Stephens Business Split Shows on Private Company List

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The split of the Stephens family business empire reverberates through the annual list of the 75 largest private companies owned and headquartered in Arkansas.

The companies are surveyed and ranked based on revenue during fiscal 2006. Private companies have no obligation to make revenue figures public, but most of the companies on the list provide information.

However, the revenue numbers associated with the two separate Stephens entities -- Stephens Inc., headed by Warren Stephens, and SF Holding Corp., the holding company for shared interests of Warren Stephens and his cousins Witt Stephens Jr. and Elizabeth Stephens Campbell -- are anything but concrete. The $1.8 billion revenue estimate for Stephens Inc. comes from Thomson Gale Competitive Intelligence, while the $274 million figure used to rank SF Holding is the most recent Advertising Age estimate of revenue for only one asset: Stephens Media Inc. of Las Vegas.

Witt and Elizabeth Stephens' Stephens Group LLC is not included in the list because no estimate of its revenue was available.

Stephens Inc. ranks No. 2 behind Truman Arnold Cos. of Texarkana, Texas. The fuel wholesaler chalked up $1.9 billion in sales during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.

Arkansas Business has traditionally treated all of Texarkana as part of Arkansas for the purposes of this list, benefiting both Truman Arnold and No. 10 E-Z Mart Inc. E-Z Mart, a chain of convenience stories, reached nearly $700 million in sales last year, thanks to high gasoline prices most of the year.

The 75 companies on the list had total reported or estimated revenue of $26.4 billion last year, an increase of almost 8 percent from last year's list, and they employ nearly 75,000 people (not all of them in Arkansas). The minimum price of entry this year was the $97 million in sales reported by Ozarks Electric Cooperative Corp. of Fayetteville, which entered the list at No. 75 after barely missing the cutoff last year.

Other newcomers to the list are:

-- Hickingbotham Investments Inc. of Little Rock, the holding company for many of the business interests of the Frank Hickingbotham family. Hickingbotham Investments, a company that has been quietly growing its businesses outside Arkansas, enters the list at No. 21 with $405 million in sales.

-- Central States Manufacturing Inc. of Lowell, No. 57 with $139 million in sales.

-- Saline Memorial Hospital in Benton, No. 63 with net revenue of $122.9 million.

-- Vestcom Retail Solutions Group Inc. of Little Rock, which is majority owned by Arkansans thanks to an investment by Stephens Group LLC.

A notable departure from the top 75 is Munro & Co. of Hot Springs, one of the last shoe manufacturers still operating in the United States, which reported revenue of $85 million last year compared with $100 million in 2005. Munro closed its plant at Wynne earlier this year.

An even more precipitous decline in revenue was reported by Perfect 10 Distributing Co.

-- $252.2 million in 2006 compared after $422 million in 2005. That's still good enough for No. 36 on the list but reflects a maturing of the market for the DirectTV satellite equipment distributed by the North Little Rock company.

Revenue for Forrest City Grocery Co. went in the other direction: $460 million in 2006, up from $390 million the previous year, primarily due to the purchase of a tobacco retailer in Mississippi.

The largest grocery concern in the state, Affiliated Foods Southwest Inc. of Little Rock, was not so lucky. Its revenue figure dropped 3 percent in the fiscal year that ended June 30 (from $797 million to $773 million) after the bankruptcy of a major customer, spokesman Al Miller said. The good news, he said, is that the year that will end in less than six weeks is looking much better.

The news last week that Acxiom Corp. of Little Rock will be sold to private equity investors does not mean that the $1.4 billion business will appear near the top of next year's list of the state's largest private businesses. While Acxiom may remain headquartered in Little Rock, its presumptive new owners will be in California.