Guest Column with Charles Morgan: May 2023

A headshot of Charles Morgan, an old man with white hair, glasses, and a blue checkered shirt. A silver block sculpture is in the background.


Now, more than ever, it’s crucial to get it right

Charles Morgan

CEO, First Orion

FOR GOING ON 50 years as a CEO, my top two business tenets have been “Hire the best people you can get” and “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 The tools you’re using now will—for certain—be outdated in a handful of years.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, as well as branded communication—I hold an all-hands-on-deck Tuesday Morning Meeting, and I often don’t even talk about our ongoing projects. Instead, I might bring up new developments in IoT 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. Four or five years ago, I might’ve said, “How will 5G change our business?” Three years ago, I might have opened the discussion by asking, “How will AI change the way we do things?” Early on, we saw that there are all sorts of applications for AI in our world, like for doing data analysis. For example, if our customer gets a voicemail, can he or she listen to that voicemail and accurately determine what that voicemail is all about? Does it sound like a scammer, or a legitimate offer? Computers, using AI, can answer that question more accurately than people can. So for a while now, we’ve been using AI to analyze call patterns for our scam solutions. Because we kept our eyes on the far horizon, we were ahead of the game on AI.

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 Tuesday 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.