Arkansas Business' 25 Women Leaders (25th Anniversary)

Arkansas Business' 25 Women Leaders (25th Anniversary)
Betta Carney of Carney Investment Co.

We sometimes joke that there's a quota of white men in business suits that must appear in every issue of Arkansas Business, but businesswomen were able to break into our pages from the very beginning. By any standard, the CEO of Arkansas Business Publishing Group, Olivia Myers Farrell, should be on the following list, but she graciously removed herself to make room for one more notable woman business leader from the past 25 years.

1. Sharon Allen
It's the All-American Success Story: Allen joined Arkansas Blue Cross & Blue Shield as an entry-level Medicare claims clerk in 1968. After 34 years of working her way up, she was on top of the corporate ladder as president and chief operating officer. When Allen, now 64, retired last January, the company was the state's largest insurance carrier. She also was named the state's 2008 Woman of the Year in Philanthropy in November.

2. Kay Kelley Arnold
Kay Kelley Arnold, 54, served in Bill Clinton's first gubernatorial administration and on the General Assembly staff, earned a law degree, established the Nature Conservancy's state office, led the state Department of Heritage, managed corporate communications for Arkansas Power & Light, became VP for governmental affairs with Entergy Corp., served on the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation board, championed causes from the Little Rock Zoo to the state's forests and is in the Arkansas Outdoor Hall of fame. So, gentlemen, how do your résumés compare?

3. Mary Beth Brooks
The largest bank in the state with a woman at the helm is The Bank of Fayetteville, and it has prospered under the guidance of president and CEO Mary Beth Brooks, 44. In 2007 U.S. Banker magazine named her one of 25 women to watch, noting that during her first three years in charge, the bank's assets grew from $355 million to $441 million, and its return on assets doubled from 0.65 percent to 1.47 percent. And she was the Arkansas Business Executive of the Year for 2007.

4. Bettye Caldwell
As an advocate of early childhood education, Dr. Bettye Caldwell was consistently 30 years ahead of her time. Focusing on infants and toddlers, she studied how they responded to just about everything – home life, education, socio-economic status – and deducted how to improve their learning. Her Kramer Project was the first center in the nation providing care for children younger than 3, a radical proposition at the time.

Her work at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences made her a nationally recognized leader in early childhood education.

5. Betta Carney
Carney, who owned World Wide Travel until 2003, was one of the first women ever profiled in Arkansas Business. She built World Wide into one of the nation's 25 largest travel agencies, and counted President Bill Clinton among her clients (and "Travelgate" among her biggest headaches).

Today Carney, 69, consults for the travel industry and heads up Carney Investment Co., which has been involved in multimillion-dollar real estate deals ranging from condos to office buildings.

6. Jane Dickey
To be a senior partner at Little Rock's Rose Law Firm, you have to be more than some run-of-the-mill attorney. In her 31 years with the firm, Jane Dickey has made a sublime art out of public finance law and has worked on such landmark efforts as the Pulaski Empowerment Zone.

She has also focused on the health of downtown Little Rock, serving terms as leader of Fifty for the Future and the Downtown Partnership. And with the Clinton Foundation, she has one of the highest-profile clients in the city's history.

7. Jimmie Lou Fisher
"Jimmie Who?" read stickers on Republicans' cars in 2002. But in a year when Gov. Mike Huckabee looked unbeatable and the Democratic Party's big names stuck to the sidelines, state Treasurer Jimmie Lou Fisher, now 67, made her name stick in the voters' minds.

Not a political novice by any stretch of the imagination, her relentless stumping and occasional bare-knuckle exchanges with the incumbent's campaign proved she wasn't just token opposition. And while Huckabee won the race, it wasn't the landslide many had predicted.

8. Mary Good
The Cybercollege was UALR's bid to boost its output of high-tech graduates, and Mary Good, 78, was its choice to lead that effort. As founding dean of the Donaghey College of Engineering & Information Technology, opened in 1998, she has spent the last decade building it into a destination for technologically inclined students and a resource for high-tech companies looking to fill jobs. She's also a member of Acxiom Corp.'s board of directors.

