Arkansas Business' 'Gone but Not Forgotten' (25th Anniversary)

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

Fay Jones, architect of the Thorncrown Chapel near Eureka Springs, died in 2004.

The Arkansas business world of the past 25 years has included too many legends to condense into a list of only 25 people who are "Gone but Not Forgotten" – but we can try. 

Below, in chronological order of death, readers will find two brothers who changed the Arkansas financial landscape, the founder of a company consistently ranked as the world's largest and several politicians who shaped the laws governing business in Arkansas.

These men – and they are all men – made friends and enemies throughout the state. Their personalities influenced those around them, and as a result, each continues to play a role in Arkansas' business community today.

1. Witt Stephens
It didn't matter the business, W.R. "Witt" Stephens succeeded. He sold jewelry, belt buckles and eventually brokered municipal bonds, which is how he made his big money.

During the Depression, Stephens recognized that Arkansas municipal bonds were good investments, though many feared default. He bought many bonds for pennies on the dollar, and when the economy began improving, Stephens sold them for a healthy profit. With the money, he established Stephens Inc.

Witt Stephens passed the running of Stephens Inc. on to his younger brother, Jackson T. "Jack" Stephens. Witt Stephens then set his sights on natural gas, buying Arkansas Louisiana Gas Co. The firm had a poor earnings record, but within two years, Witt Stephens increased earnings from $1.8 million in 1954 to $7.2 million in 1956, when he sold the company. He stayed on as president and chairman at Arkla, extending gas service.

Witt Stephens died in 1991.

2. Sam Walton
Love his company or hate his company, almost everyone recognizes Sam M. Walton's name.

Walton built his local store into a retailing empire that made Bentonville a city that all companies recognize and visit. His formula: keep prices low. His methods: anything from computerization to reducing packaging waste.

Already a retail veteran, Walton opened the first Wal-Mart in Rogers in 1962 and out-competed several larger retailers who also saw discount stores as a possible moneymaker.

And despite his down-home appearance and manner, driving a pickup truck rather than riding in a limo, Walton stayed ahead of the technological curve. He began computerizing operations as early as 1966, and the company has remained a trendsetter since.

Walton died in 1992.



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