Arkansas Business' 25 Wealthiest Arkansans (25th Anniversary)

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Mar. 23, 2009 12:00 am  

Members of the Walton family.

For several years Arkansas Business ran a list, based on several sources, of the wealthiest Arkansans. That practice ended in 2001, a casualty of the combination of two factors: the fall of the stock market and greater difficulty in gathering data.

It's déjà vu all over again, except now the market is off 50 percent from its highs, so we're going out on a limb with any list that purports to name the richest among us.

Nevertheless, several names dominated the lists in those early days, as they do now. The following is based on public records, past articles and lists that ran in Arkansas Business.

Because of that guesswork, the names below are in no particular order, though the Walton family is certainly the richest of all, and it's probably safe to assume that at least a couple of others are billionaires in spite of the current recession. As for the rest, they probably have a net worth of $100 million or more.

1. Sam Walton Family
Individually, the children of the late Sam M. Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. of Bentonville, rank Nos. 4, 5, 6 and 7 on Forbes magazine's list of richest Americans. As a family they remain not only the wealthiest family in Arkansas but in the United States.

Most of the wealth comes from stock in Wal-Mart, which is the world's largest retailer. Last September, Arkansas Business showed the family stock holdings at $101.1 billion, but the decline in the stock market has affected the Waltons as it has almost everyone else. The family's stock is down to about $82 billion.

Sam Walton's immediate descendants now consist of three children, Rob, Jim and Alice, and John's widow, Christy. Helen, Sam's wife, died in 2007. John died in a place crash in 2005.

Rob is chairman of Wal-Mart and Jim serves on the board. Jim is also chairman and CEO of Arvest Bank Group Inc. of Bentonville, the holding company for the largest Arkansas-chartered bank as well as chairman of Community Publishers Inc.

The family has scattered over the years; while Jim and Rob still call Bentonville home, Alice lives in Fort Worth, Texas, and Christy lives in Wyoming.

2. Witt and Jack Stephens Family
A lot has changed with the Stephens family since the last ranking of Arkansas' wealthiest eight years ago. On that list, the family's net worth was estimated at $2.7 billion. Although the value of their holdings in public companies has declined with the market - and with the cashing out of Alltel - they have other sources of wealth, so their worth may remain close to that $2.7 billion - or not. This recession has changed everything.

Founded in 1933 by W.R. "Witt" Stephens, Stephens Inc., a private company, is the chief source of wealth for the family. His brother, Jackson T. "Jack" Stephens, joined the company in 1956. He died in 2005. The brothers rose from humble beginnings in Prattsville (Grant County) to run one of the largest U.S. investment banking firms off Wall Street.

Since 1986, Warren A. Stephens, one of Jack's sons, has served as CEO of Stephens Inc., directing the firm's strategic expansion. In 2006, he acquired 100 percent of the outstanding stock of Stephens Inc. after a corporate divorce that led Witt's children, Witt Stephens Jr. and Elizabeth Stephens Campbell, to start up The Stephens Group LLC, a private equity investment group. They serve as co-chairmen of the group.

As part of the split, Warren became the owner of Stephens Inc. and all related financial services companies, the Stephens Building and the Capital Hotel. 



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