9. Barbara Graves
Yes, she's a Little Rock city director. Sure, she has supported The Rep and other worthy causes. But when most people hear the name Barbara Graves, they think of one thing: women in lacy underthings. Indeed, lingerie made Graves' name synonymous with chic – which her TV and radio spots, with their beguiling narratives, revealed you already have! Having outlasted downturns, national chains and Internet retailers, Barbara Graves Intimate Fashions is the state's sexiest institution.

10. Mary Anne Greenwood
In the Marriott Hotel at the World Trade Center on 9/11, Mary Anne Greenwood could feel the reverberation of the first plane's impact on the adjacent tower. Her instinct, though, was not to panic but to "take care of the situation," and she emerged from the event unscathed.

This steady demeanor has served her well as a financial adviser since 1982, when she founded Greenwood & Associates in Fayetteville, subsequently helping clients weather the giddy highs and canyon-like lows of the marketplace. She is 68.

11. Ann Die Hasselmo
From her office on K Street in Washington, D.C. – home of some of the Capitol's biggest power brokers – Ann Die Hasselmo, 64, president of the nonprofit American Academic Leadership Institute, applies what she learned as president of Hendrix College, as well as a career in academia, to help find leaders for educational institutions around the country. Her work has been global, including development of a strategic plan for United Arab Emirates University. But she's also maintained her ties to Arkansas, serving on the Acxiom Corp. board since 1993.

12. Annabelle Clinton Imber
As a trial judge in the original Lake View case, Annabelle Clinton Imber issued one of the most gestalt-altering rulings in Arkansas history: In 1994, she declared the state's school funding formula unconstitutional. Sweeping changes to the law followed.

Imber, 60, started as a paralegal at Wright, Lindsey & Jennings in 1975 and worked her way through associate and up to partner before seeking the judge's bench. She has been a state Supreme Court justice since 1997, where Lake View found its way back to her once again.

13. Mary Sue Jacobs
The former president and CEO of First Commercial Capital Management, Mary Sue Jacobs had plenty of opportunity to leave her mark. She was a big supporter of Lyon College and of Bill Clinton – in fact, she was an overnight guest at the White House during his administration. But it may be quiet, picturesque Mount Holly Cemetery where her legacy truly lies. As a member of the cemetery's association, Jacobs has helped orchestrate events to raise awareness about – and money for – this historic landmark.
Former schoolteacher Janet Jones' eponymous residential real estate company was four years old when she first appeared in Arkansas Business 25 years ago. Now 68, she is still running the company, perennially one of the strongest agencies in the state.

She didn't succeed only in real estate, either. In 1998, she became the first woman to head the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce in its 131-year history. Over the years, she's held various other leadership positions, including chairman of the Little Rock branch of the Federal Reserve Bank.

15. Sister Judith Marie Keith
For this nun, a religious life was not at odds with running a major regional hospital. Sister Keith, 73, retired in 2007 after 26 years as president and CEO of St. Edward Mercy Medical Network in Fort Smith. The hospital was on its last legs in 1970 when she was given charge and told to save it or close it. Five years later, it had moved to a new facility and initiated broader community involvement.

St. Edwards won praise for innovations in rural medicine, and by Keith's retirement, it was one of the state's top hospitals in terms of revenue.

16. Pat Lile
When former Pine Bluff Chamber of Commerce executive Pat Lile, 70, retired from the Arkansas Community Foundation in 2008, the scale of her accomplishments during 11 years there was staggering: Average it out, and the value of the foundation's assets climbed almost $10 million per year, from $15 million to $120 million. With her guidance, the foundation leveraged that into the ability to help philanthropic endeavors throughout the state, making its familiar tagline, "For good, for Arkansas, forever," more than just a clever phrase. 

17. Blanche Lincoln
Arkansas was the first state to elect a woman to the U.S. Senate, choosing Hattie Caraway in 1932. But the state's voters didn't repeat that performance until 1998, when Blanche Lincoln – who had been Arkansas' first female U.S. representative who didn't succeed her husband – was elected to succeed Dale Bumpers. At 38, she was the youngest woman elected to the Senate.

