Listen to learn:
Charles Morgan began his career as a systems engineer with a six year stint at IBM. In 1972, Morgan joined Demographics as vice president. In 1980, the company changed its name to CCX Network, Inc. and went public in 1983. In 1988, it became Acxiom Corporation.
Charles D. Morgan transformed that small data processing company into a $1.4 billion-dollar corporation that provides customer and information management solutions for many of the world's largest companies. Today, the company has 5,000 employees in Arkansas, Illinois and Arizona as well as in Europe, Australia and Japan.
Presently, Charles D. Morgan is the Chairman & CEO of First Orion Corp., a private company developing and marketing solutions helping protect consumers’ phone privacy. The First Orion app, PrivacyStar, displays the caller’s name and the reason for the call. In addition to his executive leadership, Charles actively leads technology and solution strategy development.
Morgan recently wrote a book to chronicle the lessons learned on his latest entrepreneurial endeavor. Several years ago, First Orion partnered with Metro PCS and T-Mobile and is now serving nearly 80 million customers. The business is moving to a state-of-the-art facility in North Little Rock next year.
Charles serves on the board of directors of INUVO Inc., a public company focused on simplifying performance-based internet advertising. He also serves as a member and is the past chairman of the board of trustees of Hendrix College.
Up In Your Business is a Radio Show by FlagandBanner.com
[0:00:09.7] G: Welcome to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. Through storytelling and conversational interviews, this weekly radio show and podcast offers listeners an insider’s view into starting and running a business, the ups and downs of risk-taking and the commonalities of successful people. Subscribe to our podcasts wherever you like to listen by searching Up In your Business with Kerry McCoy.
Now, it's time for Kerry McCoy to get all up in your business.
[0:00:34.9] KM: Thank you, son Gray. After interviewing over 100 successful people, and I think it’s a 150 successful people now, I've noticed some reoccurring traits among many of my guests; belief in a higher power, the heart of a teacher and creativity, because business is creative.
My guest today is Mr. Charles Morgan; Founder, Chairman and CEO from 1972 to 2008 of Acxiom, the pioneering and leading database company headquartered in Central Arkansas. This man seems to have lived five lifetimes in one. In the beginning at just 17, he was a young ambitious and audacious fellow working for his entrepreneurial father. Later, he was a smart innovative system engineer working for IBM. That is when I think he saw an opportunity and founded Acxiom with the staff of 25.
Over the next 35 years, Charles grew his baby to a publicly traded company with 7,000 employees globally and 1.5 billion in revenues. That's billion with a B. Whether you realize it or not, your life has probably changed because of the inventive work of Mr. Charles Morgan. In true entrepreneurial fashion and after a tumultuous ending at Acxiom, Charles became interested in yet another technology company, First Orion, a phone privacy app being used today by T-Mobile and its 80 million customers.
In addition, Charles Morgan is an author, I love this, race car driver and has served on many tech boards. Today he serves on the board of Inuvo, another publicly traded technology company headquartered in Little Rock, Arkansas. It is a pleasure to welcome to the table the smart, ambitious, visionary and risk-taker and man who changed all our lives, Mr. Charles Morgan.
[0:02:35.0] CM: Thank you. That was really quite an introduction. Thank you very much.
[0:02:41.4] KM: You’re welcome. It's all true.
[0:02:45.5] CM: I heard a little bit, figured out a little bit about you when before I accepted this gig here to come and do your show. As you do, I like dreamers and I like to help people with their entrepreneurial dreams. Not just that, I'm all about trying to enhance our economic feature for everybody. I guess, the older you get, the more believe it or not, you learn. You've indicated that that you learn. Every time you do something, you learn a lot.
The new business I'm in right now is I tell people this and go crazy, it's going to be bigger than Acxiom. It’s incredibly challenging and fun and exciting. For me, it's about the people, the technology, developing strategies that I know are going to be winning strategies and technologies. It'll be winning technology.
[0:03:47.5] KM: Because it's about your phone and everybody’s got a phone.
[0:03:50.3] CM: Our current technology, literally we're the only company in the world who's figured out how to stop all these robo calls. Everybody gets robo calls. Well, if you get a T-Mobile phone, you virtually get no robo calls.
[0:04:03.5] KM: Well, that's worth changing for right there.
[0:04:04.8] CM: Yeah, I've gotten – I actually got one yesterday. I was very upset, the first one in about 10 days.
[0:04:12.6] KM: Isn't the government about to make legislation to stop robo calls?
[0:04:16.5] CM: That's a great idea, Kerry. Are you telling the crooks that you're going to pass a law to tell to quit being crooks?
[0:04:23.6] KM: You’re not concerned. I didn’t say that.
[0:04:25.8] CM: That’s a brilliant idea, Kerry.
[0:04:27.6] KM: I love Charles Morgan. He just tells it like it is. He’s the most honest, open guy I've ever read about. You don't think that's going to be a threat to your software that you're making, because this is never going to happen?
[0:04:40.5] CM: Our software is not just an app. It is an enormous amount of technology and data. We have 50 computers running inside T-Mobile’s network. We have a 500-server footprint running in Amazon and we have numerous technologies to be able to figure out who these bad guys are. We look at every one of T-Mobile’s phone calls, examine everything about it, all the history that we can figure out about that phone number, all the characteristics of that SIP message, that phone, that initial message coming in.
I got to mention, this number I wants to talk to this number, I figure out everything I know about that phone number. It could be spoofed, so the number may be false, but a lot of the other data associated with that call gives me a clue. We call it call printing. We call print.
