by Jeff Hankins
Posted 7/25/2005 11:44 am
Updated 11 months ago
He was one of the state's most influential business leaders, and his impact on business in Arkansas was substantial.
Stephens and his late brother, Witt Stephens, made investments and decisions through the years that generated tens of thousands of jobs while making both themselves and other Arkansans very wealthy.
It was hard to know a lot about Jack Stephens because he was notoriously private, soft-spoken and media shy. During lunch with him several years ago prior to his stroke, one of the most valuable lessons I learned — but still don't practice very well — was the power of silence. If you're not talking, you're listening and soaking in potentially valuable information.
The Stephens brothers took many up-and-comers under their wings through the years. Curt Bradbury was given the chance to lead Worthen Banking Corp. after they saved the bank with a $30 million recapitalization in 1985, and that investment was later worth at least $350 million. After working for a few years directly with Scott Ford, Jack Stephens recommended to then-CEO Joe Ford that Scott be put into an executive position with Alltel Corp.
You can trace the involvement of Jack and Witt Stephens in dozens of major business deals — from decisions that led to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. becoming a publicly traded company to Tyson Foods Inc. becoming the largest chicken producer in the world following its hostile takeover of rival Holly Farms.
Alltel likely wouldn't have its headquarters in Little Rock today if not for Jack Stephens' involvement and investments through the years. And a longtime relationship with Donald W. Reynolds led to the Stephens family's acquisition of a $900 million media empire.
It was interesting that golf overshadowed his business success in putting him on the national stage. Serving as chairman of the prestigious August National Golf Club — home of the Masters golf tournament — was a very impressive feat for an Arkansan. When First Tee of Arkansas in Little Rock dedicated its facility to Stephens in 2001, the event drew dignitaries including former President George Bush and golfing legends Arnold Palmer and Byron Nelson.
The Stephens brothers' circle of influence in business put Arkansas on the map long before an Arkansan named Bill Clinton arrived at the White House.
The Stephens family legacy will continue, with Jack's son Warren and Witt's son Witt Jr. leading a myriad of investments. It's a second generation of business and wealth that has been groomed to carry on successfully.
More From Jeff Hankins on Jack Stephens
• More here for Jeff Hankins on KTHV-TV, Channel 11, discussing the legacy of Jack Stephens. Click the THVideo link.
(Jeff Hankins can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)