Allison, Gardner Join Ranks of Arkansas CEOs

The number of publicly traded companies in Arkansas has remained stable since Arkansas Business last profiled their chief executive officers in July 2005. But that doesn't mean the roster remained static.

• One company, Pocahontas Bancorp of Jonesboro, will be acquired this month by IberiaBank Corp. of Lafayette, La.;

• One company, Beverly Enterprises of Fort Smith, was sold to a private owner, Fillmore Capital Partners affiliate Pearl Senior Care;

• Alltel Corp. spun off its wireline operation and merged it with Valor Communications of Irving, Texas, to create a new publicly traded company headquartered in Little Rock: Windstream Communications Inc.; and

• Home BancShares of Conway, holding company for four Arkansas banks and one in Florida, made an initial public offering in June.

(Click here to see this year's profiles of the state's public company CEOs.)

The last 18 months, however, generally saw stability and improved stock prices among the 22 CEOS of 21 companies on our list. Other than Windstream's founding CEO, Jeffrey Gardner, and Home BancShares' John Allison, only two new faces appeared in the corner offices: Robert Davidson, who succeeded Robert A. Young III as CEO of Arkansas Best Corp. of Fort Smith in February, and Richard Bond, who became CEO of Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale when John Tyson resigned suddenly in May.

In that way, Arkansas has escaped a national trend related to a widespread scandal involving backdating of stock options, presumably to a date when the stock price was lower. According to Challenger Gray & Christmas Inc., a national executive placement firm, 1,234 public company CEOs left their positions in the first 10 months of 2006, on pace to beat the record of 1,322 set in 2005. September was the busiest month for CEO departures — 152 — since CG&C began its monthly survey more than seven years ago.

Even with the newcomers, the average tenure among Arkansas' CEOs is more than 10 years. That compares with an average tenure of five years among CEOs of companies in the Standard & Poor's 500, according to a study released earlier this year by Spencer Stuart, an international executive search firm.

The longest serving CEO in Arkansas is Charles Morgan of Acxiom Corp. of Little Rock, who this year survived a hostile takeover attempt and a proxy fight with the company's largest shareholder, ValueAct Capital, a San Francisco hedge fund.
At 63, Morgan is the second-oldest of the public company CEOs — and a mere pup compared with Robert M. Powell, the 72-year-old who is also chairman of USA Truck Inc. of Van Buren.

The average age of Arkansas CEOs is 55, similar to the S&P 500 median of 56, as reported by Spencer Stuart. The youngest in the state is Scott Ford, CEO of Alltel Corp. of Little Rock, who is 44. Windstream's Gardner is second-youngest at 46.

Educationally, Arkansas' CEOs are similar to the national profile. All but one — Dennis Cossey, CEO of ThermoEnergy Corp. of Little Rock — have bachelor's degrees, and exactly half have advanced degrees — eight master's degrees and three law degrees.

However, the alma maters of Arkansas' CEOs are not at all in line with the national trends. Harvard University and the University of Wisconsin are the most common undergraduate universities for S&P 500 CEOs; the University of Arkansas is the overwhelming choice for Arkansas CEOs. Nine received their bachelor's at the UA, and one — George Gleason — earned his law degree there after graduating from Hendrix College at Conway. Arkansas State University at Jonesboro, Arkansas Tech University at Russellville and John Brown University at Siloam Springs can claim one CEO each.
William Dillard II, CEO of Dillard's Inc. of Little Rock, has degrees from both UA and Harvard. He also tops the list when it comes to one-year return on stock: nearly 70 percent as of Nov. 30.