[0:05:37.9] KM: You do this in milliseconds.
[0:05:40.1] CM: Microseconds. Microseconds.
[0:05:43.9] KM: That’s unbelievable.
[0:05:45.2] CM: Yeah.
[0:05:46.7] KM: Just looking at you, now I'm just noticed you have a big head, so like a big brain in there?
[0:05:55.4] CM: We don’t know what to think about that.
[0:05:57.6] G: We should comment this.
[0:06:00.4] KM: I mean, only you could figure that out.
[0:06:02.0] CM: I did have trouble finding a helmet that’s big enough.
[0:06:06.8] KM: Just to get off subject, I interviewed this brain surgeon, Steve Cathey, Dr. Steve Cathey, and he said somebody, people with big heads have big brains maybe and that they'd – well, actually he said people with big heads don't get Alzheimer's. All right, I’m way off the subject.
[0:06:24.2] CM: We could do a whole topic on that. It was very interesting.
[0:06:26.9] KM: It is interesting. You do. You are so smart. Only you could figure that out. Let's start at the beginning. You're 17, and we're going to come back around to your business. You're 17, your father's an entrepreneur.
[0:06:40.0] CM: Yeah.
[0:06:41.6] KM: You're already ambitious, because at 17 you go to New York City and make a presentation to some big dogs. You didn’t know and –
[0:06:49.6] CM: Well, I’d say at 17, you know everybody. We're building a new house. We just bought Andersen Windows for it. The reason I was going to New York was to stop in Philadelphia to go to the Andersen window factory.
[0:07:02.4] KM: When you were 17?
[0:07:03.6] CM: I'm 17, with my 15-year-old brother. We took a 2-ton bob truck all the way to Philadelphia. Of course, I –
[0:07:13.1] KM: With the windows in the back?
[0:07:14.7] CM: Well, on the way back yes.
[0:07:16.4] KM: No, I mean – Okay.
[0:07:17.6] CM: We went up and picked up a load of windows.
[0:07:19.6] KM: Oh, you picked them up.
[0:07:21.1] CM: The reason I was going up there, my father decided that I needed to go to someplace in New York. He said, “I want you to drive the truck filled out. If you get on the train and go to New York and I will book a number of place for you to see over a two-day period. If you do it right, you can see a matinee and a night show and the next day matinee and then you can get back on the train, go back to Philadelphia, the truck, drive back to Fort Smith, Arkansas.” Which I did with my 15-year-old brother driving part of the time. That truck obviously, we're both illegal at this day in time to drive a truck like that.
[0:08:02.6] KM: Didn't you sell, or you did something very unusual for a person your age. You put together a deal at 17.
[0:08:09.1] CM: Well, the deal that you're talking about, I did several things in my career there. The deal you're talking about in New York is the deal was I figured out how to redesign the mullion process for Andersen Windows that I had just dreamed up. My father thought it was really cool and he called the president of Andersen Windows back, this little big guy in Fort Smith and said, “You got to see what my son's come up with. I'm going to send him up there.”
He had this whole executive team in engineering stayed. I had 12 people and I'm sitting there, a 17-year-old kid with 12 senior engineers and executive. It's a pretty big company. I'm telling him how to better make their windows. I thought this is very strange, but they listened to it and they said, “That's a wonderful idea.” I have no idea if they did it, but I've invented several things along the way, which are just fun.
You talked about dreaming, you look at something and you say, “Is there a better way to do that?” You think about it a while and you may sleep on it and say, “Hey, there's a better way to do that.” I know what it is.
[0:09:24.8] KM: Did you go to college?
[0:09:26.3] CM: I went to – I got to
[inaudible 0:09:27.2] University. Yeah.
[0:09:29.0] KM: What'd you think you were going to do?
[0:09:30.6] CM: Oh, I was going to be a racecar driver.
[0:09:34.2] KM: That’s why I go – did you get an engineering degree, so you could build the racecar?
[0:09:37.5] CM: No. I actually got an engineering degree, so I could get a really good high-paying job, so I can afford to be a racecar driver.
[0:09:46.4] KM: Because it's an expensive hobby.
[0:09:49.1] CM: It's insanely expensive. Anyhow.
[0:09:52.2] KM: What happened to that career?
[0:09:54.5] CM: I had a pretty successful racing career actually.
[0:09:58.3] KM: Tell me.
[0:09:59.3] CM: Well, I –
[0:10:00.9] KM: You know Paul Newman?
[0:10:02.0] CM: I've raced against Paul a number of times. I knew Paul Newman, actually is a race driver – he's a really great guy. I walked through the Hollywood, Beverly Hills Hotel one time and I just watched him drive an incredible race that day. I was racing the next day. Paul came in the lobby, he was so drunk he couldn't stand up. Paul smelled like Budweiser. He was friendly and he knew he was drunk and he was laughing to himself. We rode the elevator up together.
Even that day, this was when he was probably in his late 50s, early 60s, he drove a professional race that I couldn't believe how well he did against some top world-class professionals. He was driving a car for Nissan. He was a very talented race car driver and really a nice guy, really nice.
[0:10:59.3] KM: Are you still racing?
[0:11:01.4] CM: No. I drove my last race in 2011; last professional race. I am now blind and old.
[0:11:09.3] KM: You don’t look blind.
[0:11:09.8] CM: Too fat. Old and blind is the biggest problem. I had a real successful – I won a lot of races.
[0:11:19.7] KM: Did you have a wreck?
[0:11:21.1] CM: Yeah, one reason I'm blind is I hit the wall at Watkins Glen at about 150 and I messed my eyes up.
