Business Leaders

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Entry Category: Business Leaders

Stephens, Jackson Thomas

Jackson Thomas Stephens was one of the most successful, high-profile business figures in Arkansas during the twentieth century, joining his older brother Wilton R. “Witt” Stephens in building Stephens Inc. of Little Rock (Pulaski County) into one of the nation’s largest brokerage firms. Stephens also became a well-known philanthropist, supporting institutions ranging from the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UA Little Rock) and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS). Jack Stephens was born on August 9, 1923, in Prattsville (Grant County), the youngest of the six children of A. J. Stephens and Ethel Pumphrey Stephens. A. J. Stephens was a farmer and a politician who served two terms in the state …

Stephens, Witt

aka: Wilton Robert Stephens
Wilton Robert Stephens founded Stephens Inc., which once was the largest brokerage firm off Wall Street. He was a prime mover in the development of the natural gas industry after World War II and exerted great influence on the political and economic fortunes of Arkansas during the second half of the twentieth century. Witt Stephens was born on September 14, 1907, in Prattsville (Grant County), the second of six children of A. J. “Jack” Stephens and Ethel Pumphrey Stephens. His father was a farmer and politician who served two terms in the state House of Representatives from Grant County, as would Witt thirty years later. The elder Stephens directly influenced his son’s early career moves. As a boy, Witt picked …

Stout, William C.

The clergyman William Cummins Stout was the master of two large antebellum plantations at the foot of Petit Jean Mountain in Conway County and the “first Arkansas man ordained to the priesthood of the Episcopal Church in Arkansas,” according to church records. William Stout was born in Greene County, Tennessee, on February 18, 1824. His parents, John G. Stout and Mary Kirby Stout, moved with their children to Fayetteville (Washington County) in 1830, where they continued their farming occupation. While a young man working in a store near the Indian Territory line, Stout attended meetings conducted by Bishop Leonidas Polk and discerned a religious calling. With Polk’s encouragement, Stout received his education at Kemper College in Missouri, then Nashotah House …

Sturgis, Walter Roy

Walter Roy Sturgis was a self-made multi-millionaire from southern Arkansas whose fortune continues to benefit the state and beyond through philanthropic organizations dedicated to managing the wealth amassed by Sturgis and his wife, Christine. Roy Sturgis was born in Cleveland County, Arkansas, between Kingsland and Hebron on March 6, 1901, to William A. Sturgis, who was a farmer, and Nancy Virginia Bingham Sturgis, a homemaker. Sturgis had nine siblings. Scarce biographical information exists about Sturgis, and some of what has been written appears not to be entirely accurate. For example, Sturgis reportedly dropped out of school after the tenth grade and served in the U.S. Navy during World War I. While Sturgis’s education at the Good Hope School (also known …

Thompson, David Aiken

David Aiken Thompson came to Arkansas as the Arkansas Territory was beginning to show rapid growth, attracting settlers from eastern states and offering opportunities for business and land speculation. Thompson became one of the largest land speculators in Arkansas. At the height of his operations, he reportedly either owned outright or had an interest in 150,000 acres of land in sixteen Arkansas counties. David Thompson was born on April 4, 1796, at New Castle, Delaware, to Dr. David Thompson and his second wife, Frances Aiken Thompson. His father died two months before he was born. His mother soon moved to Jonesboro, Tennessee. There, she met John McAlister, and they married on December 25, 1800. Thompson grew up in Jonesboro and …

Thompson, Green Walter

Green Walter Thompson was a major African-American political leader and businessman in Little Rock (Pulaski County) from the end of the Civil War until his death. Green Thompson was born Green Elliott, a slave on the Robert Elliottt farm in Ouachita County. Nothing is known of his early life, though his tombstone lists a birth date of August 15, 1847. A birth year of 1848 is estimated from documents accumulated later in his life. The 1880 census records him as a “mulatto,” so it is likely a white man fathered him. His mother eventually married a slave named Thompson, and Green Elliott took his stepfather’s name. While a teenager, he married a slave named Dora Hildreth; they soon had a …

