"It is a messy story. In the big picture, this could be called a narrative of America since World War II. But in the micro telling, think of it this way: The man who opened your lives to Big Data finally bares his own."
Charles D. Morgan
Matters of Life and Data
Mother, Father, my little brother, Speer, and me, in the early 1950s in Fort Smith, Arkansas. My father worked at Speer Hardware, Mother’s family business, where he was browbeaten by my pompous Uncle Ralph, who’d been born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth and looked down on anyone who really had to work. In 1953, largely to stake out a measure of independence, Father bought a small, 10-room motel, and we moved in as owner/operators. Father still worked at the hardware store, but now he wasn’t totally controlled by Uncle Ralph.
The year 1966 was a pivotal one. After graduating college in mechanical engineering, I really wanted to work on a racing crew. Fortunately I came to my senses and joined IBM, where the hardware geek fell in love with software. At about the same time, I also fell for a hometown girl, Jane Dills, and we got married. Our daughter, Carrie, came along the next year, and son Rob followed six years later.
In 1972, as IBM was about to promote me into a life of corporate suffocation, I jumped ship to a small company called Demographics, which rented computer time to clients. Alex had moved there earlier and I joined him as “co-president,” an ultimately unworkable idea. Soon Alex transferred to Saudi Arabia to launch a Middle Eastern branch of Demographics, but when he became involved with our Saudi benefactor’s mistress, he had to leave the company. I traveled to Jeddah to clean up the mess and eventually bought his shares. Demographics would one day become Acxiom Corporation
Life at Demographics was tough, but we had put together a strong core management team (Jim Womble, Rodger Kline; Jerry Adams; Jennifer Phillips; Alex Dietz even returned to the fold) and by the late 1970s we had reinvented ourselves as an early data mining company. In 1983 we went public, and suddenly all of us who had worked so hard to build Acxiom Corporation were worth big money on paper. Here I am in the mid-80s with Sam Walton and then-Governor Bill Clinton at a meeting of the Arkansas Business Council, known jokingly as “The Good Suit Club.”
The divorce coincided with the most dramatic growth in Acxiom’s history. Between 1990 and 2000, our customer base and revenue increased approximately tenfold, while the amount of data we were managing rose by a factor of a thousand. The divorce was over in late ’97, and Susie and I were married the next May. On our honeymoon, we fell in love with Cabo San Lucas. We never planned to buy or build there, but a year and a half later we had built this house overlooking the sea. So much for best-laid plans.
Just when I thought my next act was retirement, along came an opportunity to invest in a startup company called First Orion. . . .