Business Leaders

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Entries - Entry Category: Business Leaders

Wilson, Charles Kemmons

Charles Kemmons Wilson was a businessman who founded the Holiday Inn hotel chain. Called the “Father of the Modern Hotel,” he revolutionized the travel industry by providing affordable, comfortable, dependable lodging. Kemmons Wilson was born on January 5, 1913, in Osceola (Mississippi County) to Kemmons Wilson, who sold insurance, and Ruby “Doll” Wilson, a homemaker. He was their only child. His father died when Wilson was nine months old, and his mother took the baby to her hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, where she found work as a dental assistant. Wilson’s business career began when he was six and sold subscriptions to The Saturday Evening Post. When he was fourteen, he was hit by a car while making deliveries on his …

Wilson, Robert Edward Lee

Robert Edward Lee Wilson created a plantation empire out of the swamps of Mississippi County in the late nineteenth century, an empire that remains in place today. He was able to fashion his 65,000-acre plantation and lumbering operation by purchasing cut-over land considered worthless by less imaginative men and then draining and developing the swamps. His substantial holdings and creative financing allowed him to weather the economic catastrophe of the 1920s relatively unscathed. By the time the New Deal was implemented in 1933, Lee Wilson & Company was characterized as operating the largest cotton plantation in the South, and its founder enjoyed the kind of political and economic connections that made it possible for him to take best advantage of …

Winder, Ray

Ray Winder was a minor league baseball executive. After learning the ins and outs of the minor league baseball business through a decade of short-term stints with teams in the Southeast, Winder joined the Little Rock Travelers (now the Arkansas Travelers) for good in 1931. By the mid-1940s, he had become one of the team’s owners and was the driving force behind the team for the next twenty years. Ray Winder was born in Indian Springs, Indiana, on February 5, 1885. He moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County) with his family in 1905 to run a livery stable. While the stable was the last in the city to close, it was still a dying business, and Winder was forced to …

Wood, Forrest Lee

Forrest Lee Wood was known worldwide for his success in the sport fishing industry. In 1968, he founded Ranger Boats, which became the largest manufacturer of bass boats in the nation. Wood thus became known as an “outdoor legend” and the father of the modern bass boat. Forrest Wood was born in Flippin (Marion County) on June 9, 1932, to Ervin and Beulah Wood; he had one younger brother. His father served for a time as a game warden, and he and Wood worked on the construction of the Bull Shoals Dam. On April 21, 1951, Wood married Nina Kirkland; they had four daughters. The couple began raising cattle early in their marriage, but cattle prices dropped, and Wood found …

Worthen, William Booker (W. B.)

William Booker Worthen was a banker in Arkansas from 1874 until his death in 1911, and he also wrote a history of Arkansas banking. The bank he founded survived recessions and the Great Depression, becoming the largest bank holding company in the state, until being acquired by Boatmen’s Bank in 1994. It is now part of Bank of America. Born in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on September 17, 1852, one of four children of George Alfonso Worthen and Louisa Booker Worthen, W. B. Worthen grew up in the turbulent times surrounding the Civil War. His father, a merchant with a variety of business interests, died as a civilian in 1864. After the Civil War, Worthen studied as a cadet at …

Young, Paul Holden

Paul Holden Young was a bamboo fly-rod designer known for making the bamboo fishing rod lighter, shorter, and capable of being broken down so that it could be more easily transported. Today, his rods are collectibles worth many times the prices they sold for in the 1930s and 1940s. Paul H. Young was born in Cherry Valley (Cross County) on August 27, 1890, to Charles Henry Young and Sarah Alice Young; he had four siblings. His father taught in a variety of local schools but was eventually forbidden from teaching in Cross County after arguments with each school board. Young’s mother, who had several sisters in Jonesboro (Craighead County), raised two of her five children and sent the rest to …