Posted 3/23/2009 12:00 am
Updated 2 years ago
Over the past 25 years, these names and faces have graced the pages of Arkansas Business innumerable times. All have the business acumen and résumés to earn the title "Living Legend."
The businesses vary from agriculture to advertising to law to television, and some are long-since retired while others still trudge to the office every day. For this 25th anniversary issue, we persuaded most of them to sit still long enough for what we call "fresh art" – brand new photos.
Here they are, in alphabetical order:
After nearly two decades in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Dick Bell spent 25 years at Riceland Foods Inc. of Stuttgart and built the 9,000-member, five-state cooperative into the world's largest miller and marketer of rice. The co-op also became a top 10 U.S. grain company and a major Mid-South soybean processor.
His work with Riceland and the USDA enabled him to shape Arkansas' and the United States' agriculture and trade policies. Bell now serves as the secretary of the Arkansas Agriculture Department.
This El Dorado native founded Meridian Management Co. of Little Rock, an investment management firm. He now heads Centennial Consulting Co. Lee Bodenhamer earned bachelor's and master's degrees in business at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where he was mentored by Harold A. Dulan, inventor of the variable annuity.
Bodenhamer left Dulan's team in 1964 to earn a doctorate at Harvard University, where he eventually taught. He later returned to Arkansas to establish First Variable Life Insurance Co.
As trustee of the Bodenhamer Foundation, he established the Bodenhamer Fellowships at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in 1998.
It isn't easy to get a law school named after you, but naming rights come up when you've followed a prestigious law practice by running the state's biggest bank and served as chief of staff for a future president. It also doesn't hurt that Bowen served as dean of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock's law school from 1995 to 1997 and donated more than $3 million to the school that was renamed the William H. Bowen School of Law in 2000.
Bowen is best known for growing First Commercial Bank and First Commercial Corp. of Little Rock into the state's largest bank before it was sold – without his vote – to Regions Financial Corp. of Birmingham, Ala., in 1998.
The Altheimer native has stayed involved in the school and community since stepping down from the day-to-day grind of business.
Wayne Cranford and Jim Johnson started the advertising agency of Cranford Johnson in 1961. The two were young and had few accounts and employees, but Cranford's business acumen and Johnson's creativity set the stage for the pair to build the state's largest ad agency.
Cranford continues to serve as chairman emeritus at the agency. In October, he was inducted into the 10th district of the American Advertising Federation's Southwest Advertising Hall of Fame.
Joe Ford spent his career with the recently purchased Alltel Corp. of Little Rock. Beginning in 1959 when the company was called Allied Telephone Co., Ford served in several positions before becoming president and CEO in 1977.
Ford, who married Jo Ellen Wilbourn, daughter of Allied Telephone's founder, Hugh Randolph Wilbourn Jr., led the company to become both the sixth-largest telephone and sixth-largest wireless company in the nation. On completing a merger with Mid-Continent Telephone Co., Ford became president and COO of Alltel. He became CEO in 1987 and chairman in 1991.
Ford stepped down as CEO in 2002 and his son, Scott, succeeded him. Verizon Wireless bought Alltel in January. Not content to sit still, Joe Ford joined with Scott and Richard N. Massey to found a new investment company, Westrock Capital Partners LLC of Little Rock, in February.
Wallace Fowler started out in the fast-food industry, operating franchises of Kentucky Fried Chicken in six states. But he has been most influential as the serial founder and seller of banks.
First came the purchase of Citizens Bank of Bentonville in 1982, which he renamed First National Bank and then sold in 1984. In 1985, Fowler bought a minority stake in North Arkansas Bancshares Inc. He sold his 40 percent stake in June 1990. Within months, Fowler had formed Southwest Bancshares Inc. The holding company sold to Little Rock's First Commercial Corp. in 1997, and when First Commercial sold in 1998 to Regions Financial Corp. of Birmingham, Ala., Fowler's shares were worth $90 million.
Fowler currently is invested in Liberty Bank of Arkansas, where he holds the title of chairman and CEO. The bank had $2.6 billion in assets as of Dec. 31.
Gene George took over the family chicken business in 1969. At that time, George's Inc. was a regional business. It now is a multidivision corporation with 2007 revenue totaling $450 million. The integrated poultry company is active in both national and international markets.
George now serves as chairman of George Inc. George also helped found the start-up Legacy National Bank of Springdale in 2004, which ended 2008 with $234 million in assets.
Russ D. Harrington Jr.
Russ Harrington has been running Baptist Health, Arkansas' largest hospital system, as long as Arkansas Business has been in existence. Arkansas Business ' archives show that the hospital system had $125.8 million in annual revenue in 1987 and $895.1 million in 2007.
Harrington served as associate executive director before taking over as president and CEO. He also was administrator of Baptist Health Medical Center in Little Rock.