[0:11:27.7] KM: That's all you messed up?
[0:11:29.5] CM: Yeah. In that case, I did. I didn't actually have any serious physical injuries other than that. Had a broken rib once and busted a hand one time.
[0:11:40.3] KM: You go to NASCAR?
[0:11:42.5] CM: Actually, I owned a NASCAR team at one time; the truck team. I actually drove a NASCAR race one time, finished it on a lead lap.
[0:11:52.1] KM: Good for you.
[0:11:53.0] CM: That don’t mean anything, but –
[0:11:55.9] KM: You got out of college and you went to work for IBM as a systems engineer.
[0:11:58.4] CM: Correct. Yeah. I really knew nothing about software programming, or computers when I went there. I learned a lot at IBM. I learned that it's all about people, the people are the difference. IBM are really good people. It is a lesson that I learned during my career at IBM. The second thing I learned is you have to train people.
You have to train people. IBM in those days had the training class and envy of the world, which is a lesson that I've carried with me forever. It's one of my personal keys to success is if you have a success, particular in technology, you've got to have world-class training programs, which we are doing even our little company now.
[0:12:49.9] KM: I think that's something everybody puts off. They put it off, they put it off. I know I'm guilty of putting it off.
[0:12:55.4] CM: Some other things I learned at IBM is you need to have a really good, strong culture in company. Sometimes that culture has the bad side of it and sometimes the good side that IBM's culture was good. You think there's no stronger culture company in the world than Walmart.
You can say, there's a lot of good things about that culture’s very, very successful company, but it's also putting off a lot of stress on people. It makes it not the – as we say in our, or we like to have fun place to work, and if you produce, you get to keep your job, if you don't, you don't. Walmart just sometimes it makes it not funny when you're doing your job, which is not good.
[0:13:43.8] KM: Do you fire people yourself?
[0:13:46.7] CM: I had to fire one about two weeks ago. Yeah.
[0:13:49.9] KM: You still fire people?
[0:13:51.9] CM: Well, yeah, if they don't do their job.
[0:13:57.0] KM: What's your least favorite thing to do?
[0:13:59.6] CM: Well, that would hit it up. I like to say, I like to develop technology, I like to talk to customers, I like most everything about a job I like. If you read my first book, which I know you're lazy and you hadn't done yet.
[0:14:18.3] KM: That’s right. Well, if it’s accessible –
[0:14:22.6] CM: The thing about business is I like to do business. I don't like to deal with rules and regulations and stuff that is just there to get in the way of getting success in the world. I hate rules that are just there for real. You say, “Well, that's a rule.” “Well, why?” “Well, it's 17. We all have to follow that rule.” “Why?” “I don't understand.” “It's the rule.”
[0:14:53.4] KM: What do we do with that rule? How can I use that rule?
[0:14:55.7] CM: Well, we get in people’s way.
[0:14:57.2] KM: How are we going to use that rule? Well, I don’t know.
[0:14:59.3] CM: Unfortunately, it's one of the big problem, particularly with the banking system today, because the regulators run the banks, the bank executives are in the banks, I'll tell you that. Yeah, I don't run my bank. It's run by these regulators, or in your whole bank.
[0:15:13.1] KM: What’s the name of your bank? You have a bank?
[0:15:16.7] CM: Well, we’ve had several banks. We’re dealing with some investment banks and –
[0:15:21.3] KM: Oh, you’re on the board of banks?
[0:15:23.4] CM: Well, I have been on the board of bank before. We use several authorized banks for –
[0:15:32.2] KM: When did the idea to start a data gathering company come to mind? You’re working at IBM. You like it there.
[0:15:39.3] CM: It didn’t. I really had a friend who was in a direct marketing business. The idea of doing direct marketing was not originally for commercial applications. It was originally for democratic parties and politicians, because the guy who funded it was a big democrat, Charles Ward, the old Ward school bus company out of Conway.
His whole idea was to help Democratic politicians and party organizations and fundraising and all that stuff. He had heard one of my best friends. The business, I joined him at about the third year anniversary of that company. The data gathering and all the data business evolved.
We got out of all the political stuff within a few years, because I have no interest in that. I don't have any interest at all in being a politician. I was asked once to run for senate in the state of Arkansas and I went, “That would be – you could pull all my toenails and fingernails out first.”
[0:16:57.6] KM: Talk about having no control and rules that don't do anything. It would be incredibly frustrating.
[0:17:02.0] CM: Oh, I know. I was a friend to David Pryor, who I thought it was a fine man, a senator from Arkansas. I was up in Washington and he had me testify a term or two up there; friendly testimony about things. I said and just privately back in the back room chatting with him one day and he said, “Charles, I'm going to retire because this place is no fun anymore.” Now that would have been in the early 80s probably.
[0:17:31.1] KM: Well, he'd really not like it now.
[0:17:34.2] CM: He said, it's just not fun. We all used to work together. When I first joined the senate, we worked together and get stuff done. We went out to get – Democrats, Republicans really didn't matter that much, but he said, “It's gotten just ugly up here.”
[0:17:49.6] KM: It hadn't even really gotten ugly yet.
[0:17:51.8] CM: No. He ain’t started yet.
[0:17:53.1] KM: How did you decide on Acxiom? How did you move from that with 25 people to start Acxiom?
[0:17:58.6] CM: Well, and to start – no, it was all just a morphing. It's just a morphing. We got rid of their business that we were originally doing and I ended up buying all the stock, it's complicated. I ended up owning the majority of stock and then I gave away a lot of that stock.
