Arkansas Business Hall of Fame 2013: Frank Fletcher Jr.

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Jan. 21, 2013 12:00 am  

Frank Fletcher Jr.

Frank Fletcher Jr.
Chairman and CEO, Frank Fletcher Companies
Little Rock

Frank Fletcher Jr. has built a still-growing string of 20 ultra-successful enterprises in a variety of industries by recognizing the potential in a wide range of situations and anticipating trends to pioneer new businesses.

Born June 4, 1942, in Little Rock, Fletcher was adopted by Frank and Aline Fletcher as a baby. He was raised on a farm in Tamo, which at that time had a population of five.

Fletcher went to grade school in Grady, where he was named to the All-State basketball team in eighth and ninth grades. At 6-foot-4 when he was 14, Fletcher went on to play for the Pine Bluff High School team. It was a fortuitous move in many ways for Fletcher, not the least of which was meeting Judy Hamm, captain of the cheerleading squad, who would later become his wife.

Fletcher went to the University of Arkansas and joined the Kappa Sigma fraternity. Hamm went to Henderson State, where she would earn a teaching degree. Fletcher, who had fallen hard for Hamm, discovered she had gotten engaged to someone else and rushed to Henderson to declare his love for her and his intention to marry her so that she would return the other fellow’s ring. But Fletcher had neglected to inform his Fayetteville girlfriend that he had gotten engaged to Hamm.

Maybe it took a great salesman such as Fletcher to work his way out of that. It worked, since the marriage has been central to Fletcher’s life. He and Judy have two children, Chris and Jerilynn. Chris and his wife Lisa have given Frank and Judy three grandsons: Jacob, Sam and Adam.

After earning a bachelor of science in business administration in 1964, Fletcher joined the Army. After the Army, he worked nights at Shakey’s Pizza Parlor and days at Worthen Bank Trust department while Judy taught 12th grade at North Little Rock High School.

In 1967, Fletcher landed a job with the DuPont Paint Co., which is how he met Walmart founder Sam Walton. After negotiating with Walton about billing and stocking, Fletcher completed a deal for Walmart to buy 300 gallons of paint. That began a relationship that would last for many years and lead Fletcher down many successful business paths.

About two years after the paint deal, Walton called Fletcher and asked him to resign from DuPont and become a manufacturer’s representative for Walmart.

Fletcher excelled at being a Walmart rep, but after eight years Walton called Fletcher into his office and told him Walmart was doing away with manufacturer’s reps and that Fletcher would be out of a job. Walton told Fletcher all the reps were being terminated and that all factories would be house accounts.

Walton advised Fletcher to go back to Little Rock and rent a garage and manufacture something. He said if the product sold, Walmart would put it in its stores. Fletcher took the advice and started Cheyenne/Silverwood Industries.

With modest garage space, the company started making lamps, mirrors and framed art, which sold not only to Walmart but to many companies such as Target, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, Sam’s Club, Costco and others. Fletcher’s startup grew to become the largest lamp company in the United States.

Fletcher expanded manufacturing into Taiwan and then mainland China and grew this business to $100 million-plus in annual sales before selling the company in December 2010.

But this was not Fletcher’s only enterprise over this time period. He also had started Wyndham Riverfront Hotel, Benihana’s Japanese Steakhouse, Riverfront Steakhouse, The Fletcher Realty Company, Fletcher Furs and 13 car dealerships including Dodge Chrysler Jeep in five cities, Honda in two cities, Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, Ford, Kia in two cities, Nissan and Toyota. Now, Fletcher Companies ranks in the top 100 car dealers in the United States.

Fletcher is often asked why he has interests in so many varied businesses and industries. His explanation goes way back to his days dealing with Walmart. “Why so much diversity?” he says. “Mr. Walton taught me to never have all your marbles in one bag.”

Starting and running so many diverse businesses has resulted in a variety of awards and recognitions over Fletcher’s business career. He was named Walmart’s “Vendor of the Year” three times and was given the Promise of Hope Endowment Award in 1996. The Walton College honored him as entrepreneur of the year in 2000, and his restaurant was named Benihana Franchise of the Year (Worldwide) for 2003.

He is known throughout the business community as being a founder of the Students Acquiring Knowledge through Experience (S.A.K.E.) program at the Walton College, which gives college students real-life, hands-on exposure to business applications and issues to go along with what they are learning in their classes. He has given countless hours of his time to speak to classes and student groups at the Walton College and the University of Arkansas, with leaders of S.A.K.E. lauding him as “our motivational leader and our practical guide.”

Fletcher also organized and started the “Stuff The Truck” charity, is a major contributor to Easter Seals and the Make-A-Wish Foundation and has contributed millions of dollars for the construction of churches in the state. He has given more than $100,000 to Toys for Tots in recent years. He also was one of the major contributors to the construction of a new Kappa Sigma fraternity house on the University of Arkansas campus. Fletcher is a major contributor to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the University of Arkansas Foundation at his alma mater.

Fletcher has been honored many times for his civic and charitable work. Those honors include the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office Citizens Achievement Award for 2000, American Red Cross awards, the Pulaski County Humane Society Citizen of Hope Award and many others.

He also is an active thoroughbred horse owner and breeder with Rocket Horse Racing Corp., which annually enters horses at top tracks such as Oaklawn Park, Churchill Downs, Remington Park, Arlington Park and others. He has placed third in the Arkansas Derby and in 2010 had Rocket Twentyone in the Breeder’s Cup.

 

 

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