Harrington's work earned him recognition as manager of the year in 2006 by the Sales & Marketing Executives Association. He is also a past chairman of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce and member of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Healthcare Industry Council.
Frank D. Hickingbotham
Call him the serial entrepreneur.
After a successful career in insurance, Frank D. Hickingbotham discovered frozen yogurt while visiting a Neiman Marcus store in Dallas. He opened TCBY and soon began selling franchises. By 1983 he had sold at least 45 franchises in 10 states. The company went public in 1988, and a private investment firm bought it in 2000.
Hickingbotham now is CEO of Hickingbotham Investments Inc., which reported $410 million in 2007 revenue. The company operates auto and Harley-Davidson dealerships, among other entities.
J.B. and Johnelle Hunt operated as a team when they founded what would become J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. of Lowell in 1961. The business began as a rice hull-packaging company.
Originally working part time to help J.B., Johnelle began taking on greater responsibility, handling much of the company's financial statements and bookkeeping. She held the title of corporate secretary until her retirement from the company's board of directors in 2008.
Johnelle Hunt remains active in the community, helping many local charities. She also works closely with The Pinnacle Group, an office and retail development partnership, and several other ventures in which she holds an ownership stake.
First known as a running back for the University of Arkansas' 1964 national championship football team, Jim Lindsey later proved that he is more than just brawn.
After completing his pro football career with the Minnesota Vikings, Lindsey returned to Fayetteville and started Lindsey & Associates, a real estate company. Lindsey now is also involved in property management and construction management. The Lindsey Co. oversees Lindsey's investments and consistently ranks among the state's largest private companies, with 2007 revenue of $365.3 million. Lindsey also served on the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees until this month.
George K. Mitchell
Who said doctors aren't good businessmen? George K. Mitchell began his career at Arkansas Blue Cross & Blue Shield as medical director in 1968 and served as president and CEO from 1975 until 1993, growing its revenue to $478 million. He continues to serve as vice chairman of the insurer's board.
Many readers might also recognize Mitchell from the many charitable organizations he supports, including Junior Achievement of Arkansas and the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.
H. Maurice Mitchell founded Mitchell Williams Selig Gates & Woodyard PLLC, one of the state's largest law firms, with a diverse practice and offices in Little Rock, Rogers, New York and Austin, Texas.
Mitchell still represents a few clients, but he has not confined himself to the courtroom. In 2007, he was given the Winthrop Rockefeller Memorial Award. The award honors individuals who have supported the arts and the Arkansas Arts Center.
Fort Smith native Charles Morgan turned a small data firm into a corporation with revenue of more than $1 billion, one that provides information management to many of the world's largest companies. Charles Morgan joined Demographics as a vice president. After changing names a couple of times, the company dubbed itself Acxiom Corp. in 1988, five years after going public.
Morgan retired as "company leader" in 2007 after a buyout deal by two private equity firms fell through. Morgan currently lives in Dallas, but it's impossible to imagine the business environment in Arkansas during the past 25 years without him.
While most shoe manufacturing has long since moved overseas, the industry lives on in Arkansas thanks to Donald M. Munro of Munro & Co. Inc. of Hot Springs.
Connors & Hoffman Footwear Co. moved Munro to Arkansas from New Hampshire in 1960. In 1972, Munro established his company as a successor to Connors & Hoffman.
Munro expanded the company, acquiring DeWitt Footwear of DeWitt in 1979, starting Munro American in 1984 and acquiring Jumping Jack Shoes of Monett, Mo., in 1991.
Munro is a former chairman of the Footwear Industry Association and past chair of the American Apparel & Footwear Association.
Former gas utility executive Sheffield Nelson got his name in the news last year by helping pressure the Arkansas Legislature into increasing the severance tax on natural gas for the first time in a half century.
Now a lawyer practicing at Jack Nelson Jones Fink Jiles & Gregory in Little Rock, Nelson was president, chairman and CEO of Arkla Inc. from 1973 to 1984. During that time, the Wall Street Transcript named him Outstanding Gas Utility Chief Executive of the Year.
Nelson also ran unsuccessfully as the Republican candidate for governor in 1990 and 1994.
Dale Nicholson has presided over one of Arkansas' most influential television stations since 1974. He started in television in 1960, working for a station in El Dorado. Two years later, he moved to KATV-TV, Channel 7.
As president and general manager of the local ABC affiliate, Nicholson, for more than a quarter- century, has played a role in almost every decision one of the state's most influential media outlets has made. The station has captured almost 20 Emmys from the Mid-America Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences during Nicholson's tenure.
He was inducted into the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Gold Circle in June 2008.
