A battle for Acxiom board seats led by an unhappy investor grop headed by Jeffrey Ubben is the subject of a front-of-the-biz section column in NY Times today, but it is available to subscribers only. If you’re really interested, we think you can see it by signing up for a free trial. A taste of a story rich in Arkansas detail:
Mr. Ubben decided to go public with his firm’s criticism of Acxiom’s management after discovering that it had used shareholder money in recent years to sponsor Nascar and other racing teams in which Mr. Morgan and his son participate, to lease a Falcon jet from a Morgan-controlled company that has flown to Cabo San Lucas 32 times since late 2001, to contribute to institutions whose trustees are Acxiom directors, and to pay companies owned by Morgan family members for consulting and other services.
“We are totally focused on governance at this company,” Mr. Ubben said. “It is incumbent on the board to understand that they have a responsibility to shareholders.”
Acxiom’s board certainly includes some big-name Arkansans: Thomas F. McLarty III, former White House chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, has been a director since 1999; and William T. Dillard II, chief executive of Dillard’s Department Stores, has been on Acxiom’s board since 1988.
Other Acxiom directors include Mary L. Good, dean of the school of Information Science and Systems Engineering at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, a board member since 2004, and Ann Die Hasselmo, a former president of Hendrix College in Conway, Ark., a director for 13 years. Stephen M. Patterson, an Acxiom director since 2000, is vice chairman of the trustees of Hendrix, a small, private liberal-arts college.
Mr. Morgan has forged strong ties to Acxiom directors. He serves on the board of Hendrix College and was its chairman for eight years through May 2001. Acxiom has contributed $1.4 million in recent years to Hendrix and paid $226,000 to fund research projects last year at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
Company documents show that Acxiom also paid the McLarty Management Company, run by Mr. McLarty, $260,000 in commissions for services rendered in 2002-3. The company’s newest independent director, Michael J. Durham, chief executive of Cognizant Associates, a consulting firm in Dallas, is chairman of the Asbury Automotive Group, a car dealership whose vice chairman is Mr. McLarty. Mr. Durham is also an “executive member” of Mr. Morgan’s golf course development in Cabo San Lucas.
Good is quoted as defending the board as independent.