Software Engineer’s Journey From Steve Jobs’ Inspiration to a $28 Billion Deal with Cisco

Michael Baum, the mind behind the cybersecurity software company Splunk, has made headlines with the recent sale of his company to Cisco for an astounding $28 billion. However, the path that led him to this remarkable achievement traces back to an inspirational visit by Steve Jobs to Drexel University in 1983.

At that time, Baum was pursuing a degree in electrical engineering at the Philadelphia-based institution. Jobs made his appearance on campus with a business proposition: a partnership with Drexel’s leadership to provide students with Apple’s groundbreaking Macintosh computers, which had just been introduced in January 1984.

A year later, in a speech, Jobs hailed Drexel as “a pioneer for being the first university to fully incorporate the Macintosh” into students’ educational experiences. For Baum, now 61, this encounter was transformative.

“Steve Jobs convinced our school to become the first one to adopt the Mac for all entering students. As soon as I saw MacPaint and MacDraw, I knew I had to figure out how this worked,” Baum recounted in an interview with U.K.-based The Gentleman Magazine in 2022.

Baum’s fascination with the Macintosh was, in his words, “love at first byte,” motivating him to change his major to computer science. “All of a sudden my brain went, ‘How do these work?'” Baum told the BBC in 2020. “So I went headlong into software.”

After graduating in 1985, Baum embarked on his first entrepreneurial journey, founding a software company named Reality Online. This startup aimed to predict stock market performance and was eventually sold to Reuters in 1987, although the exact amount remains undisclosed. Subsequently, he pursued an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Baum’s entrepreneurial spirit led him to become a serial entrepreneur, building and selling multiple software businesses before the turn of the millennium. He also gained experience as a Silicon Valley investor and held executive positions in e-commerce at Walt Disney and Yahoo.

In 2003, Baum, alongside his friends Rob Das and Erik Swan, co-founded Splunk, a San Francisco-based company focused on helping organizations monitor and analyze extensive data repositories. In recent years, Splunk ventured into cybersecurity, developing tools that employ artificial intelligence to detect potential threats in machine-generated data.

Baum served as Splunk’s CEO until his retirement in 2009. When Splunk went public in 2012, its valuation stood at approximately $1.6 billion. While the exact amount Baum earned from Cisco’s acquisition of Splunk remains undisclosed, he revealed in a 2020 BBC interview that, at the time, he was the company’s largest individual shareholder.

In his retirement, Baum has embarked on a new venture, this time as a vintner. In 2014, he relocated his family to France’s Burgundy region and acquired the Château de Pommard winery, where he currently serves as the owner and operator.

Baum’s enduring “inquisitive nature,” ignited by his fascination with Jobs’ Macintosh computers, continues to fuel his passions and pursuits. “It provides me purpose, joy, and excitement,” he shared with The Gentleman Magazine, underscoring the enduring impact of Steve Jobs’ visit on his life’s trajectory.