Arkansas Business' 25 Women Leaders (25th Anniversary)

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

Betta Carney of Carney Investment Co.

We sometimes joke that there's a quota of white men in business suits that must appear in every issue of Arkansas Business, but businesswomen were able to break into our pages from the very beginning. By any standard, the CEO of Arkansas Business Publishing Group, Olivia Myers Farrell, should be on the following list, but she graciously removed herself to make room for one more notable woman business leader from the past 25 years.

1. Sharon Allen
It's the All-American Success Story: Allen joined Arkansas Blue Cross & Blue Shield as an entry-level Medicare claims clerk in 1968. After 34 years of working her way up, she was on top of the corporate ladder as president and chief operating officer. When Allen, now 64, retired last January, the company was the state's largest insurance carrier. She also was named the state's 2008 Woman of the Year in Philanthropy in November.

2. Kay Kelley Arnold
Kay Kelley Arnold, 54, served in Bill Clinton's first gubernatorial administration and on the General Assembly staff, earned a law degree, established the Nature Conservancy's state office, led the state Department of Heritage, managed corporate communications for Arkansas Power & Light, became VP for governmental affairs with Entergy Corp., served on the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation board, championed causes from the Little Rock Zoo to the state's forests and is in the Arkansas Outdoor Hall of fame. So, gentlemen, how do your résumés compare?

3. Mary Beth Brooks
The largest bank in the state with a woman at the helm is The Bank of Fayetteville, and it has prospered under the guidance of president and CEO Mary Beth Brooks, 44. In 2007 U.S. Banker magazine named her one of 25 women to watch, noting that during her first three years in charge, the bank's assets grew from $355 million to $441 million, and its return on assets doubled from 0.65 percent to 1.47 percent. And she was the Arkansas Business Executive of the Year for 2007.

4. Bettye Caldwell
As an advocate of early childhood education, Dr. Bettye Caldwell was consistently 30 years ahead of her time. Focusing on infants and toddlers, she studied how they responded to just about everything – home life, education, socio-economic status – and deducted how to improve their learning. Her Kramer Project was the first center in the nation providing care for children younger than 3, a radical proposition at the time.

Her work at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences made her a nationally recognized leader in early childhood education.

5. Betta Carney
Carney, who owned World Wide Travel until 2003, was one of the first women ever profiled in Arkansas Business. She built World Wide into one of the nation's 25 largest travel agencies, and counted President Bill Clinton among her clients (and "Travelgate" among her biggest headaches).

Today Carney, 69, consults for the travel industry and heads up Carney Investment Co., which has been involved in multimillion-dollar real estate deals ranging from condos to office buildings.

6. Jane Dickey
To be a senior partner at Little Rock's Rose Law Firm, you have to be more than some run-of-the-mill attorney. In her 31 years with the firm, Jane Dickey has made a sublime art out of public finance law and has worked on such landmark efforts as the Pulaski Empowerment Zone.

She has also focused on the health of downtown Little Rock, serving terms as leader of Fifty for the Future and the Downtown Partnership. And with the Clinton Foundation, she has one of the highest-profile clients in the city's history.

7. Jimmie Lou Fisher
"Jimmie Who?" read stickers on Republicans' cars in 2002. But in a year when Gov. Mike Huckabee looked unbeatable and the Democratic Party's big names stuck to the sidelines, state Treasurer Jimmie Lou Fisher, now 67, made her name stick in the voters' minds.

Not a political novice by any stretch of the imagination, her relentless stumping and occasional bare-knuckle exchanges with the incumbent's campaign proved she wasn't just token opposition. And while Huckabee won the race, it wasn't the landslide many had predicted.



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