Dreaming up ideas has never been a problem for Doyle Rogers. He also has a history of following through. He founded the Doyle Rogers Co. more than 50 years ago. The Little Rock skyline is dotted with his daydreams. The idea for the current Peabody Little Rock and Statehouse Convention Center came about around 1978. By 1982, Rogers' vision became reality with the opening of the Excelsior Hotel and the adjacent convention center.
In 1985, Rogers began work on what is now the Stephens Inc. building. And his bank, Metropolitan National Bank, has the naming rights to Little Rock's largest building. Rogers purchased Metropolitan Bancshares in 1983 for $60 million. The bank ended 2008 with assets totaling almost $1.7 billion. Rogers continues to play an active role in Metropolitan National Bank, where he serves as chairman. Rogers was inducted into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame in 2006.
Thousands of American entrepreneurs jumped into the technology game in the late 1960s, but very few achieved the success of Walter Smiley. In 1968, Smiley founded Systematics Inc. of Little Rock, a financial software and services company for the banking industry. Smiley served as chairman and CEO for 20 years.
The company sold to Alltel Corp. in 1990 for $550 million, changing its name to Alltel Information Services. Fidelity National Financial Inc. of Jacksonville, Fla., then bought AIS in 2003 for $1.05 billion.
Smiley serves as chairman of Southern Bancorp, and the bank approached him in 2003 to help with data-processing needs. Smiley recruited his son, Vance, and daughter, Elizabeth Glasbrenner, and Smiley Technologies Inc. was born. Smiley holds no official title in the company, but does offer his advice and guidance.
William H. "Buddy" Sutton became the first chairman and managing partner of Friday Eldredge & Clark after the death of Herschel Friday in 1994. The firm has consistently ranked among the largest in the state and continues that tradition, although Sutton retired from leadership roles in 2005.
Sutton's work in the community has also earned him many accolades. Easter Seals named him Arkansan of the Year in 2004. He is a supporter and former trustee of Ouachita Baptist University at Arkadelphia, which named the W.H. Sutton School of Social Sciences in his honor.
Don Tyson took over Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale in 1967, after his father died. Tyson joined the firm in 1952. Tyson Foods had only a small fraction of the market when Don Tyson became CEO. Tyson led the company through a series of expansions that resulted in the company controlling 25 percent of the nation's poultry market. Tyson stepped down as CEO in 1991.
One of Tyson's foremost deals was leading the 1998 purchase of Hudson Foods for about $650 million. Tyson still serves on the company's board.
Robert Wilson Sr.
An accomplished pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, Bob Wilson returned to his hometown of Little Rock and eventually organized The Wilson Co., a real estate investment company, in 1962.
Wilson began working at Union National Bank in 1971. He served as executive vice president of the bank for a time, leaving in 1996. The same year he organized Central Bank & Trust, serving as president and CEO. The bank was sold to Arvest in 2000 for a bit over $15.7 million.
He continues working full time as president of The Wilson Co., which has built, constructed and managed more than 2,000 units in Arkansas.
Wilson's son, Robert Wilson Jr., is managing attorney at Wilson & Associates of Little Rock.
In 1968, Forrest Wood started manufacturing boats that he came to call Ranger Boats. The part-time fishing guide began building boats in an old filing station in Flippin, Ark., and soon moved to an old nightclub, in which the company completed 600 boats in 1969. The company was selling 1,200 boats by 1970.
Wood sold the company in 1987 but remained active in the fishing world. He is considered the creator of the modern bass boat and one of the pioneers of professional bass fishing. FLW Outdoors, the largest fishing tournament body in the world, uses his initials in its name.
He has been inducted into the Professional Bass Fishing Hall of Fame, International Boating Hall of Fame and many others. Wood continues to live in Flippin and oversees a cattle operation.
Albert R. Yarnell Sr.
Albert Yarnell returned from World War II and began expanding Yarnell Ice Cream Co. of Searcy. Yarnell's father bought and kept Yarnell Ice Cream afloat during the Depression, and upon his return, Albert Yarnell oversaw the company's first major plant expansion in 1951. The expansion allowed the company to sell throughout central and south Arkansas.
Albert became president in 1974 after his father's death. The company has developed health-conscious ice cream offerings under Yarnell's leadership, and he currently serves as chairman emeritus while his son, Rogers, serves as chairman and CEO.
Robert A. Young III
Robert Young worked 41 years for the company his father founded, Arkansas Best Corp. of Fort Smith. Young became president of the trucking company in 1973 and concurrently held the position of chief operating officer from 1973-88. He took over as CEO in 1988 and retired as CEO in 2005.
The company posted an operating loss only four years during Young's tenure as either president or CEO, in 1979, 1982, 1995 and 1996, according to its Web site. In 1977, the company posted revenue of $102.5 million, and by 2005 revenue had grown to $1.7 billion.