Ten years later, Lincoln has forged a reputation as a conservative Democrat and a fierce defender of farmers – and farm subsidies.

18. Jo Luck
To many people, the name Jo Luck is synonymous with Heifer International. President and CEO of the nonprofit relief agency since 1992, 67-year-old Luck has overseen its transformation from a successful but low-profile doer-of-good-works into a major player in the fight against world hunger. Her arsenal of experience includes serving in Gov. Clinton's first cabinet and helping establish Arkansas Advocates for Children & Families.

19. Diane Mackey
Her job title is impressive: Assistant dean for institutional and organizational affairs and director of the juris doctor and master's of public health dual-degree program at the UALR Bowen School of Law and UAMS College of Public Health. She spent 21 years at the Friday Eldredge & Clark law firm, where she was a specialist in health issues. And during the 2007 legislative session, she co-chaired a task force that recommended changes in how the state dealt with the mentally ill in the criminal justice system.

20. Margaret McEntire
Back in 1989, Margaret McEntire started Candy Bouquet International because she wanted to work somewhere fun. She also had this great idea for an alternative to giving flowers, which are nice but predictable. Her bouquets of lollipops, suckers, hard candies, chewy candies – you can see the theme here – proved wildly popular.

Twenty years later, McEntire presides over the largest candy franchise in the world, with some 700 franchisees and a presence in 50 states and more than 30 countries. She was the Arkansas Business Executive of the Year for 2004.

21. Cora McHenry
If you were looking for an example of power in Arkansas in the 1980s and 1990s, you wouldn't have had to look much further than Cora McHenry. Back then, she was executive director of the Arkansas Education Association, the teacher's union that led strikes against schools in Pulaski County and Marianna and wielded immense influence at the Legislature.

A former Arkansas Tech trustee (the first woman and first minority to hold a seat), McHenry, now 70, has been president of Shorter College, a historically black, 123-year-old junior college in North Little Rock, since 2002.

22. Julia Peck Mobley
As chairman and CEO of Commercial National Bank – which is now headquartered on the Texas side of Texarkana – Julia Peck Mobley, 65, runs the bank her daddy helped found on the Arkansas side more than 40 years ago.

A mover and shaker in Arkansas Democratic Party circles, she served as chairman of the state Pollution Control & Ecology Commission in the late 1990s. She was also a member of the Nature Conservancy board and supporter of the Texarkana Symphony Orchestra, among other causes.

23. Marla Johnson Norris
In 1995, the Internet wasn't a household word – much less service – in Little Rock. By co-founding Aristotle, which provided dial-up access at 25 cents an hour, Marla Johnson Norris helped change that. But she did more than get people and businesses online; she showed them what to do when they got there. Today, Aristotle is a major player in communications and marketing over the Internet, and Johnson is a sought-after speaker on those subjects.

24. Mary Beth Ringgold
Some people just have the touch. Among restaurateurs, Mary Beth Ringgold is one. Cajun's Wharf? An indelible institution. Capers? Raves from the start. Now there's Copper Grill & Grocery in downtown Little Rock, her latest venture. 

Ringgold also served as chair of the Little Rock Advertising & Promotion Commission and has held officer positions at the Arkansas Restaurant Association. Plus, she's a founding member of the Arkansas Friendship Coalition, which seeks to "encourage a reasonable and respectful" debate on immigration issues the state is facing.                                           

25. Patricia P. Upton
Aromatique has done pretty well for a venture that Patti Upton started just for fun in 1982. From that first Christmas potpourri, the Heber Springs company grew into an international sensation, expanding to incorporate bath, skin and spa treatments.

That success has enabled Upton, through her foundation, to donate millions of dollars to efforts she supports, including UAMS and the Nature Conservancy. Now 70, she has served on AT&T Inc.'s board of directors since 1993.

(Click here to see all the stories in our anniversary edition. Or click here to flip through each page of the edition in this special free electronic version.)