Industry Insights

What HP Veteran Michael Sullivan Brings to the Acquia DNA

Acquia, a Drupal-based open source content management system provider, named Michael Sullivan as Chief Executive Officer, effective in December 2017. Acquia has been searching for a new CEO since its former CEO Tom Erickson announced six months ago, that he would step down from his role when a new business partner is found. To determine their new CEO, Acquia's board of directors screened over 140 candidates and interviewed 10 in-depth. While they were in the search for a new CEO, the enterprise software company has tried an unconventional management style namely “an Office of the CEO” where Erickson and co-founder Dries Buytaert jointly run Acquia.

Following the announcement, I reached out to the newly appointed CEO to learn what attracted him to Acquia as a career opportunity: "As a Boston native, I have always known Acquia to be a prominent and respected tech leader. When I was introduced to Dries, it became clear that we shared an excitement for the future of technology and the content management world. I’m thrilled to join a company that has a winner’s DNA, and is poised for huge growth as it tackles the evolving market of digital experience," said Sullivan. I also wanted to hear what the areas of focus will be within his new role to address any challenges he feels Acquia customers are facing. Sullivan told me that "Acquia is already on track to address the major demands of brands looking to deliver engaging digital experiences. Dries and the team have a vision for building intelligent digital experiences leveraging emerging technology. My role will be focused on bringing that strategy to life—ensuring sound execution so that Acquia is able to turn vision to reality."

I, for one, have always been impressed by the Acquia community and their leaders Dries Buytaert and Tom Erickson’s passion about disrupting the web content management space but let me withhold that for now to introduce the new addition to this community.

Meet Michael Sullivan

The 52-year old seasoned leader, Michael Sullivan, has been in the tech industry for 25 years, including to have been with Hewlett Packard Enterprise in various positions for 10 years. He joins Acquia from UK-based Micro Focus, which claims to be the seventh-largest "pure-play" software vendor in the world based on market capitalization. Sullivan also was heavily involved in the merger of Micro Focus with Hewlett Packard Enterprise software business. Both at Micro Focus and at HP, his major focus was more on the information management and governance product portfolio.

Prior to joining HP, he led the Protect business unit at Autonomy, which delivered risk and compliance solutions to Fortune 1000 companies. He joined Autonomy through the acquisition of Zantaz, where he was senior VP of operations and services. Sullivan was the founder and CEO of Steelpoint Technologies, a pioneer in technologies for the intelligent management of unstructured information. He holds a degree in computer information systems from Bentley University. “Like me, he founded a company in his twenties which he has led ever since. His deep understanding of the opportunities and challenges faced by large global enterprises aligns perfectly with Acquia’s focus on providing data-driven customer journey solutions to organizations that have ambitious digital aspirations and challenges,” said Buytaert.

The Acquia DNA

As mentioned earlier, the company culture of Acquia has been one of the biggest drivers behind this startup tale of success. From the business model to management, the main focus has always been “customer success.” Speaking to CMS-Connected, Dries once explained the reason for their selection of the business model: "Instead of selling licenses where the customers pay a lot of money upfront, we prefer to provide a subscription business model as we think, it is much more customer friendly, and our main focus on customers’ success." Regarding the impact of the company culture on their growth, departing CEO Tom Erickson told in a CMS-Connected interview: "First and foremost, we have a great team. I can’t say enough positive things about the passionate, hard-working individuals at Acquia who are committed to helping our customers succeed. It’s always been my belief that Acquia has an unfair advantage over our competitors because we have the platform and the people in place to help our customers deliver their most ambitious projects."

To build a consistent culture that they call the Acquia DNA, according to Michael Skok,  Acquia's lead investor, Dries and Tom have worked tirelessly to select an incredible team so much so that, either of them was in every final interview until they were over 200 people, and most of the time both of them interviewed every candidate. How does Michael Sullivan fit into this carefully knitted team, you may ask? Dries addressed that question in his blog post by using a dating analogy: “Finding a business partner is like dating; you have to get to know each other, build trust, and see if there is a match. Identifying and recruiting the best candidate is difficult because unlike dating, you have to consider how the partnership will also impact your team, customers, partners, and community. Once I got to know Mike, it didn't take me long to realize how he could help scale Acquia and help make our customers and partners successful. I also realized how much I would enjoy working with him. The fit felt right.”

In addition to Michael Sullivan joining Acquia as CEO, Dries’s role will be elevated to Chairman while he still continues to be in the role of Acquia CTO. He believes that his responsibilities have gone beyond a CTO job description as they have bridged products and engineering, fundraising, investor relations, sales and marketing, resource allocation, and more.

Acquia's Product Strategy is in Transformation

Michael Sullivan was responsible for managing over 30 SaaS products at both Micro Focus and with Hewlett Packard Enterprise. From a product management perspective, Sullivan’s 25-year senior leadership in SaaS, enterprise content management, and content governance is expected to guide Acquia in its transformation from a single product company to a multi-product company as the vendor outlined a goal to move from website management to data-driven customer journeys. Acquia announced two new products that support this mission: Acquia Journey and Acquia Digital Asset Manager (DAM).

Acquia Journey is expected to tackle the issues that arise from the inability to connect customer profiles and journey maps with various marketing tools. Therefore, the platform is designed to enable marketers to build data-driven customer journeys in an effort to help them easily map, assemble, orchestrate and manage customer experiences like the gif below demonstrates:


Acquia DAM offers a centralized repository for managing all rich media assets, including photos, videos, PDFs, and other corporate documents. The platform enables creative and marketing teams to share and work together on the files in Acquia DAM, meaning graphic designers, marketers and web managers all have a hand in translating creative concepts into experiences for their customers. Both new products are built to integrate with the entirety of the Acquia Platform. Here's a visual that demonstrates Acquia's product strategy transformation:

Acquia has taken Drupal to the enterprise level by its strong commitment to “delighting their customers and providing the best digital experiences in the world.” In a CMS-Connected interview, Tom Erickson commented on the future position of Acquia in the WCM space: “With our innovative cloud platform that’s deeply rooted in open source, Acquia has been doing for years what other WCM companies are only now beginning to explore. Open source has proven to be the essential foundation for innovative digital experiences. So we’ll see smaller companies and larger companies alike jumping on the open source bandwagon, and we’ll also see more companies adopting cloud-first strategies. But today’s enterprise buyers are savvy and know to look under the hood of their platforms to see if they are really getting a cloud-first platform, or something that’s been cloud-washed.”


The compelling combination of open source and cloud has been the main driving factor behind Acquia’s unprecedented growth and their core focus of customer success has been recognized by the top industry analysts such as Gartner and Forrester. It is also worth noting that Michael Sullivan was recognized by Ernst & Young as an Entrepreneur of the Year finalist in both 2000 and 2004. By the look of Sullivan’s career, he seems to have so much to bring to the table, especially, given the vendor is steering its ship in a new direction that allows  it to roll out its expanded platform by incorporating a new slew of technologies such as Node.js, journey orchestration, commerce integrations, and digital asset management.

When my coworker Laura Myers attended their annual event Acquia Engage 2017, she also reflected in her recap article that the theme of the year was transformation. So with this major product expansion, the leadership shake-up may provide Acquia with a refreshing perspective based on an extensive knowledge of the similar areas. We will continue to closely watch and report on the news coming from the Acquia community.

Venus Tamturk

Venus Tamturk

Venus is the Media Reporter for CMS-Connected, with one of her tasks to write thorough articles by creating the most up-to-date and engaging content using B2B digital marketing. She enjoys increasing brand equity and conversion through the strategic use of social media channels and integrated media marketing plans.

Featured Case Studies