The Top 10 Business Stories of 2009

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Dec. 28, 2009 12:00 am  

The telecommunications industry in Arkansas experienced several major changes during 2009.

At the top of the list: A new telecom firm put roots in the state.

Allied Wireless Communications Corp., a subsidiary of Atlantic Tele-Network Inc. of Salem, Mass., formed from divested Alltel assets, announced in December that it would establish its headquarters in Little Rock.

The company expects to add between 200 and 250 jobs and invest more than $200 million in the Little Rock operation. Frank O'Mara, CEO of Allied and former chief marketing officer at Alltel, said he'd like to hire many ex-Alltel folks, adding that the new company would be like getting the band back together.

Allied isn't the only telecom-related firm to form from the fallout of the Verizon-Alltel merger that closed in January; a couple of investment firms specializing in technology also emerged. Westrock Capital Partners LLC, formed by former Alltel CEO Scott Ford, and the Circumference Group, formed by former Alltel Chief Operating Office Jeff Fox, both set up shop in Little Rock this year and hired some ex-Alltel workers.

Meanwhile, Windstream, run by Alltel veteran Jeff Gardner, went on a buying spree and began repositioning itself in the market. Gardner is working to move away from the bleeding landline business and turn what is now Arkansas' second-youngest telecom into a broadband firm.

In the second half of 2009, Windstream entered into agreements to buy four similar-sized telecoms, totaling more than $2.2 billion in acquisitions. Windstream agreed to buy Lexcom Inc. of Lexington, N.C., for $141 million; D&E Communications of Ephrata, Pa., for $330 million; NuVox Inc. of Greenville, S.C., for about $643 million; and Iowa Telecommunications Services Inc. of Newton, Iowa, for $1.1 billion.

Finally, the July merger between CenturyTel Inc. of Monroe, La., and Embarq Corp. of Overland Park, Kan., created another new  company called CenturyLink Inc., which instantly became the second-largest local exchange carrier in Arkansas.

No. 5
CEO Turnover

Six of the 19 publicly traded companies headquartered in Arkansas, including the three largest, installed new CEOs in 2009 or announced plans to do so. One company, Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale, installed two new CEOs this year.

  • David Wood succeeded Claiborne Deming as CEO of Murphy Oil Corp. of El Dorado on Jan. 1;
  • Michael T. Duke succeeded H. Lee Scott Jr. as CEO of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. of Bentonville on Feb. 1;
  • Daniel Cushman replaced Robert Weaver as CEO of P.A.M. Transportation Services Inc. of Tontitown on July 13;
  • Randy Sims succeeded John Allison as CEO of Home BancShares Inc. of Conway on July 17;
  • Donnie Smith on Nov. 19 succeeded Leland Tollett, who on Jan. 5 succeeded Richard L. Bond as CEO of Tyson Foods; and
  • Judy McReynolds will succeed Robert A. Davison as CEO of Arkansas Best Corp. of Fort Smith on Jan. 1, 2010. (She will be the first female CEO of a publicly traded company in Arkansas since the late Vida Lampkin retired as CEO of tiny HCB Bancshares Inc. in 1999.)

Turnover in the corner office wasn't confined to publicly traded companies. Arkansas Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Little Rock, the state's sixth-largest private company in terms of annual revenue, got a new CEO in Mark White on Jan. 1, 2009.

And although he isn't CEO and he actually arrived in 2008, the management hand of Steve Denne became apparent at Heifer International, the global poverty relief charity headquartered in Little Rock. Internally, Denne is viewed as the heir apparent to Heifer's longtime CEO, Jo Luck.



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