Larry Crain Sr., entrepreneur and second-generation leader of his family's namesake company, died Wednesday at age 81.
Crain was the president of Crain Management Group LLC of Sherwood, a holding company with interests in more than 20 auto dealerships, automotive parts distributors, radio and TV broadcasting, and investment real estate.
In 2021, the company posted $791.4 million in revenue. It had 1,000 employees as of June 2022.
Crain's journey to leading one of the state's largest private companies had humble beginnings. His first business venture was selling “Crain's Handy Dandy Hand Cleaner” out of his car to grocery stores and service stations in the 1950s.
In 1966, he took out a loan to purchase a stake in his father Paul's sales company in Searcy. He drove a van throughout Arkansas and west Tennessee, peddling products ranging from auto parts to pantyhose.
The business morphed into a successful auto parts warehouse distributorship, which operated as Kargo Automotive Warehouses and Karpro Auto Parts retail stores.
Crain and his son, Larry Jr., purchased the first family auto dealership in 1990. A decade later, the family sold Kargo and Karpro operations to O'Reilly Auto Parts and the Crains pivoted to focus on the family’s growing auto dealership businesses.
Crain in 2004 founded the Arkansas RimRockers, an American Basketball Association franchise. The team joined the NBA Development League the next year and folded in 2007.
In recent years, the elder Crain's control of the family company became a source of tension with two of his three sons. Larry Crain Jr. exited the family business in 2012, and Chris left in 2017.
The strained relationships grew into estrangement and a lawsuit by Chris Crain against his father. The suit sought to disentangle Crain Sr. from interfering with operations of the younger Crain’s Hyundai dealership in Conway.
The elder Crain told Arkansas Business in June 2021 that he had no plans to change his approach to succession and estate planning.
“I probably wouldn’t do anything different except make my offspring realize this is the plan and I won’t deviate from it,” he said. “So accept or know you will be removed from the will that is being created and the interests you have accumulated are minority interests that you will control in the future at your mother’s and my deaths.”
Crain Sr.'s wife Janett died from cancer in 2018. The two were high school sweethearts who married while attending the University of Arkansas. Her fight against the disease inspired Crain to donate $1 million to the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute in 2021.
Crain was also a supporter of the Arkansas Miracle League, Searcy Friends of the Library Foundation and First Methodist Church Searcy.
Friends and family are invited to a celebration of his life on Thursday at 10 a.m. at First Methodist Church in Searcy. A funeral will follow at the church at 1:30 p.m.