New Acxiom CEO Scott Howe Signals Close Attention to Clients

Scott Howe, the new CEO of Acxiom Corp. of Little Rock, told Arkansas Business in an interview Wednesday that one of his goals for the data services company is to have a "maniacal" focus on Acxiom's clients.

And by "maniacal," he means a positive type of mania, he said.

"It's a good crazy," he said. "It's a singular focus, an overriding focus on our clients."

The 43-year-old, a former executive with Microsoft Advertising Business Groups in Seattle, said companies fit in one of two categories: those that listen to their clients and those that don't.

"When I was considering Acxiom, I asked someone who had recently been a client, 'What should the Acxiom strategy be? We really need to figure that out,'" Howe said.

According to Howe, the client replied, "You don't need to figure that out, I'll tell you what the strategy should be. Listen to clients like us. We're telling you all the time where we're wanting to go."

"That was a powerful invitation," Howe said.

Howe said that attitude of "maniacal" attention to clients doesn't necessarily represent an upheaval of company strategy.

"It's a revisitation of what this company is built on," he said. "This company has always had a reputation of being the best in the world on client service and delivering what other companies couldn't. I look at that legacy and this is a chance to build off of that."

Acxiom's hire comes after the company began in April looking for an executive with a solid digital media background who could negotiate a rapidly changing digital marketing world. But Wednesday, Howe signaled a strategy of improvement and not a remake of the company.

Howe said he doesn't plan to fix what's not broken, but he does hope to improve it.

"The flipside is, you've got to protect it, you've got to continue to grow, develop new features and improve, otherwise it's a slow, painful death by a thousand cuts," he said.

Howe said there are clients who want to stay with Acxiom, but only if the company's technology keeps pace with the clients' ambitions.

"That's a warning for the future, but a validation of how strong our relationships are," Hayes said. "They want us to succeed."

Howe succeeds John Meyer as chief executive. Meyer left Acxiom in March, the same time the company disclosed a non-cash impairment that contributed to a fourth-quarter loss and plans for its chief financial officer, Christopher Wolf, to also leave the company that summer.

Acxiom's stock plunged 23 percent on news of the executive departures and the non-cash impairment.

But on Wednesday, Acxiom shares (Nasdaq: ACXM) finished up 18 percent to $13.97. The company also announced first-quarter earnings up 12 percent from the same quarter last year.

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A look at Scott Howe's professional history