The Best & Worst of 2007

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Dec. 24, 2007 12:00 am  

Arkansas Traveler's Bill Valentine and North Little Rock Mayor Pat Hays were big news in March when the $33 million Dickey-Stephens Park opened on the north side's downtown.

Worst Prognostication
"Acxiom Transforms, Performs," said the front-page headline on the final issue of Arkansas Business for 2006. And it got worse. "Looking back from several years in the future, 2006 might be remembered as the year Acxiom turned the corner," we wrote. It seemed reasonable at the time. Acxiom Corp. had delivered four consecutive quarters of solid financials, patched up its differences with its largest shareholder, ValueAct Capital Partners of San Francisco, and started to impress industry analysts. Five months later, ValueAct and Silver Lake Partners offered $3 billion for the company. Five more months later, ValueAct and Silver Lake paid $65 million to get out of the deal. By last week, Acxiom's market capitalization was below $900 million. What did we know?

Worst Exit
Charles Morgan, "company leader" of Acxiom for 32 years, moved his residence to Dallas as soon as the sale to ValueAct and Silver Lake was announced - admittedly in order to avoid paying Arkansas state income tax on the windfall of more than $80 million he expected to receive for his personal stockholdings. At that time, he was still planning to continue as the new owners' hire hands. Then, when the sale collapsed, he announced that he would retire as soon as a new CEO could be hired. And a few weeks later, he retired as both CEO and chairman even though no successor had been identified. The board of directors gave him a $3 million parting gift.

Worst Plan to Save Money
When Acxiom Corp. of Little Rock was shopping the data-mining company around to potential buyers, it showed a PowerPoint presentation that projected savings of almost $25 million in the next fiscal year from "offshoring" jobs, including to Poland. What that means for Acxiom's 7,100 employees is still unclear.

Worst Stock Market Rumor
On May 21, the New York Post reported that Dillard's Inc. had "put out tentative feelers to bankers"; the stock hit $40.56 that day, its highest price since 1999. Almost three weeks later, the same reporter, Suzanne Kapner, took it back. "Dillard's CEO William Dillard II had, in fact, been talking to bankers in recent weeks, but not necessarily about his own company," Kapner wrote. "As a director of Acxiom Corp., Dillard had been working on the recently announced $3 billion deal to sell the direct marketing data provider to two private equity groups." By then Dillard's stock price had returned to the mid-30s and was heading downward - to below $20 per share in mid-December.

Best Job of Movin' on Up
John Olaimey, executive vice president and fifth-largest shareholder of Centennial Bank of Little Rock, and his wife, Timothy Ann, bought and sold three houses in 15 months, starting with a $315,000 house in Brodie Creek and ending up with a $2.5 million, 8,692-SF mansion on 5 acres in west Little Rock's Chenal Downs neighborhood. The $2.5 million house was the most expensive sold in Pulaski County in 2006, which has worked to the Olaimeys advantage. The county assessor's office labeled the transaction an "anomaly" and appraised the property for only $1.45 million, saving the Olaimeys more than $10,000 a year in property tax. Still, they are swinging a $2 million mortgage.

Worst Tip
Gov. Mike Beebe's driver, State Police Cpl. Michael Wallace, squeezed his Explorer into a makeshift parking place at a Little Rock hamburger joint and initially ignored a server who announced that a "black SUV" was blocking the entrance to the parking lot and needed to be moved. Eventually, someone else in the governor's party fessed up, and that's when things really heated up. The server asked Wallace to move the SUV, Wallace refused, she said she'd have to have it towed, and he said he'd arrest her if she did. "Threatened to cuff her right there and then," according to a witness who was most disturbed that the governor didn't intervene. Finally, another member of the party cajoled Wallace into moving the SUV. State Police spokesman Bill Sadler said Wallace and his supervisor would be having a discussion about proper parking techniques.

Best Imitation of Art
No, it wasn't an episode of "Six Feet Under." Dwight Olmstead, president of Olmstead Funeral Home in Batesville, really did shoot his father, Tom Olmstead, at the funeral home one Saturday morning in February. What's more, Tom Olmstead, 76, also shot Dwight Olmstead, 55. The shootout was the nadir of a relationship that had started to sour seven years earlier, when Tom Olmstead was removed as president. Dwight then fired his father in March 2006, and Tom sued his son, who said in a deposition that Tom's "tendency when he drinks to go out and spend huge sums of money" was threatening to bankrupt the 111-year-old business.

Four months after the shootings, Dwight Olmstead was charged with attempted murder and second-degree battery. Earlier this month, Circuit Judge John Dan Kemp granted a change of venue. The younger Olmstead is expected to stand trial, probably in Mountain View, in April. Meanwhile, a court-appointed receiver has fired Dwight from the funeral home as well. Now, back to your regularly scheduled soap opera.

Worst Teachable Moment
Someone leaked e-mail exchanges between members of the board of the Arkansas Young Professionals Network to a couple of Little Rock bloggers. Among other things, the directors discussed "swaying" the election of board members, discouraging political liberals from joining the organization and appointing "attractive" women to positions "in order to keep people from thinking our organization is discriminatory." The only two women on the board of directors resigned in protest, and the remaining eight men responded by doing nothing. "We decided that those who resigned were already enough fallout and that we would put it all behind us and move forward," Randall Dixon, director of AYPN's communications committee, told Arkansas Business.

Best Reality Check
Wally Hall, sports editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, on Thomas McAfee, the "citizen journalist" who obtained phone records of Razorbacks Head Football Coach Houston Nutt, the eventual disclosure of which led to a months-long controversy: "I kind of admire the guy for having the guts to do what he thought was right, knowing he would face immense criticism. I mean, he's had a death threat, for crying out loud. It's football! It's not global warming."

Best Renovation
The Capital Hotel. It took about 16 months longer and millions more dollars than first forecast, but the Capital's owners, Warren Stephens, spared no expense in remaking the 135-year-old building into the luxury hotel, with luxury restaurants, that he envisioned.

Best New Sports Venue
Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock, the new home of the Arkansas Travelers, opened for play April 12 and proved to be as popular as its boosters had predicted. The Travelers set a franchise single-season attendance record with 372,475 fans in 2007, nearly 165,000 more than attended their home games in 2006. "Attendance was fabulous," said Bill Valentine, the Travelers chief operating officer and executive vice president.



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