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10/21/2004
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Rick Whiting
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Acxiom's Cult Of Personality: Charles Morgan, Company Leader

Charles Morgan, technologist, visionary, adventurer, is the real leader of Acxiom.

Several years ago Acxiom Corp. did away with all traditional titles, such as vice president or CEO. Instead, top executives are referred to as "leader," as in operations leader. But there's no doubt who the real leader is: Charles Morgan, who has been running the company since 1975.

Morgan started at Acxiom in 1972, after six years with IBM as a systems engineer. Morgan came to Acxiom, which was then called Demographics, with several fellow University of Arkansas grads, among them Alan Dietz, who is still the company's technology leader (aka CIO).

While some CEOs rarely venture beyond the corporate suite, Morgan, 61, is involved in all aspects of the company, particulary when it comes to maintaining its technology edge. During a recent company conference, Morgan addressed Acxiom's developers and other IT employees (after singing "Happy Birthday" to one of the attendees) on the importance of ferreting out leading-edge technology being developed around Acxiom and sharing it across the company. For example, while Morgan didn't develop Acxiom's grid-computing technology, several executives credit him with recognizing its potential and pushing for its adoption. Colleagues and employees refer to Morgan as a "technology visionary."

Morgan doesn't hesitate to make changes if he thinks Acxiom's culture is in danger of going stale. In the 1990s, Morgan reorganized the company several times, once collapsing the management hierarchy from 13 levels to three. He also has emphasized the need to provide career-development paths for technical employees who have no desire to move into a business-management role.

Morgan is an adventurer, in the mold of Ted Turner or Larry Ellison. He has a deep love of motor sports, having raced motorcycles and then cars for 20 years. He pilots the corporate jet.

Morgan is known around the company for his "campus days," when he holds meetings at Acxiom's various facilities around the country and, increasingly, around the globe. Morgan wants to hear ideas, gripes, and whatever else is on employees' minds. "That's the way he stays plugged into what's going on," says Cindy Childers, company organizational development leader.

Every week employees get an E-mail called "Morgan's Minutes," where he provides his take on what's happening in and around the company. Recently, the buzz around Acxiom was about the digital photos Morgan had posted on the company's online newspaper from his recent trip to Asia--including one of him standing on the Great Wall of China.

Return to main story: "Data Demands Respect"

Continue to the sidebars:
"True Grid: Acxiom Outgrows Symmetric Multiprocessing"
"Acxiom Privacy Leader Jennifer Barrett: A Few Questions"
and "Taking Aim At Acxiom"

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