UA Business Hall of Fame 2014: Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty

by UA Business Hall of Fame  on Monday, Jan. 27, 2014 12:00 am  

Global citizen Thomas F. “Mack” McLarty’s success is rooted in Arkansas soil. His distinguished career has spanned multiple sectors — Main Street to Wall Street, Pennsylvania Avenue to Pan-American and international highways; yet he traces his achievements back to the lessons he learned in Arkansas, and to the people who helped to inspire, support and guide him along the way.

McLarty was born in Hope on June 14, 1946. His father Frank, a respected businessman, owned Hope Auto; his mother Helen was active in the community and later became the first woman to serve on the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission. They raised Mack and his younger brother Bud in a close-knit, loving home, where family, faith, fellowship and work were at the center of their lives.

An all-star high school athlete and football quarterback, McLarty also served as president of the student council and in 1963 attended Arkansas Boys’ State, where he was elected governor.

The following year, McLarty was selected to participate in the Hearst Senate Youth Program in Washington, D.C. He returned to Arkansas with an enduring commitment to policy making and public service.

At the University of Arkansas, McLarty majored in business and was student body president — launching a student bus system and inaugurating a speakers’ symposium that attracted national figures.

Named Outstanding Senior, McLarty graduated summa cum laude from the school of business — as did his classmate and college sweetheart Donna Kay Cochran. Married shortly thereafter, the young couple returned to Hope, where McLarty joined his father in expanding the family’s automotive and truck leasing enterprise.

In 1969, McLarty, 23, was elected to the Arkansas Legislature, where he coauthored bills to strengthen the economy and environment, but his growing family and business responsibilities led him not to seek reelection.

Under McLarty’s initiative, McLarty Leasing Systems embarked on a path of growth. He also directed the relocation of the company’s headquarters to Little Rock, where he and his family moved as well.

In 1979, the school bus manufacturer Ward Industries filed for bankruptcy. McLarty, investing with two other partners, bought Ward’s assets and turned the struggling enterprise around, saving several thousand jobs.

In this same era, McLarty Leasing merged with the New York Stock Exchange listed company Leaseway Transportation, and McLarty became an officer of Leaseway, responsible for the southern region.

McLarty served as president of Hempstead County Industrial Foundation; treasurer of David Pryor’s gubernatorial campaign; chairman of the state Democratic Party and member of the Democratic National Committee from 1974-76; treasurer of Bill Clinton’s 1978 gubernatorial campaign; president of the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce; and the youngest director of the Commercial National Bank board. McLarty also helped create the IMPAC program, which worked to mobilize private sector support for putting personal computers in Arkansas classrooms.

In 1974, McLarty was also named the youngest board member of Arkla, Inc., a Fortune 500 natural gas company; and in 1983, was asked to serve as Arkla’s chief executive officer. During his tenure, Arkla grew to one of the nation’s largest natural gas distributors, with more than 2 million customers in 11 states.



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