Arkansas Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Little Rock, with revenue doubling in the past five years to nearly $2.5 billion, has taken the top spot on Arkansas Business’ annual list of the state’s largest private companies.
As always, that comes with an asterisk: Stephens Inc., the ultra-private investment bank in Little Rock, dropped to No. 2 based on a revenue that continues to be estimated at $2.25 billion. It is the least reliable number on the list and one of only six that have been estimated.
Get the list of the largest private companies in Arkansas.
The price of entry to the list increased to almost $117 million from $100 million last year.
ABCBS, a nonprofit that dominates the state’s health insurance landscape, was led from the beginning of 2009 through 2016 by Mark White, who retired at the end of the year. He was succeeded by Curtis Barnett, formerly senior vice president of external operations.
Barnett inherited a company that had $1.27 billion in revenue in 2011. The $2.5 billion it reported in 2016 is not a record for the list: Truman Arnold Cos., which is no longer eligible for the list after moving its executive offices to Dallas, topped $3 billion in 2011 when the price of its main product, aircraft fuel, was sky-high.
The 75 companies on the list generated total revenue, self-reported and estimated, of $37.5 billion, an increase of almost 10 percent from last year’s list. But more than half of that growth is attributable to the highest-ranking debut of any company in the 30-year history of the list: McLarty Automotive Group of Little Rock, led by Mark McLarty. It reported $1.76 billion in revenue in 2016 after having been formed in 2014 to acquire existing auto dealerships and open new ones. (See Dealership Acquisitions Fuel McLarty Automotive Group.)
In what may look like a sibling rivalry, MAG took the No. 4 spot from RML Automotive, which dropped to No. 5 despite revenue growth of almost 13 percent last year. RML was formerly known as RLJ McLarty Landers Automotive Holdings, and was co-founded in 2004 by Mark McLarty’s father and brother, Thomas “Mack” McLarty and Franklin McLarty, with Mark joining as a shareholder.
MAG is the only newcomer to the top 10, displacing Bruce Oakley Inc., the bulk transporter based in North Little Rock, which dropped from No. 7 to No. 12 on a 22 percent decrease in revenue.
Companies whose fortunes are tied to the agriculture industry saw revenue generally flat to lower in 2016, while those working in the health care industry — like ABCBS, Baptist Health (No. 8) and list newcomers Unity Health of Searcy (No. 17) and Central Arkansas Radiation Therapy Institute Inc. (No. 62) — saw revenue growth. (See $1.02 Billion Keeps Baptist Health High on List and Letter Reveals CARTI’s Plan for Improving Finances.)
McLarty Automotive Group, Unity Health and CARTI are the only true newcomers among the 75 companies on this year’s list. All three should have been on last year’s list but were not surveyed.
Two more companies have returned after being dropped last year:
• No. 59 Parker Automotive Group of Little Rock, which last year submitted an incorrect revenue figure for 2015 that was too low to make the cutoff. It has been corrected.
• No. 74 Multi-Craft Contractors Inc. of Springdale, which entered the list at No. 75 in 2015 but didn’t make the cutoff last year. (See Springdale's Multi-Craft Contractors Stays Flexible, Diverse.)
Five companies that were among last year’s 75 had to drop off to make room for the five additional names. They are last year’s Nos. 72-75 — Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative of Ozark, Mid-South Sales Inc. of Jonesboro, Lewis Automotive Group of Fayetteville and Dyke Industries of Little Rock — as well as SF Holding Corp. of Little Rock, the holding company for joint investments of Warren Stephens and his cousins, Witt Stephens Jr. and Elizabeth Stephens Campbell. Since the Stephenses sold Stephens Media in February 2015 for $102.5 million, SF Holding’s revenue is no longer estimated to be large enough for the list.
Two companies are making their final appearances on the list: No. 35 Vestcom international Inc. of Little Rock and No. 41 Ridout Lumber Co. of Searcy. Vestcom, which produces the shelf-edge price labels for retailers like grocery stores, was acquired in December by out-of-state ownership, Charlesbank Capital Partners. Ridout, family owned since 1971, was sold in January to US LBM of Buffalo Grove, Illinois.
30th Annual List of Arkansas’ Largest Private Companies
Arkansas Business introduced its annual list of the state’s largest private companies in 1988 and continues that tradition this week.
The list originally sought to find the 50 largest companies that are owned and headquartered in Arkansas, but it was expanded to 75 companies in 1996. The list seeks to be comprehensive and authoritative, but the very privacy of the private companies means that it has never been either.
Practically every year we discover companies that should have been on the list in previous years. There are undoubtedly companies that belong on this list that we haven’t identified, and others consistently decline to share their top-line revenue figure, which is the number used to rank the list.
Some 130 companies were surveyed for this year’s list. Of the 75 that made the final cut, 69 either volunteered revenue data or reported it publicly. The rest are estimates and are footnoted as such.
If you know of a company that should be on the list, or comes close and should be surveyed for future lists, please contact Editor Gwen Moritz at (501) 372-1443 or GMoritz@ABPG.com.