As Chickens Go, So Go State's Largest Firms

The 75 Largest Private Companies

Click here for the list of state's 75 largest private companies. (List requires Adobe Acrobat viewer. Click here for a free copy.)

"Just a good year in the chicken business."

The words actually came by e-mail from an assistant to Ronald Cameron, chairman and CEO of Mountaire Corp. of North Little Rock. But they explain a lot about this year's list of the state's largest private companies.

Mountaire moved up a notch to No. 5 on this year's list by reporting $905.5 million in revenue during the fiscal year that ended Oct. 31 - an increase of nearly 35 percent from 2003 and a two-year increase of 59 percent.

Simmons Foods Inc. of Siloam Springs reported a 24 percent increase in revenue (to $565 million) and Peterson Farms Inc. of Decatur claimed an increase of nearly 43 percent, to $189 million. Even Latco Inc., the chicken-house builder headquartered at Lincoln that had for years declined to reveal exact revenue numbers, felt like bragging on a 36 percent growth rate — $109 million — last year.

Using those company-provided figures, Arkansas Business estimates that O.K. Industries of Fort Smith had revenue of at least $900 million last year and that George's Inc. of Springdale did at least $600 million.

The annual list of the 75 largest private companies in Arkansas, which appears on Pages 27-31, is once again led by a company that isn't actually in Arkansas: Truman Arnold Cos. of Texarkana, Texas. Arkansas Business has traditionally treated all of Texarkana as part of Arkansas for the purposes of this list. Truman Arnold and E-Z Mart Inc., which dropped one place to No. 11 this year, are the beneficiaries of that policy.

Dropping off the list:

• K-Mac of Fort Smith and World Wide Travel of Little Rock, both of which have been acquired by out-of-state owners;

• Cross Oil Refining & Marketing Inc. of Smackover, which did not respond to repeated requests for information and whose most recent estimate by Thomson Gale Competitive Intelligence was not large enough to make the list; and

• Twin Rivers Group Inc. of Fayetteville, a poultry processor that might well have made the list if owner Matt Duffy had agreed to share revenue data.

Moving onto the list:

• No. 64 ERC Properties of Barling, which reported $97.6 million in revenue for 2003 (and was included in the version of this list that appeared in the Arkansas Business Book of Lists in December). CEO Rod Coleman declined, however, to provide a 2004 revenue figure because "ERC is in some transition within the organization with both product and people." Its current ranking assumes no change in revenue from 2003 to 2004.

• No. 56 USAble Life Insurance Co. of Little Rock, which should have been on the list as a separate company, even though 70 percent of its stock is owned by a subsidiary of Arkansas Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Little Rock;

• No. 72 AmerCable Inc. of El Dorado, which barely missed making the list last year. See story on Pages 22-23.

• No. 75 Carco Capital Inc. of Fort Smith, Carl Corley's holding company, which eased back onto the list for the first time since 2001.

The 75 companies on the list represent $22.25 billion in annual revenue last year, confirmed or estimated. That compares with $19.29 billion in 2003 and $18.21 million in 2002.

The wild card of this list is always Stephens Group Inc. of Little Rock, which is so diverse and tight-lipped as to be impossible to estimate with any confidence. The figure used to rank it No. 2 this year, $1.147 billion, is Thomson Gale's estimate for Stephens Inc., the Stephens Group's investment bank subsidiary.

Some things to note on the list:

• Stephen LaFrance Pharmacy Inc. of Pine Bluff only moved up one spot to No. 13 but had an estimated 47 percent increase in sales last year thanks to the acquisition in July of 61 stores in the Tulsa area.

The estimates of $525 million came from Drug Store News, which published a feature on LaFrance's growing chain of stores in its May 2 issue. Expect a big increase again next year when LaFrance enjoys a full year of revenue from the purchase of the May's and Med-X chains — unless owner Stephen LaFrance takes the chain public by then.

• No. 15 Perfect 10 Distributing Co., the satellite TV dealer in North Little Rock, reported $416.2 million in revenue in 2004. Last year it was ranked 31st based on estimated revenue of $200 million, but it has now revealed that its 2003 revenue was $362.2 million, which would have ranked it at No. 14.

No. 33 National Home Centers Inc. of Springdale reported $221.5 million in revenue for the fiscal year that ended Jan. 31, up 41.4 percent from the previous year. Brent Hanby, executive vice president and chief financial officer for the company owned by Dwain A. Newman, said in an e-mail that the acquisition of OneSource Home & Building Centers of Little Rock helped, but "it is most attributable to comparable store sales increases for the stores we operated prior to buying One Source in Novem-ber 2003.

• No. 35 A. Tenenbaum Co., the North Little Rock salvage yard that declined to release 2004 revenue figures for a feature story published last month, now reports $211.8 million, an increase of more than 13 percent from 2003.

Several of the largest companies are being led by new top executives this year. Among them are Karl D. Kennedy, who succeeded Richard E. Bell as president and CEO of Riceland Foods of Stuttgart; John R. Mills, who succeeded the late Jerry Davis as chairman, president and CEO of Afflilated Foods Southwest of Little Rock; John Guest, who succeeded interim president William P. Sennett at Sparks Health System Inc. of Fort Smith; Mark Bever, who followed Stephen B. Lampkin as CEO of Washington Regional Medical Center; Blake Evans, who took over his grandfather's Peterson Farms Inc. of Decatur; and Don Crabbe, who succeeded Alton Higginbotham as CEO of First Electric Cooperative Corp. of Jacksonville.

And, as also reported in Whispers this week, Ralph Bradbury is returning as president of Continental Express Inc. of Little Rock after a six-year absence. He replace Kelly Wooldridge this week.

Of the 75 companies on the list, 60 provided revenue data on which the rankings were based. The remaining 15 were estimates taken from industry sources (as was the case with LaFrance Pharmacy); from Dun & Bradstreet's Million Dollar Directory or from Thomson Gale Competitive Intelligence, whichever is more recent; or by applying industry trends to earlier data considered reliable, as with George's Inc. and O.K. Industries.

Biggest Revenue Increases

Click here for the chart detailing the biggest revenue increases among companies on the list. (Chart requires Adobe Acrobat viewer. Click here for a free copy.)