by Charles D. Morgan
For all my 46 years as a CEO, my top two business tenets have been:
- Hire the best people you can get.
- Know what you don’t know.
Today those two pieces of advice are more important than ever, and the reason for that is that business tenet number two has never been harder to master.
We live in an age in which every company is a technology company. Even if you’re in manufacturing, you likely need engineering knowledge to guide your robots down on the production floor. But the difference between today and yesterday is that technology changes constantly. The tools you’re using now will—for certain—be outdated in a handful of years. And what will replace them? It’s hard to know. Will what’s coming be friendlier to you or to your competitor? It’s hard to know. What this means is that today’s executive can’t afford to turn a blind eye to trends in technology, much less to become complacent about his or her present tools and systems. Leaders make a lot of bad decisions because they just “don’t know” the real information and won’t take the time to find it out.
In my company, First Orion – which is in the business of providing scam and spam protection for telecoms – I begin every week with an all-hands-on-deck Monday Morning Meeting, and I often don’t even talk about our ongoing projects. Instead, I might bring up new developments in IoT (Internet Of Things) that I’ve read about in the tech section of The Wall Street Journal. Of course I’m an engineer by training, so I naturally love to geek out on arcane tech trends. “How will 5G change our business?” I might say at the beginning.
But my goal in these freewheeling discussions—and they do become discussions—is to emphasize to our staff, whether they be data scientists, product managers, recruiters, marketers, or the receptionist at the front desk, that it’s in all of our best interests to keep one eye trained on the future. You never know who’s going to spot some game-changing (or game-saving) idea somewhere on the far horizon. And I always try to lead by example.
These Monday Morning Meetings aren’t nearly enough, though. At a time when it’s harder than ever to know what you don’t know, my first tenet of business—hire the best people you can get—becomes more important than ever, especially in the tech realm. At First Orion, we’ve gone to great lengths to search out and bring aboard top tech talent, especially those operating in our particular field. And we’ve partnered with bona fide tech geniuses, in all areas of data analytics and software development, to help keep us ahead of the pack. There are people in this world today who can see beyond walls, and those are the people you must have around you if you expect to stay current.
So for this new age we’re in, I’ve revised one of my main business tenets a bit: “If you don’t know what you don’t know, at least know someone who does.” If you hired well, that someone already works for you.
Charles D. Morgan is the former Chairman and CEO of Acxiom Corporation. He is now Chairman and CEO of his latest tech venture, First Orion. He also held various leadership positions with the Direct Marketing Association (DMA). Morgan currently serves on the board of trustees of Inuvo, Inc.
His first book, Matters of Life and Data: The Remarkable Journey of a Big Data Visionary Whose Work Impacted Millions (Including You), was published by Morgan James Publishing in 2015, and was #1 on Amazon’s Kindle Store/Business & Money/Industries/Information Management list. Charles lives in Little Rock, Arkansas, with his wife, Susie.