Acxiom Corp. of Little Rock hired Scott Howe last July to bring the company into the digital age.
The 6,800-employee data miner brought Howe in from Seattle, where he was a corporate vice president for Microsoft Advertising Business Group. He succeeded interim CEO Jerry Gramaglia, who took over when John A. Meyer resigned in 2010.
Howe graduated magna cum laude from Princeton in 1990 with an economics degree, then earned an MBA from Harvard in 1994.
From there, Howe climbed the leadership ladder, starting as a manager for The Boston Consulting Group, then moving to Kidder Peabody & Co. Inc. of Boston, then aQuantive of Seattle, which was acquired by Microsoft. At Microsoft, Howe managed emergent advertising systems from all realms of the digital sphere, ranging from search to mobile to in-game. Along the way, Howe also founded two interactive websites, King of the Web and Health123.com.
That digital expertise is what led Acxiom to select Howe.
"Scott has repeatedly demonstrated a creative and innovative capacity for the development, launch and delivery of new products and services, creating significant business results," Michael J. Durham, Acxiom's non-executive chairman, said in a 2011 news release. "He has extensive digital marketing and technology experience, and is a passionate executive with infectious energy and leadership abilities."
As soon as he joined Acxiom, Howe began a countrywide journey to meet Acxiom's clients, calling it a "maniacal" focus on the company's clients.
"It's a good crazy," he said in July. "It's a singular focus, an overriding focus on our clients."
The hiring of two other digitally inclined executives followed Howe's appointment: CFO Warren C. Jenson, a former Amazon.com Inc. executive, and Chief Revenue Officer Nada Stirratt, who previously worked for MySpace and MTV Networks.
Next, Acxiom dropped its background screening company in a $74 million sale that Howe called "pivotal." The company, Acxiom Information Security Services, went to Sterling Infosystems Inc. of New York. Howe said the move was part of Acxiom's tighter focus on data and marketing services.
Since then, Howe has also announced he will pour $30 million into a research and development initiative, which involves hiring up to 400 new employees, many recruited from universities in central Arkansas.
"Before, we needed folks who really understood data architecture and the concept of a traditional database," Howe said in February. "Increasingly, we also need folks who understand how an ad server works, who understand how Facebook works, who understand how search algorithms work."
The digital media angle is new, but Howe said it doesn't mean the company is replacing its historic focus on direct-mail campaigns.
"What we've always done is manage customers' databases," Howe said. "That hasn't changed at all. What's changed are elements that go into the customer database, and the methods for mining and distilling that information, then empowering folks around our clients to use that information."
In entering digital media, Howe wants to tap into the well of "big data," or the constant stream of online information, marry that information with the data Acxiom has already compiled and finally extract the new data and refine it into a form that's monetarily useful for Acxiom.
Howe likened entering the modern data world to learning how to drive on a freeway.
"As an organization, our next big challenge is going to be how can we increase our speed, yet keep our wheels on the road?"
As Howe has been employed at Acxiom for less than a year, his compensation totals haven't yet been released. But in August 2011, Acxiom announced Howe would receive a base salary of $600,000 and would be eligible to receive a target cash bonus equal to 100 percent of his base salary, with a maximum of 200 percent during each fiscal year.
When he was appointed in July, Howe received 132,221 Acxiom shares, of which 75,264 are "performance units" that can be vested after March 31, 2014, provided Howe meets performance criteria, and 56,957 are restricted stock units with stipulations of ownership.
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