[0:18:14.1] KM: Did you just quit IBM and start this new one? Or did you just –
[0:18:17.9] CM: I quit IBM, but went to work for this company –
[0:18:20.0] KM: This smaller company.
[0:18:21.4] CM: - a small company.
[0:18:21.8] KM: Yes, that wasn’t called Acxiom.
[0:18:23.1] CM: No, it’s Demographics.
[0:18:24.6] KM: That’s right. That was for the political party, so they could be the Demographics.
[0:18:28.1] CM: All that kind of stuff. We did commercial work too. I joined in ’72. By 1979, the Wards were out of it and I was in control of the business. Had morphed it into what really became Acxiom.
[0:18:51.9] KM: Started writing software, more and more software. That’s your love, like software, isn’t it?
[0:18:58.2] CM: Yeah. Developing software, which I still do, by the way. I still write some software, prototype software. My factory is preparing some data for me to do some R&D on right now, if I was going to get it today.
[0:19:14.7] KM: You probably stay up all night planning –
[0:19:16.5] CM: No. I don't do that anymore. I used to. I'm older now. I'm more sensible. I get up at 4:30 or 5.
[0:19:24.4] KM: Yeah, well good for you. Yeah.
[0:19:26.7] CM: The business just morphed. It's like, we figured out we were working with a lot of data, a lot of people’s data and we said, “Well, why don't we try to build our own data asset so we don't have to use all their other crappy data.” Things morphed. Then we have to build systems that better allow people to achieve the results they’re trying to achieve.
[0:19:48.4] KM: It’s like you had the tiger by the tail. You just kept growing and growing.
[0:19:51.1] CM: It kept growing and kept growing. All the guys that were our early competitors, we put out of business. Not because we wanted to, but –
[0:19:59.7] KM: Not intentionally, but just because you were better.
[0:20:01.3] CM: We just had a lot better technology. By the way, we had this secret that nobody else did. We really tried to take care of our customers. This whole thing, customer's always right. We said at Acxiom, the customer is our most important asset. The customer is king. We just deliver that. We do the same thing at First Orion now. We call it client intimate relationships.
[0:20:28.9] KM: Client intimate relationships. I like that.
[0:20:31.8] CM: It’s the client intimate relationship. By that, I mean – I don't necessarily have to be your guest, best friend, but I got to be the person you trust as much as anybody else in your own company.
[0:20:42.1] KM: Too many publicly traded companies have put the shareholders first. I think messed up. I think the stockholders – I think the –
[0:20:48.7] CM: Well, even small companies. Yeah, even small companies.
[0:20:51.1] KM: I think it's the customers, the employees and then the shareholders, in my opinion. This is a great place to take a break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Mr. Charles Morgan, Founder of Acxiom and was it CEO from 1972 to 2008. We'll find out why he left and talk about the books he's written. He's written two.
His latest one titled What Now?. We're going to find out what he thinks the next big wave might be. If we have time, we're going to talk a little bit more about his hobby, race car driving. We'll be back right after the break.
[0:21:25.7] G: You're listening to Up In your Business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. Over 40 years ago with only $400, Kerry founded Arkansas Flag and Banner. During the last four decades, the business has grown and changed, starting with door-to-door sales, then telemarketing, to mail order and catalog sales. Now flagandbanner.com relies heavily on the internet and live chats with customers all over the world.
Today, she has branched out into podcasts, Facebook live stream and YouTube videos of this radio show. Stay up to date by joining flagandbanner.com’s mailing list. You'll receive our water-cooler weekly e-blast, that notifies you of our upcoming guests, or you may simply like flagandbanner.com’s Facebook page for timely notifications. Telling American-made stories, selling American-made flags, the flagandbanner.com.
Back to you, Kerry.
[0:22:15.8] KM: Thank you, Gray. You're listening to Up In your Business with me, Kerry McCoy. I'm speaking today with Mr. Charles Morgan, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Acxiom from 1972 to 2008 and current CEO of his newest company, First Orion.
[0:22:29.9] CM: First Orion.
[0:22:32.3] KM: Let's talk about the names. Acxiom is a great name and it means true. To be true.
[0:22:39.1] CM: A truth.
[0:22:39.6] KM: A truth. You spelled it a little different. Was that your idea to name it Acxiom?
[0:22:42.5] CM: Well, no it was it actually. We heard an ad agency –
[0:22:47.2] KM: Why do all presidents of companies give the credit away to somebody else?
[0:22:53.8] CM: You know what? That stuff is not – I have a lot of people work for me who are good at it.
[0:23:00.4] KM: You really didn’t name it. Somebody else named it.
[0:23:02.4] CM: No. Look, one of the first products that I gave a name to at Acxiom, was called Demo Dupe. You see why –
[0:23:12.7] KM: Oh, yeah.
[0:23:13.7] CM: You see by that name.
[0:23:16.8] KM: It’s like a body function. I don’t like it at all.
[0:23:22.3] CM: The other one that I named was the list order fulfillment system.
[0:23:29.4] KM: Oh, that bores me to death. Acxiom is the best name. I love that name. I love your new name.
[0:23:35.6] CM: There's actually a story behind it, real quickly I'll tell you. We fought among ourselves about what – we had actually changed our name three times for all these crazy reason. We came CCX, then we became Conway Communication and changed, then we came CCX and we came CCX Network.
The last time we changed our name, turns out there was another company called CCS Network, we are to change our name a month into it and I'm coming back on an airplane from New York and I'm saying CCX Network announces quarterly earnings. I mean, it's our same name. I'm going like, “Oh, my God.”
