The Arkansas Business Best & Worst of 2008

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Dec. 22, 2008 12:00 am  

Best Treasure Hunt
"Arkansas Sunset," a painting by Fayetteville native Jed Jackson, was located after a reader of realized that a relative was the "prominent rice farmer" who owned the work that had been used as cover art for the Goo Goo Dolls' 1989 album, "Jed." The Castellani Art Museum at Niagara University in New York was seeking the painting for an exhibit of Jackson's work next spring.

Best Correspondence
Just when letter-writing seemed to have become a dead art, business journalists were treated to copious missives from the CEOs of New York investment funds Barington Capital Group and Clinton Group Inc., major investors in Dillard's Inc. Beginning in 2007 and accelerating in 2008, James A. Mitarotonda and George E. Hall wrote letters to CEO William Dillard II, to the entire Dillard's board of directors and to selected directors using language impossible to misunderstand.

"Atrocious" seemed to be a favorite adjective: "We are also concerned with the job the Board has done in overseeing the Company's corporate governance, which in our view is nothing short of atrocious," and "[T]he performance of the Company over the past ten years has been atrocious." Mitarotonda and Hall also like to use capital letters for emphasis: "[W]e therefore call upon you to work with the Board's Class A directors to IMMEDIATELY begin the process of looking for a new chief executive officer."

Best Correspondence (Runner-Up)
William Dillard II was also the intended recipient of the runner-up for best correspondence: a letter drafted for William Clark, CEO of CDI Contractors, by John Glasgow, the construction company's chief financial officer. The draft letter, completed on Jan. 25, expressed outrage over the treatment CDI managers received from James Freeman, CFO of Dillard's Inc., over what was later revealed to be an accounting disagreement.

"For Freeman to come down here and say we are dishonest, and for you [Dillard] to sit there and not say anything, hurt us to the core. We have never been so offended in our lives," Glasgow wrote for Clark.

It continued: "Now I'm concerned that our foundation is on shaky ground. I want to keep this partnership together and continue building on my dad's legacy, and I believe that is what he would want me to do. Will you please let me do that? If we can move forward, then I have a plan for how to do it. First, you have to call off the dogs."

Best Domain Name
That would be VibeSales, a Jonesboro distributor of "vibratory deburring" machines, sold the coveted Internet domain name to a Michigan company retailer of "adult novelty products" for a shakin' $1 million. PriveCo Inc. of Hazel Park, Mich., had been leasing the name from VibeSales since 2002. According to Crain's Detroit Business, Tom Nardone, founder of PriveCo, had balked at VibeSales' asking price but finally paid $200,000 upfront and financed the balance. had been registered to Mickey Seeman of Jonesboro; VibeSales sells industrial vibrators used to smooth off rough edges on metal parts.

Best Whisper
It must have been the best because, of the 300 or so items that appeared in Arkansas Business' Whispers column in 2008, it was the only one that landed among the 10 most-read stories on It was, of course, the news that Noelle Nikpour of Little Rock had a new Web site: The home page included a photo of the "international political consultant and strategist" in a midriff-baring bandeau top and very short Adidas shorts that she was yanking down low in the front. After the Whispers staff inquired about the site, the titillating photo quickly disappeared. Good thing we thought to save a copy of the original, which is still available at

Best Business to the Rescue
Telecommunications firm Optus Inc. of Jonesboro helped the only hospital on Galveston Island, Texas, stay online as long as possible during the ferocious winds and rain of Hurricane Ike. Many of the staff of the University of Texas Medical Branch missed the evacuation window because they stayed behind to help patients leave the day before the storm hit. And several Optus employees rode out the storm with the UTMB staffers, keeping communications up as long as possible and repairing them quickly after the storm swept through.

Worst Accounting
ANB Financial, the Bentonville bank that failed in May, first told the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. that it lost $59 million in 2007. Then that was revised to $81 million. Then it was revised to $120.4 million just days before federal regulators shut 'er down.

Best Confession
Brent Geels, former senior vice president of Twin City Bank in North Little Rock, waived indictment and in December told U.S. District Judge James M. Moody that federal prosecutors were right: He misappropriated more than $2.1 million of the bank's money over a period of more than seven years, spending more than $1.2 million of it on personal expenses.  



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