Charles Morgan enters a room — and a conversation — with the mentality of a racecar driver barreling into a turn.
A thousand details crossing his mind at 200 miles per hour, his is a phone that never stops ringing and a brain that never stops producing ideas and opinions that he bangs off the listener like he’s trading paint.
By Dwain Hebda | Photography by Jamison Mosley
Susie Morgan glides into a room, no matter the setting or the crowd, intuitively putting her audience at ease. It’s a skill she mastered in her beauty pageant days that has proven enormously successful in her professional and community-service roles. Equally driven in her own right, she’s the perfect foil for Charles’ hard-driving personality; they are a prototype match of equals with boundless respect for one other.
“I’ve seen her with former presidents, CEOs, doesn’t really matter to her. She’s kind of like I am in that respect. We’re both kind of like, ‘OK, (expletive), what have you got to offer,’” Charles says with a hearty guffaw.
“Well, no, you’re like that,” she counters. “With me, I can walk into most rooms, businesses, CEOs, the whole gamut, because I learned how be at ease with myself. That puts the other person at ease.”
Individually, the tales of Susie and Charles Morgan are compelling. Combined, it’s a rare match of two self-made, goal-oriented individuals somehow finding a common stride on what does matter while not being knocked off-balance by what doesn’t.
Both Morgans boast humble beginnings. Charles, a native of Fort Smith and a mechanical engineer by training, joined Conway-based Demographics in 1972. Demographics was a company of about 25 people then, formed to collect names of Democrats to create voter lists. A little more than 15 years later, Demographics had become Acxiom, which revolutionized the process of data-gathering for corporate use.
“By the time I graduated from the University of Arkansas, I had really never seen a computer,” Charles says. “There were no computers. The day I graduated in 1966, there were not more than 10 computers in Arkansas. Probably had one at Murphy Oil, they had a couple at the state. There wasn’t one at Walmart; J.B. Hunt didn’t have a computer.”
Under Charles’ leadership, Acxiom ushered in an entirely new facet of the tech industry, and by the time he left the company in 2008, he had attained the status of the most successful tech entrepreneur Arkansas had ever produced.
“I’m very entrepreneurial, as my family was,” he says. “My process is, I’m always involved in something. At Acxiom, I was involved with every phase of the business development, solving data-related problems. That’s what I’m really good at.
“If you want to know what I really am, I’m an inventor,” he adds. “I like really hard problems that, if you solve them, have really meaningful outcomes. I like to solve things that are big and meaningful.”
A native of Jacksonville, Susie lost her father to an automobile accident when she was 11 years old. Shortly after his death, her mother entered her in her first pageant. While she would eventually attain the title of Miss Arkansas USA in 1980, life didn’t always match up with what she tried to portray onstage. Still, she persevered and that ability to grind through adversity bled over into her professional career, building one of the largest staffing companies in Arkansas.
“My mother entered me in a pageant to get me into something that I could get excited about or set goals for or stay focused on, something that was positive,” she says. “I always wanted to be the beauty queen, but I never did it because I thought I was the best or the prettiest or whatever. I was doing it to compete and to develop myself.”
While no longer in the business world, Susie brings the same mentality and skillset to her philanthropic work. Foremost among these causes is Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Arkansas, which operates the larger of the two Ronald McDonald Houses in the state. Ronald McDonald House provides a home away from home for families whose children are receiving treatment for serious medical conditions.
One of her signature accomplishments while on the board is as an effective fundraiser. She chaired the group’s Chocolate Fantasy Ball last year and has helped raise millions to build the current showpiece house, which opened in 2016. Again, she credits her early experiences with pageants for helping her hone her chops.
“All the interview processes and being on stage helped me open a door and introduce myself, not to talk about me, but to talk about you,” she says. “From there you can build that relationship.”
The couple, who married in 1998, first met via a chance encounter — Charles won a motocross event and Susie was the 15-year-old trophy presenter. Over the years, they haven’t been successful at everything; they’re deadlocked in opposing views on the proper doneness for steak, for instance, which doesn’t sound like much until you factor in their respective hyper-competitiveness.
Charles’ stab at retirement in 2008 was also a dismal failure, leading him to launch the tech firm First Orion after six months. The company, which he says has the potential to dwarf Acxiom, is in the process of building a new corporate headquarters in North Little Rock’s Argenta neighborhood.
Susie is a familiar sight at Ronald McDonald House, often with her grandchildren in tow. There, she teaches them the value of volunteering to help others, lessons solidified by the Morgan name on multiple plaques throughout the structure, thanking them for their financial support. It’s just one of the many groups and individuals who have benefited from their generosity.
“As successful as Charles was when I met him and as he is now, he never left who he was and neither did I,” Susie says. “No matter how much success we have, our core has stayed the same.”