We went back. I said, “We're going to get another name.” We went to an agency, brought us 10 names, we all went – they threw up on them and said, “That is really awful.” They called us back in a week and say, “Can we try again.” We said, “Yeah, one more time. That's it.” We threw them out. We said, “Forget it.” They came back and they did a little flip thing and said, “I haven't 10 names. We he had one. It was Acxiom.” Everybody said, “That's it.”
[0:24:49.2] KM: Absolutely. It means a statement, which is regarded –
[0:24:53.0] CM: A-C –
[0:24:54.8] KM: I know, you added a C.
[0:24:55.7] CM: Remember, we were CCX. ACX. Oh, it worked so beautifully.
[0:25:02.6] KM: It did. A statement which is regarded as being true. That's what you did. You gave true data.
[0:25:08.9] CM: A truth or law. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
[0:25:14.5] KM: You had originally 25 people, you grew it to 7,000 people.
[0:25:19.8] CM: Yeah, all over the world, 14 countries.
[0:25:22.4] KM: I read where you said there were not enough DB employees, database employees in Arkansas, and then you had to set up a training program. You would take these people who graduated from college with a computer science degree.
[0:25:34.0] CM: A lot of computer science degree. They had been doing technical work and had the aptitude for it. Most of them were college graduate, at least two years, most people.
[0:25:45.3] KM: How many people do you think you made millionaires?
[0:25:50.3] CM: We've done quite a few. That's actually one of my other goals I set it out for myself is if I can make a millionaire and it's a good person and I know it'll make them happy and their family happy, I feel it's one of my – I just told somebody last week. I said, I count my successes on how many millionaires I can help find, because it's as I told several people, if I make any more money, it won't matter because I today, but I've got a house in Mexico and I've got a nice condo in Little Rock and I've got an airplane. What in the hell else do I need?
[0:26:29.0] KM: Can't spend it fast enough.
[0:26:30.2] CM: I don't need it. I said, “What am I going to do? Buy a bigger airplane?”
[0:26:33.7] KM: Well, you almost lost it all though.
[0:26:35.8] CM: Oh, yeah. We have been several times along the road.
[0:26:38.8] KM: That is the sign of a true entrepreneur; up and down, up and down.
[0:26:43.1] CM: Not that many up and downs, but I’ve had to – there were a couple –
[0:26:45.6] KM: Some big ones.
[0:26:46.6] CM: Well, even in the Acxiom days, we invested some stuff and leveraged up at the same time the Acxiom had a terrible crash and all of a sudden, the banks are calling and we were leveraged up to the gills.
[0:27:06.8] KM: You said though that if a – somewhere I read, you said that if the leader of the company is not looking to the future and investing in the future, that they're not going to be in business for very long.
[0:27:18.6] CM: That’s right.
[0:27:19.9] KM: You were doing that, but occasionally it sounds the risk and vent into the future was not always – it did not always work out perfectly, but you still have to be do it.
[0:27:31.8] CM: It never does. I mean, every company is a lot of twists and turns. You can have the greatest entrepreneurial idea in the world and you can decide you're going to do banners, and it turns out flags are a better business.
[0:27:45.4] KM: Yeah, here's your quote, “A leader’s job is to keep one eye on the future and invest in the future. An organization stuck in the present is doomed to be left in the past.”
[0:27:56.7] CM: That's exactly what happens when large companies build their big bureaucracies up, because it's a whole culture that is around making their business plan, achieving enough level of success, so that you keep your job and you get promoted. That is true in so many larger companies.
[0:28:19.6] KM: That is so uncreative though.
[0:28:21.3] CM: I know, but it's such a great advantage for come and be creative. To be completely frank with you, one of my frustrations with Acxiom was when it gets to be 7,000 people, I said, it's like herding cats. Now you have to deal with the board members and Sarbanes-Oxley and the accountants and the lawyers and to send, share all their lawsuits and proxy battles and just all the CRAP you have to deal with.
[0:28:54.3] KM: CRAP. You mean, crap? Did he say crap, or did he spell carp?
[0:29:01.7] CM: That’s another conversation for another time.
[0:29:05.2] KM: You were there 35 years. You were the CEO, then you were the chair – you’re the founder, the CEO –
[0:29:10.5] CM: No. I say CEO the whole time.
[0:29:13.7] KM: You were into forced retirement. That's pretty upsetting. That’s your baby.
[0:29:20.5] CM: Well, we had a – it was after 2000, Samuel we had a huge financial crisis and we were in the middle of a gold private transaction and –
[0:29:32.0] KM: Gold private.
[0:29:33.5] CM: Yeah, we had a PE deal. We were taking the company private in 2007. That's when the financial crisis occurred. We already had the committed finances. My goal at the time we went private was to get it private and I was planning on retiring. I already move to Dallas for a tax haven effectively.
[0:29:59.1] KM: No income – no state income tax there.
[0:30:00.5] CM: Yeah. I was going to live down there for a while, which we did for five years, or off and on for five years. It was not a fun time as this thing blew up. The banks couldn't fund it and we'd been having a proxy battle before that. I brought in the guy who ran the PE firm that embarked on a proxy battle against us –
[0:30:23.2] KM: You brought the enemy into the camp?
[0:30:25.0] CM: Well –
[0:30:26.1] KM: Is that the way to say it?
[0:30:26.7] CM: You know what? It is. He came to me – the head of the firm came to me and said – flew into Little Rock and I met in Bill Dillard's hangar with him privately, a big secret meeting. He said, “You beat me. You beat me. My career is destroyed if I can't save a little face.” I let him in. The guy came, flew in, begged me to – he said, “I'll give up all claims, everything. Let me come on your board for six months, and then I'll just resign after six months.” Well, he lied about that.
