Arkansas lost two exceptional business leaders in recent weeks.
Robert Malcolm Munro, better known as Don Munro, died on April 27 at age 94. Wallace W. Fowler Sr. died on May 4 at age 87. Both were Arkansas Business Hall of Fame members who left indelible marks on the state’s business and philanthropic landscapes.
This is an Opinion
A Massachusetts native and Yale graduate, Munro was the owner of Munro & Co. Inc. of Hot Springs, once one of the country’s largest privately held shoe manufacturers. In 1996, it was the state’s 12th-largest manufacturer and 32nd-largest employer, with 2,100 Arkansas workers and about $150 million in revenue. From the beginning, the company bucked the trend of shoemakers leaving the country for cheaper labor markets. Today, it’s a smaller operation with two locations — in Hot Springs and Clarksville — owned by Munro’s five children.
Hailing from the tiny Mississippi County town of Manila, Fowler cultivated a multifaceted business career building and selling multiple banks and leading robust KFC and Taco Bell franchises. Returning from U.S. Army duty in Germany in the early 1950s, Fowler purchased his aunt’s Jonesboro furniture store and then added more. Soon, he began buying Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises, laying the groundwork for a food company that continues today under the leadership of son Chris.
But Fowler also owned and led multiple banks, putting himself in the middle of some of the state’s biggest transactions. His last bank deal was the biggest: the $320 million sale of Liberty Bancshares Inc. to Home Bancshares Inc. of Conway in 2013.
Munro and Fowler were heavily involved in philanthropy and worked to improve their state. They are sterling examples of what we like to see in Arkansas business — dogged entrepreneurs who go against the grain, find success and give back to their communities. It’s a good model for others to follow.