.

If I tried to recap the highlights of the last seven years, this email would be too long. Let’s keep it simple. Erik and Rob had a great idea, and our somewhat crazy engineering teams have turned that vision into a compelling set of products that our customers love to use. Our NPS score of 50+ is the best evidence of the outrageous products that our engineering teams have developed. Those products have enabled all of us to build a lasting company that delivers high levels of customer success, and it’s a tail wind that makes everything else just a little easier. Let’s not forget that our products are at the center of everything we do.

From the early days until now, and into the future as far as I can see, this is a team sport. While I’m honored to have led Splunk for the last seven years, there were so many of you who made more important contributions. You build the products, you support our customers, you drive our systems and processes that make us all better. It’s quite a privilege to be a part of this team.

Which brings me to a writing from 600 BC by Lao-Tzu:

A leader is best when people barely know he exists.

Not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worst when they despise him.

Fail to honor people, they fail to honor you.

But of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will all say “we did this ourselves”.

I can’t think of a better example of a company where “we did this ourselves” than Splunk. You have brought us to this place, and it’s your opportunity and responsibility to take us forward into the future.

Which brings me to the topic of your brand new CEO, my friend and colleague, Doug Merritt. When I pursued Doug to join Splunk – almost two years ago – it was because I already knew that his character, integrity and experience were a direct match for Splunk. When Doug came on board, many of you commented to me “I know why you hired Doug – he’s your successor”, and you were right!

Doug is a rare human, one who is smart, competitive and creative – and yet he is kind, compassionate and always thoughtful of everyone around him. He’s also rare in having started his career as a programmer, rotated into 10+ years in sales/marketing, spent the next 10+ years in development, product marketing and management, and 6+ years as a CEO leading start up companies. Doug is uniquely qualified to lead a technical company like Splunk, and I’m so happy to be able to pass the torch to someone I respect and trust.

Because Splunk is a team sport, I also need to give huge applause to the rest of the exec team, who are the best I’ve ever had the pleasure to serve. Our market groups are leading us to new opportunities, our Cloud business is on fire, our products create customer passion, our back office teams give us world class support, and our field organization is continually delivering customer success and growth that’s the envy of the software industry. It doesn’t get much better than this.

I want to thank every employee, customer, and partner for making Splunk such a memorable part of my career. I look forward to continuing to serve as your Chairman, and I look forward to a future that’s even brighter than today.

Please join me in giving Doug your enthusiastic congratulations for his new role!

Thanx as always, g.r.s.

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