[0:31:09.8] KM: Got on the board.
[0:31:10.7] CM: Then he –
[0:31:11.3] KM: Began the undermine the culture of the board properly.
[0:31:14.1] CM: Well, he undermined the culture and he started bringing in – influenced the board to bring in some other outside consultants. Anyhow, so long story short is – quite honestly, I was not in the mood to put up a lot of CRAP again.
[0:31:38.9] KM: Carp. No, I’m just kidding.
[0:31:41.8] CM: We got in a bit of a fight. He actually form ended a palace coupe on me.
[0:31:47.8] KM: What the heck?
[0:31:51.4] CM: It was this –
[0:31:52.2] KM: You were into forced retirement. It was ugly. You have a big heart. Anybody that knows you, you are an open book, you took this guy in, you let him on the board.
[0:32:02.3] CM: They let me hire my replacement though.
[0:32:05.7] KM: Oh, did you like –
[0:32:06.6] CM: They brought me three candidates and said, “We can't figure out who to pick.” Three bad ones. I thought I'd take in the least of the three evils, turned out to be the most evil of the three.
[0:32:18.0] KM: Now you're in this company that, oh, my gosh, the times flying. Now we're in this company that – you're out of this company that's your baby. You've got to be depressed.
[0:32:27.5] CM: Well, I think I was lost a little bit.
[0:32:29.8] KM: I would’ve been so lost.
[0:32:31.6] CM: I think when you've been doing something and it's been all-consuming for so many years, but –
[0:32:39.2] KM: You're living in Dallas, you’re lost.
[0:32:42.1] CM: By this time, I had accumulated some amount of wealth, and so I wouldn't worry about living. I decided that since I like data, there's a lot of data related to investing, so I was going to learn how to invest. I was still doing my racecar driving and I was also owned a racecar team.
[0:33:02.9] KM: Yeah, but you don't make money at those.
[0:33:04.6] CM: Oh, Lord. You spend. That’s how you make a small fortune from a large fortune as you've raised.
[0:33:09.3] KM: That's right. Let me tell everybody in case they're just tuning in that you're listening to Up In your Business with me, Kerry McCoy. I'm speaking today with author, visionary and risk-taker, Mr. Charles Morgan, Founder of Acxiom. Now you're in Dallas, trying to figure out what you're going to do and you hear about this company First Orion.
[0:33:24.4] CM: Yeah. I invest in First Orion – I’m like, I’m going to do investments. This business was – wasn’t even smartphones yet, it was investing in telephone networks and helping people block unwanted callers.
[0:33:45.7] KM: For landlines, I guess.
[0:33:46.9] CM: Landlines, because there weren't any cell phones then really much.
[0:33:49.9] KM: In 2008? Please.
[0:33:51.6] CM: No ma'am. Not much.
[0:33:52.9] KM: Not like today.
[0:33:53.8] CM: No, there was a very few, relatively few cellphones. I mean, relevant with –
[0:33:57.4] KM: Smartphones probably.
[0:33:58.9] CM: Well, there weren't any smartphones. I mean –
[0:34:00.6] KM: In 2008?
[0:34:02.2] CM: Well, there were these big old –
[0:34:03.9] KM: Clunky thing.
[0:34:05.1] CM: Clunky and flip phones and stuff. We were not very much into cellphones. Anyhow, I invested as minority shareholder and I wasn't even planning on to run it. I knew if I was going to invest in, I want one of my guys to be in a key figure. I put a trusted Acxiom guy who left the company about that time.
[0:34:34.2] KM: Jeff?
[0:34:35.0] CM: Jeff Stalnaker into that role. Jeff was in Conway and we had an office in Conway. The actual the main guy made me – got me into this thing was in Boston. He wanted an office in Boston. Here we are, a company with four employees, to one in Boston and three in Conway, Arkansas.
[0:34:58.9] KM: You in Dallas.
[0:35:00.5] CM: Me in Dallas. I wasn't really – in the first six or eight months, I wasn't really involved at all. I said, they had milestones and I'd put 1 million dollars in it and I was going to put another million in it, if they achieve a certain milestone. They achieved another milestones, but they still want the other million. I said, “No.” I loaned them some money and, one thing led to another, they achieved no milestones ever, but Jeff had been doing some skunk works and he and his guys had come up –
[0:35:29.1] KM: Some what kind of work?
[0:35:31.2] CM: Skunk works. That's where you're doing stuff that is not officially sanctioned by the owner then, or the CEO at that time.
[0:35:42.7] KM: Research. It's called research.
[0:35:43.9] CM: Yeah, it’s private research, not company sponsored basic. Or not might have been funded by the company essentially. Anyhow, they said, “Why don't we do this with smartphones and put a blocking application on a Blackberry?” Which they did and it worked. It quickly became popular with people that want to block calls, like debt collectors, or angry ex-girlfriends, or stuff like that.
I ended up getting the other guy out of it. That's a long story. We could spend an hour talking about that whole thing.
[0:36:28.3] KM: You’ve got so many stories.
[0:36:30.6] CM: So many sagas there. Anyhow, I am in control of the business by 2010, but I didn't – I became pretty active in 2012, because the company just want to get there. It was spending a lot of money and wasn't getting there.
[0:36:50.0] KM: Your money.
[0:36:50.9] CM: By this time, I had not one million, not two million, but about three or four million in it by 2012.
