Splunk CEO Makes a Splash in IPO

Big data made a splash of sorts yesterday when Splunk Inc. (NASDAQ:SPLK), the first of the pioneering companies in a new field, made headlines by doubling on debut.

But this isn’t just about Splunk or big data, which is software that manages and monitors the huge amount of data flowing through the networks of large companies. The man in focus at Splunk is CEO Godfrey Sullivan, who is 58 years young, and an odd man out amongst the far younger tech chiefs in Silicon Valley who typically lead billion-dollar IPOs.

Sullivan assumed charge at Splunk in 2008 and transformed the company from a mere business search engine into a product that enabled companies to profile their data. Sullivan boosted revenues 13 times and Splunk’s customer count to over 3,700, including names such as Zynga (NASDAQ:ZNGA) and Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA). Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Adobe (NASDAQ:ADBE), EMC (NYSE:EMC) and IBM (NYSE:IBM) are among its competitors.

Sullivan is a veteran of the technology industry, starting his career at Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) in 1981. In 1992, he left for Autodesk (NASDAQ:ADSK), where he worked for eight years. In October 2001, Sullivan joined Hyperion Solutions Corp and rose to CEO in 2004, a stint marked by his creation of a new market niche called ‘business performance management software.’ By the time the company sold off to Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL), Hyperion’s market cap had risen five times.

Sullivan didn’t hang up his boots thereafter, and said in his own words, “After Hyperion, I played about three rounds of golf and realized I wasn’t ready to join the graveyard of ex-CEOs. I wanted to look back on my career and say I was able to take a young idea and turn it into a global company.” That’s exactly what he has done at Splunk, a startup he joined amidst the mayhem of the financial meltdown.

That startup was valued $3.28 billion yesterday.

What makes him tick, and, more importantly, how does he nurture that competitive spirit that thrives on adversity and creates value?

A clue can be found in a sport Sullivan played for 25 years, an obscure man-equestrian race called the Ride & Tie, in the North California Mountains. Two people and a horse run the race, with the men alternating between riding the horse and running as many as 100 miles. Sullivan gave up the sport two years ago to focus on Splunk.

A fitting accolade is paid to Sullivan by Brian Gentile, CEO of Jaspersoft Corp., who has known him since 2003 and is 10 years younger: “You’d think he was 35, taking his company public. He is so energetic after all he’s done in his career. He doesn’t look much different than he did at Apple.”