Wealthiest 2001: McAdams, Garrison, Cooper

by Arkansas Business staff  on Monday, Nov. 12, 2001 12:00 am  

No. 8
Herbert McAdams Family
$475.2 Million, Little Rock

The 86-year-old patriarch of the McAdams family, Herbert Hall McAdams II, died Nov. 6 at his Little Rock home.

A shrewd businessman with an uncanny eye for the future, McAdams reaped more financial reward from the banking consolidation wave of the '90s than any other Arkansan.

During the course of his successful business career, he amassed a fortune valued at $475 million at the time of his death.

His wealth was built largely on a $10 million investment in Little Rock's Union National Bank, which was teetering on the brink of failure in 1970.

"People were laughing about how long it would take to fall on its face [after I bought it]," McAdams recalled during an interview in the mid-1990s. "Word on the street was that I spent $250,000 on my 17th floor office.

"I told them there's not an ounce of truth to it. I'm spending $500,000. I wanted people to know that I was down here to stay."

The tax lawyer from Jonesboro was something of an unknown quantity for many in the Little Rock business community. But he had already proven himself to be a savvy operator in buying and building a string of successful banks in northeast Arkansas.

The Stephens family was interested in buying Union National and reselling it. McAdams wanted to buy the bank, turn it around and operate it as a growing concern.

Jack Stephens and the late Witt Stephens, like McAdams, were motivated to buy Union Bank before regulators shut it down. They didn't want to see Arkansas suffer the stigma of enduring the first bank failure since the Depression.

"When I bought it, there were 375 employees and $74 million in deposits," McAdams said. "Those numbers should've been reversed."

He rebuilt the bank's credibility and transformed it into one of the most stable financial institutions in the state.

After purchasing Union National Bank, McAdams moved his family to Little Rock from Jonesboro.

McAdams saw the value of his bank holdings roll over multiple times after first selling the family's stake in The Union of Arkansas for $115 million to Little Rock's Worthen Banking Corp.

Worthen sold to Boatmen's Bancshares of St. Louis, which sold to Nations Bancorp. of Charlotte, N.C., which purchased Bank of America in San Francisco.

Stock holdings continued to roll with the subsequent stock swap-sale of Jonesboro's Citizens Bank.

Before joining the Navy in World War II, he graduated from Northwestern University in Chicago and the University of Arkansas Law School in Fayetteville.

As an ensign aboard the USS Gamble, McAdams nearly was killed when two bombs from a Japanese plane ripped through the destroyer off the coast of Iwo Jima on Feb. 18, 1945.

McAdams was sleeping on the deck with other shipmates on that steamy evening when the attack came without warning.

He later was told the bombs failed to explode, but the twin impacts tore holes through the side of the ship and out the bottom, sparking a raging fire.

McAdams suffered second- and third-degree burns that covered 60 percent of his body as well as other injuries from the conflagration.

"I looked like a raw tomato," McAdams said. "They expected me to die, but I fooled them."

While fading in and out of consciousness at a military hospital in Saipan, he overheard a doctor make a startling observation: The chaplain should visit McAdams soon because he wasn't expected to live another 24 hours.

McAdams spent about 18 months in various hospitals recuperating from his injuries before returning home to Arkansas.

He began investing in banks in 1949. He shifted the focus of his career from law to become a bank CEO with the 1959 acquisition of Jonesboro's Citizens Bank.

His surgeon father suggested he pursue law and banking while his mom wanted him to be a Christian minister.

"If you stay with whatever God tells you, you'll be all right," McAdams said. "That's how I make all my decisions. It's never failed me yet."

No. 9
F.S. "Sheridan" Garrison Family
$312.4 Million, Harrison

Sheridan Garrison sold his first trucking company because of a contract with the Teamsters union that he believed would eventually destroy the company.

He sold his second trucking company in February because FedEx Corp. founder Fred Smith, after two years of trying, finally made him an offer that he and his shareholders couldn't refuse: a 61 percent premium on the market price of American Freightways Inc.

The sale more than doubled the estimated wealth of the Garrison family — including sons Tom, Will and Daniel, daughter Tonya Maxey and stepson Travis Ruff. And it propelled the Garrisons into the top 10 from No. 25 on Arkansas Business' list of Wealthiest Arkansans in July 2000.

In the summer of 2000, the Garrison family's holdings in American Freightways were valued at $147.7 million. As of Nov. 1, their shares of FedEx were valued at $237.4 million — slightly more than when the less-than-truckload carrier was sold, which says a lot for these post-Sept. 11 days.

Garrison's father, Ben, formed Garrison Motor Freight in 1955. Sheridan bought the company from his brother, Ben Jr., in 1977, but sold it in 1979.

Sheridan founded Arkansas Freightways in 1982, took it public in 1989 and renamed it American Freightways in 1993. It is still operated out of Harrison as a wholly owned subsidiary of FedEx.

No. 10
John A. Cooper Jr. Family
$288.7 Million, Bella Vista

Cooper Communities Inc., which John A. Cooper Sr. founded in 1954, is a premier developer of planned retirement communities, including Bella Vista (where the company is headquartered) and Hot Springs Village in Arkansas, Stonebridge Village near Branson, Mo., Tellico Village in Loudon, Tenn., and Savannah Lakes Village in McCormick, S.C.

Cherokee Village was also a Cooper development, but in 1992 the company sold its interest in the community that straddles the Fulton and Sharp county line.

In 2000, Cooper Communities reported revenue of $149 million, up from $141 million the previous year and good enough to place the company 36th on Arkansas Business' annual list of the state's largest private companies. Cooper Communities employs 667 people. One of its divisions, Cooper Realty Investments Inc. of Little Rock, is the third-largest property management company in the state, managing almost 2.8 million SF.

John Cooper Jr., 62, joined the company in 1962 and was named president and CEO in 1968, a post he held until 1990. He stepped back into the company's top post in 1998. John Jr. is a major stockholder in Wal-Mart Stores Inc., on whose board of directors he served until December 2000. He remains on the board of J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. He was previously a director of Entergy Corp.

Not included in the estimate of the Cooper family fortune is that of John Jr.'s brother-in-law, George Billingsley. Billingsley is co-owner of Pacific Resource Export Ltd., which acts as Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s overseas purchasing agent and has annual revenue estimated between $4 billion-$5 billion.

Wal-Mart is taking over the PREL operation, and most of its 700 employees, early next year.

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