[0:37:00.3] KM: Four years on a startup and you're still losing money.
[0:37:03.7] CM: Losing my lot. The first quarter of 2013, we've made some investments that turned out bad. We lost about $500,000. I said, “We're spending too much of my money. It's starting to get –” I'm looking over their shoulder all the time. I'm saying, “Oh, I don't like this asset. You either let to my run a company, or you run it. I said, “I got to it.”
I effectively took over Jeff. It end up – it's a long story. The stress of him and about put him under, and so I actually told Jeff to take a month off and get his life back together and I'll run the company and I'll keep running it. When you come – Yeah, so you're not fired. There was no intention of firing him.
[0:37:59.5] KM: Right. He was doing the best he could.
[0:38:01.4] CM: He was. It almost killed him, the stress of it.
[0:38:04.4] KM: A startup, people need to realize startup businesses, you just got to change positions all the time. You got to look at something, go this is not working, go off it and move.
[0:38:12.3] CM: You also have to get people in a small company to believe.
[0:38:17.4] KM: Yes you do.
[0:38:17.9] CM: They have to trust you. I walked in. I walked in that day that I took over in, I made a little speech and I said, “This company is going to make money by November, six months from now. We're going to make money.” I said, “We're going to grow revenue this way and we're going to cut expenses and there will be some pain to go around and there will be some people that will have to leave and there'll be some people have to take salary cuts.
When we do all this, the people that remain, I will make up the lost money and times too, which we have at least more than that.” The company will be – that we’ll make money from that point forward, which it did and it has.
[0:39:15.4] KM: I love that. One of the reasons I think people believe in you and trust you is because you lay it out in really easy to understand for a really smart guy with a big head, you can really talk straightforward to people about the way you just said that.
[0:39:37.1] CM: It's just being honest. It’s really easy.
[0:39:39.1] KM: Your honesty is so deep. It's even in the way you have a conversation with people, because you cuss and don't make any excuses for it. I love the frankness of you, because some people try to hide who they are, you don't hide who you are to anybody. You don't do that at all.
[0:39:54.0] CM: I don’t think confused where I'm coming.
[0:39:56.5] KM: Ever. I think that builds trust, I think it builds followers, because they trust you exactly like you said. They trust you.
[0:40:04.3] CM: One time, I was having a meeting with a CEO of a company as big as we were in Acxiom. We were about a billion dollar company and he was three-quarters a billion dollar company. We've been negotiating for about a day. I finally said, “Dude, this is BS.” I have to say this on a rate, “You are a a*****e.”
[0:40:33.8] KM: More honesty.
[0:40:34.6] CM: I said, “We're never going to be able to work with you.” You know what, we were in Cabo San Lucas. I said, “I'll tell you what let's do, why don't we go out and drink whiskey together and just BS and have a nice time tonight and then go home tomorrow?” By the way, his top lieutenant has worked for me almost ever since. He quit him and came to work for me.
[0:41:00.3] KM: It’s that frank honestness. I’m going to change your name from Charles to Frank.
[0:41:04.3] CM: Frank.
[0:41:07.4] KM: I think you were a little bit naive when you started. I figured that. Then like you said, it took four years, you finally had to get in there. I think you're really enjoying it though, aren't you?
[0:41:16.2] CM: Oh, my God. This company is going to be – We're doing the same thing we did at Acxiom. I learned so much and I'm taking all those learnings and I am trying to correct them to the greatest degree I can. I still make a lot of mistakes as companies do, but we have shortcut so many things, we should have done at Acxiom when we were small. We've already done the training programs and the hiring programs and the culture, the whole culture develop the program for everybody in this whole client intimate thing that we're doing with –
[0:41:52.9] KM: Client intimate.
[0:41:54.1] CM: T-Mobile loves this. We are now doing things at T-Mobile. We're just going to know more about how T-Mobile's network runs and they do. It's crazy.
[0:42:04.2] KM: You said, “I love the process of building a team, setting up a strategy and solving problems, more specifically solving problems with other people.”
[0:42:11.5] CM: That's right.
[0:42:12.7] KM: We talk about solving problems with other people. You are 80 million people you're solving problems for. You wrote a book, because you've learned so much. You just wrote a book called Now What?.
[0:42:23.6] CM: Now What?.
[0:42:24.1] KM: Yeah, what is Now What? What’s the next big thing? Do you know?
[0:42:28.2] CM: It’s really interesting, but the real next big thing is the thing that we’re working on right now. You know as for scam calls, but nobody answers their phone right now, because they don’t know who's calling. Even if we get risk scam calls, people are not used to answering the phone. If your phone lights up, the whole screen lights up and said, this is a certified call from your Bank of America, or American Express, you will answer that call.
[0:42:52.9] KM: You want to do caller ID? That’s basically caller ID for everybody?
[0:42:57.3] CM: It’s a caller ID that is why they are calling. If you're getting a call from Home Depot, would it really be nice if it says, “Your Home Depot delivery man is calling. Are you there for me?” The whole thing is on the front screen. It's a message. Sends you a message. All you have to do is say, “Yes, I'm ready.”
[0:43:19.9] KM: Well, aren't they doing that with text right now? I mean, we are doing that with text.
[0:43:22.3] CM: With a call, no. No with the call. People don’t answer text for hours sometimes.
[0:43:29.0] KM: Oh, I see what you're saying, because they ask you, you want to call, you want to text and I want a text.
