The fastest man in data goes full throttle for growth

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The Independent Online

Charles Morgan is clutching his ankle and wearing a pained look on his face. The boss of US software company Acxiom got his fair share of knocks and scrapes before he retired as a professional motor racing driver, but he is a little perturbed by the cause of his latest injury. "I've raced all my life and busted my leg from here to here," he says, pointing to his lower right leg. "How did I hurt my ankle? Playing golf. It's pathetic, really."

Charles Morgan is clutching his ankle and wearing a pained look on his face. The boss of US software company Acxiom got his fair share of knocks and scrapes before he retired as a professional motor racing driver, but he is a little perturbed by the cause of his latest injury. "I've raced all my life and busted my leg from here to here," he says, pointing to his lower right leg. "How did I hurt my ankle? Playing golf. It's pathetic, really."

In the aftermath of the technology boom and bust, where cleancut executives and rigid corporate governance laws prevail, Mr Morgan (pictured) and the company he leads stand out from what has become a rather boring crowd.

He has run Acxiom, which processes consumer data for large businesses, for 29 years. As "company leader" (he banned formal job titles in the 1990s), Mr Morgan has steered Acxiom to become a $2.1bn (£1.2bn) concern and a rival to Experian, owned by the UK's GUS. But until his retirement from motor racing last year, he also managed to combine running Acxiom with driving some of the world's most powerful cars.

Mr Morgan, 61, who dresses like a former sportsman in open-neck shirt, chunky bracelet and diamond-encrusted ring, talks with passion about his career behind the wheel: "There were the endurance sports cars, 24-hour racing. Last year I was heavily engaged in grand touring, racing a Ferrari 333SP at Daytona ..."

Now that he has hung up his helmet, the nearest he gets to the race track is the pits, watching the Acxiom-sponsored Morgan Dollar Nascar racing team, which he co-owns with his son.

But he still needs his fix of speed, so he has turned to flying planes. Acxiom owns three Falcon jets, used, he says, to transport customers to the company's head office in Little Rock, Arkansas. And Acxiom boasts five members of staff who are qualified to fly the company's aeroplanes - although this can sometimes cause a few arguments.

Mr Morgan, who flew to London earlier this month to meet European colleagues, says: "We flew from Little Rock to Stansted in eight hours flat. Last time, I took the controls and my colleague sat in the jump seat. She was disappointed. So she flew this time. She is a good pilot and she would have been in tears if I'd told her to move over this time."

However, Mr Morgan will soon get more chances to pilot the company's jet as Acxiom is planning to expand in Europe, which accounts for around 20 per cent of its revenues. "The European business will grow substantially. It is still relatively underdeveloped," he says.

Growth in the UK, where Acxiom already employs 1,000 people, will be done gradually by winning more business and hiring more staff, says Mr Morgan. But there are acquisition opportunities in other parts of Europe, especially in Scandinavia and the Czech Republic, he adds.

To drive home his plans to expand the business, Mr Morgan has given every employee a card to carry around with them containing the company's financial targets.

The card is laminated in heavy plastic to keep it in pristine condition, should the employee decide to drive a racing car, fly a jet ... or play golf.

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