Tough 2008 Shows on List of State's Largest Private Companies

by Gwen Moritz  on Monday, May. 25, 2009 12:00 am  

Collecting revenue data for the annual list of the state's largest private companies was harder this year. Fewer companies responded to the initial survey; more had to be begged and prodded; more forced Arkansas Business to use estimates.

(The list of the top private companies in Arkansas, available here, has been revised since its original publication to reflect a new, higher estimate of revenue by Stephen LaFrance Pharmacy Inc. Click here to see the list as it originally appeared. A spreadsheet version is also available.)

Fewer companies reported increased revenue between 2007 and 2008 - except companies in the energy and health care sectors, of course. And some of those warned that 2009 revenue would be off significantly from 2008. (See, for instance, this week's article on Bruce Oakley Inc. of North Little Rock and its 120 percent increase in revenue.)

Mainstays of the list are missing this year, and others are on the way out. In the end, the price of entry to the list dropped for the second straight year - and this time, by more than 10 percent.

The top of the list remains firmly in the hands of petroleum wholesaler Truman Arnold Cos. of Texarkana, Texas. (Arkansas Business has traditionally included businesses from either side of Texarkana on this particular list.) Its $2.5 billion revenue for the fiscal year that ended on Oct. 31 was a 28 percent increase over its previous year record of $1.95 billion and a testament to the stratospheric price of fuel throughout most of 2008.

No. 2 on the list is Warren Stephens' Stephens Inc., but the revenue figure of $1.84 billion (as estimated by Thomson Gale Competitive Intelligence) is one of the least reliable numbers on the list. In fact, none of the numbers associated with the three Stephens family's businesses are particularly reliable; financial secrecy is part of the Stephens corporate culture.

Stephens Group LLC, the investment company owned by Witt Stephens Jr. and his sister, Elizabeth Stephens Campbell, is No. 37 on the list with 2008 revenue estimated at $250.2 million by Hoover's Inc.

SF Holding Corp., the holding company for various interests still jointly held by Warren Stephens and his cousins, has undoubtedly been underestimated at No. 53. Its $154 million revenue figure is entirely the 2008 revenue for Stephens Media, the Las Vegas-based chain of newspapers, as estimated by Thomson Gale.

Even that may be underestimated. Advertising Age magazine estimated Stephens Media's revenue at $274 million in 2005. Newspaper revenue in general has gone off a cliff since then, and Stephens Media has acknowledged its struggles through widespread layoffs and other cost-cutting measures. But whether revenue is actually down by more than 40 percent in just three years is uncertain.

Stephens Media's gross revenue was apparently in excess of $150 million last year. In its annual proxy statement filed with the Securities & Exchange Commission in April, Dillard's Inc. of Little Rock disclosed that it had spent more than $3 million on advertising with Stephens Media during 2008. "Such fees did not exceed 2% of the consolidated gross revenue of Stephens Media Group during 2008," according to the Dillard's proxy. ("Group" has been dropped from the Stephens Media name.)

The ad spending was revealed because Warren Stephens is a member of Dillard's board of directors. Dillard's previous proxy statements have not been as specific about advertising spending with Stephens Media.

Unfortunately, Walter E. Hussman is not a director of any public company that buys advertising from his Wehco Media Inc., which we place at No. 36 with estimated revenue of $270 million.



Please read our comments policy before commenting.