The Rise and Fall of Ed Harvey's Business Empire

by Mark Friedman  on Monday, Aug. 2, 2010 12:00 am  

"Frequently, we worked well after midnight on a project. It had to work right," he said. "And he was there and so he paid attention to every detail of the business."

Harvey also designed equipment to cut curved logs, said Bobby McDowell, a friend for about 40 years who is also a director of Preston National Bank. "He was a real innovator."

McDowell, who lives near Dallas, said Harvey bought from him some of the first Intel computer products ever sold. The lumber equipment, McDowell said, was "where he really made his money."

"Ed's an engineer at heart," he said. "He turned out to be a very good businessman."


Business Growth

Harvey first signaled his plan to expand into other industries when he announced in June 1985 that James P. Jett, who had resigned as president and chief operating officer of Worthen Bank & Trust, had been named president and COO of Harvey Industries of Little Rock, according to an article in the Arkansas Gazette. At the same time, Harvey appointed John K. Fletcher president of Harvey Engineering & Manufacturing Corp., where Fletcher had worked since 1970.

"The election of these two men represents a move by the company to both strengthen our position in the wood products industry and offer the company an opportunity to explore other business areas that we may come up with in the future," Harvey said in the article, one of the few times he was quoted in a news story.

In the summer of 1985, some 300 employees worked for Harvey Industries and its subsidiaries, which included Harvey Engineering & Manufacturing Corp. and Hemco Trucking, both of Hot Springs; Hemco-Beebe, Metal Fabricating Systems, Harvey Properties and Tiecor, all of Little Rock; Hemco Sales of Jacksonville, Fla.; and Continental Lumber Co. of Rapid City, S.D., the article said.

By the end that year, Harvey had formed Continental Express Inc. with five trucks. The company quickly took off, then-president Ralph Bradbury told the Gazette in 1990. Revenue was approaching $20 million and Continental owned or had an interest in more than 500 tractors and 800 trailers.

But Harvey was not done building companies. He formed Guardian National Insurance Co. of Little Rock in 1988 to sell property, casualty and workers' compensation insurance. The company changed its name to Gibraltar National Insurance in 1994.

Gibraltar's president in 1988 was M. Kelly Wooldridge, one of several management hires with whom Harvey would have legal battles. Harvey also decided to buy a bank, and he picked the struggling Preston National Bank in Dallas, which had been formed in 1985, according to McDowell.



Please read our comments policy before commenting.