[0:43:34.3] CM: Yeah, that's fine. You want text. If you don't see your text and the thing is there are so many things that are immediate, it's like, if your account is being compromised at the bank and they want to see if that's a real charge, they start calling you, texting you, and e-mail you. Would it really be nice if they could just light your screen up and say, “Guess what? Did you make this charge at Lowe’s?” You'd say, “Yes.”
[0:44:07.2] KM: Why'd you write this book, Now What? Why did you write that book?
[0:44:12.0] CM: I think because a lot of people and they ask me about the same thing they ask you –
[0:44:17.8] KM: How do you do it?
[0:44:19.2] CM: How to do it.
[0:44:19.3] KM: I want to open a pie shop. How do I do it?
[0:44:21.4] CM: Exactly. I want to open a pie shop and I'm really interested in what you're doing.
[0:44:26.9] KM: It's a teaching book.
[0:44:28.6] CM: Yeah. The first one was to – if you read, it was an autobiography. The same day with Pryor talked to me, that I was talking about earlier, former senator from Arkansas said, “That book ought to be required reading for every graduate of every business school in Arkansas.”
[0:44:47.9] KM: I look forward to reading it.
[0:44:49.0] CM: Because really that was the intent, when we set forth, it was going to be talking about my life and all exciting stuff. It was a story building a business and the stories of –
[0:45:00.3] KM: Are you trying to teach people to take risks, or what are you trying to teach them?
[0:45:03.1] CM: No, I think calculated risk. I want you to risk, but I want you to take very calculated risk. Don't bet the farm.
[0:45:09.4] KM: You did. You have.
[0:45:11.7] CM: I've tried to calculate my risk. Occasionally, you get over your skis a little too far. When you get over your skis a little too far and things around you are circumstances, like a recession, or a financial crisis, or something that's out of your control, I come along. They didn't take me down. They just got me –
[0:45:36.6] KM: One of the things that I think I ask everybody when they call me and they ask me for a business advice, which is one of the reasons I started this radio show, is to pay forward what we've been talking about today. I say, “Let's go ahead and jump to the worst-case scenario. Tell me what you think the worst thing is that can happen out of your risk you're about to take.” When they tell me, I say, “Can you live with that?” If they say yes, then I say, “Go ahead. Jump.”
[0:46:03.4] CM: Go for it. I say, don't ever do anything – if you're doing something seriously entrepreneurial, don't get so deep into it that it's going to ruin your life. In other words, if you could afford to lose this money, you can afford to lose the relationships that you might lose if you get all your family and friends into something. Then go ahead, but assume it's going to fail, or assume – terrible –
[0:46:35.2] KM: Look at the worst-case scenario.
[0:46:37.3] CM: Yeah. Often, people go, “Well, that will never happen.” I say, “Well, you know that we've had a Great Depression and you might have a tornado come through, you might have another economic upset, you could be in California, you have an earthquake and takes your building out.”
[0:47:01.4] KM: I hope you'll come back and talk to me. I'd love to talk to you about technology in the future, which we've been doing today, about health care, about cloning, about ecology. I bet you read all the time.
[0:47:09.9] CM: I'm going to get stem cells in Panama City, Panama. Yeah.
[0:47:14.3] KM: Not in the United States?
[0:47:16.0] CM: Can't. It's illegal.
[0:47:17.7] KM: For your spine?
[0:47:18.9] CM: Huh?
[0:47:19.7] KM: For your spine?
[0:47:20.0] CM: No, it's just general health and longevity. Makes old people younger. I'm really a 106.
[0:47:28.5] KM: You look 60. Your spirit is so – your life force is so strong.
[0:47:34.0] CM: That helps everybody scared, because when I come back from a stem-cell treatment, they go, “Oh, boy. Here he goes again.”
[0:47:40.0] KM: I cannot imagine how much energy and – Will you come have lunch with me, or come back on the radio, or do something? I just got to see you someplace when you get back. I want to hear all about it, because I want to do it.
[0:47:52.5] CM: This is our third time.
[0:47:53.7] KM: Third time.
[0:47:55.2] CM: It's cured my wife’s rheumatoid arthritis.
[0:47:58.3] KM: Is that how she did that?
[0:47:59.7] CM: Yeah. She’s had some extenuating circumstance. One reason we're going back is for her rheumatoid arthritis.
[0:48:06.4] KM: I love that story. Yeah, you're going to have to come back on. We're going to talk about health care. Thank you for coming on. Here's your gift. Guess what that is, it's a desk set with the US flag and Arkansas flag. That's a race car –
[0:48:17.0] CM: There you go.
[0:48:17.8] KM: In a race.
[0:48:18.2] CM: That’s for me.
[0:48:19.1] KM: Well, first lap, end of race. What's the other one, Gray?
[0:48:22.4] CM: White flag. Second in the end.
[0:48:24.2] G: That’s right. Yeah. Last lap. Yeah.
[0:48:26.7] KM: Last lap. He knew. All right, thank you again for coming to see me. I want to tell everybody and I want to tell our listeners that if you might have a great entrepreneurial story that you'd like to share, send a brief bio and your contact info to me and someone will be in touch.
Thank you to everyone for spending time with us.
We hope you've heard or learned something that's been inspiring, or enlightening and that it whatever it is, will help you up your business, your independence or your life. I'm Kerry McCoy and I'll see you next time on Up In your Business. Until then, be brave and keep it up.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[0:48:57.6] G: You’ve been listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. For links to resources you heard discussed on today’s show, go to flagandbanner.com, select ‘Radio’ and choose today’s guest. All interviews are recorded and posted the following week. Subscribe to podcasts where you like to listen.
Kerry’s goal is simple, to help you live the American dream.