In Conference Call, Acxiom Signals Search for CEO Skilled in Digital Media

Executives for Acxiom Corp. of Little Rock said Wednesday they are seeking a new CEO who can lead in a fast-changing industry.

But there were few specifics on why its most recent chief executive resigned on Monday.

In a conference call Wednesday morning, Stephens Inc. analyst Carter Malloy asked Acxiom executives about the nature of Meyer's departure and what the company would look for in his replacement.

"If the business is doing at least somewhat well and somewhat within the expectation range fundamentally, what is reason for letting go of John?"

Malloy also asked what a replacement would bring to the company that Meyer did not.

"I just want to be clear, John resigned," Chris Wolf, Acxiom's chief financial official said. "But the opportunity going forward is to find a strong operating executive, someone who is also very skilled in this new emerging world of digital media.

"There's a tremendous opportunity for growth for Acxiom, and we need to make sure we're able to capture our fair share of that growth going forward."

Wolf said he will assist in the search for a new CEO. But Wednesday's announcement included word that he, too, would be leaving the company sometime in the second calendar quarter. Wolf cited "personal reasons" for leaving.

Amid all the transition, the data services firm said board member Jerry D. Gramaglia had been appointed interim CEO.

On Wednesday, Gramaglia said he thinks Acxiom's board "is clearer on what we're looking for in the next CEO."

Gramaglia said the decision-making process will take into account "the fact that the whole area we're talking about is very fluid and dynamic and changing as we speak, so somebody who's front-and-center in that, who can be very nimble as we move forward to make sure we're placing the right bets and have the resources to have the right initiatives is really what we're seeking in our next CEO."

European Divestitures

Also Wednesday, Acixom said it would divest its operations in Portugal and the Netherlands. Acxiom COO John Adams said the company will renew its focus on the U.K., Germany, France and Poland.

"The key is, we need to focus on larger entities in Europe that are going to drive the growth going forward," Adams said.

What Acxiom needs "to do a little bit better than we've done historically is leverage the products that we have in U.S. across those countries and we need to make a little bit of an invest in those countries to be able to do that," he said.

Adams did not cite any specific investments, but mentioned Acxiom's recently announced European partnership with Sony Ericsson as evidence of the kind of deals that will help Acxiom grow in Europe.

"I wouldn't get wildly excited about it, but we're seeing some lift, and we believe that as those deals are successful in their delivery, we'll see more lift as we go."

Adams mentioned the economic difficulties facing Europe, but said the economy there is improving, but slowly.

"The problem is, it's come back a little slower than we hoped," Adams said.

Dan Leben from Robert W. Baird & Co. of Milwaukee asked whether Acxiom's revised guidance factored in the sale of the Portugal and Netherlands operations.

Wolf said the sales did not factor in significantly to the revised guidance.