At a location far from Silicon Valley and MIT, Charles Morgan--race car driver, IBM graduate and native Arkansan--leads Acxiom, a company whose products make the entire concept of customer relationship management possible. From the unlikely technology hub of Little Rock, Ark., Acxiom builds the information infrastructure necessary to fully utilize customer data across the enterprise.
Morgan, whose official title at Acxiom is "Company Leader," says the organization's current success is the result of a transformation that began in the 1970s, when he joined a very troubled data processing company. "We were in the direct mail business, but we were looking for an opportunity to build a much bigger company. We decided we would use technology as our edge. From the late 1970s to today, our goal was to build the most advanced products in our industry."
The company's new path proved to be a perfect opportunity for Morgan--a formally trained mechanical engineer--to put technological and entrepreneurial skills developed throughout his life and career to the test. Unlike many of his tech industry contemporaries, that development process began and remains in Arkansas. However, like many leaders of his generation, he learned his trade at IBM, then the world leader in almost everything technological. "After finishing my degree at the University of Arkansas, I went to work for IBM in the field of data processing," he recalls. "IBM was a wonderful training ground for people. They took young people like me and gave us a tremendous amount of responsibility."
Fast forward through 20 years of technological and business evolution and you have today's Acxiom, a company that last year sold $100 million worth of integration and data management software and services to the Fortune 500. Acxiom's flagship product is Abilitech, which, according to Morgan, creates a foundation for customer data integration. "To succeed at CRM, you need correct information," he says. "You need to update it and access it quickly, and you must be able to do all this in a cost-effective environment."
Morgan's success at Acxiom has allowed him to enjoy a few non-business-related triumphs as well. "I started car racing in 1978," he says, "and at the age of 34, I began racing seriously. For a season and a half, I was a paid driver." Though Morgan retired from racing in 1997, he stays involved in the sport as the owner of a Nascar truck team.
Does Morgan see parallels between business and car racing? Absolutely. "If you know anything about race teams," he says, "they accomplish impossible feats in short periods of time. It's all about speed, risk taking and never taking 'no' for an answer."