Trulock, Amanda Beardsley

Amanda Beardsley Trulock was an antebellum woman from Connecticut who married a Georgia cotton planter, migrated to Arkansas, and eventually became a plantation proprietor and sole owner of sixty-two slaves near Pine Bluff (Jefferson County). She was one among the small number of American women from abolitionist New England who married into a slave-owning family before embracing the institution of slavery herself. However, largely due to her “Yankee” heritage and continued association with her New England family, Trulock was an atypical example of an antebellum slaveholder in the Delta. Her personal papers (primarily correspondence to her Connecticut family) represent an important documentation of plantation life, the Civil War, and emancipation in Arkansas history. Born on April 22, 1811, to Nicholas …

Tucker, Francis William (Frank)

Francis William (Frank) Tucker came to Arkansas from Massachusetts, first settling in Lawrence County, where he managed (and later co-owned) the Clover Bend plantation. He later moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County), where he became chair of the state Republican Party and served as U.S. Collector of Revenues. Frank W. Tucker was born on December 3, 1843, at Canton, Massachusetts, to Francis William Tucker and Prudence Hoyt Tucker. As an adult, he went by the name Frank and also appears in documents as Captain or Colonel F. W. Tucker. In August 1862, he enlisted in the Fiftieth Massachusetts Infantry. His daughter Ruth wrote in her unpublished biography of family friend Alice French (an author who wrote under the name Octave …

Tyson, Don

Donald John Tyson was president and CEO of Tyson Foods. By the close of the twentieth century, along with Walmart Inc. founder Sam Walton, Don Tyson was considered one of the pioneers of modern Arkansas economic history, as well as a giant in the global poultry business. At the time of his death in 2011, he was among the richest people in the world, with a personal net worth of $1 billion. Don Tyson was born on April 21, 1930, in Olathe, Kansas, to John Tyson, founder of Tyson Foods, Inc., and Mildred Ernst Tyson. His family resettled in northwest Arkansas in 1931, and Tyson grew up in Springdale (Washington and Benton counties). He studied at Kemper Military School in …

Umsted, Sidney Albert

aka: Sid Umsted
Sidney (Sid) Albert Umsted, known as the “Father of the Smackover Oil Field,” drilled the first well in the Smackover (Union County) area, introducing Arkansas’s largest oil discovery. In 1925, the Smackover field produced over 77 million barrels of oil and was the largest oil field in the nation at that time. Sid Umsted was born on November 22, 1876, in Houston County, Texas, to Caroline Pearson and Albert “Newt” Umsted, who had moved there from Chidester (Ouachita County). Umsted’s father abandoned the family while Sid was a child, and his mother moved back to Chidester to be near family members. When Umsted was eight, his mother married Harrison Bratton, and the family settled on a farm near Bernice, Louisiana. …

Walker, William “Sonny”

William “Sonny” Walker was an educator and civil rights activist who went on to serve in positions in local, state, and federal government, becoming the first person of color to serve in the cabinet of a southern governor. Sonny Walker was born on December 13, 1933, in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County). His parents were the Reverend James David Walker and Mary Coleman Walker; they later divorced, and his father married Nettie Harris. Early influences in his life included the Boy Scouts of America, gospel choir, drama and speech organizations, and community education through social and sports activities at Merrill High School; Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical, and Normal College (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff); and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity. …

Walton, Alice Louise

Alice Louise Walton is the heir to the Walton family fortune; in April 2019, she was estimated by Forbes magazine to have a net worth of almost $46 billion, making her one of the richest women in the world. She is also well known as a philanthropist, having established the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville (Benton County). Alice Louise Walton was born on October 7, 1949, in Newport (Jackson County), the youngest of four children and the only daughter of Sam and Helen Walton. Sam Walton opened Walton’s Five and Dime Store in Bentonville and then created Walmart, which changed the retail industry worldwide. Alice Walton grew up in Bentonville, attending public schools there. After graduating from …

Walton, Samuel Moore

aka: Sam Walton
Samuel Moore Walton was founder and chairman of Walmart Inc., the world’s largest retailer. At one time, he was the richest man in the United States. Sam Walton was born on March 29, 1918, in Kingfisher, Oklahoma, the first of two children to Thomas Gibson Walton, a banker, farmer, farm loan appraiser, and real estate and insurance agent, and Nancy Lee Lawrence Walton. Walton showed signs of an entrepreneurial gift early on, selling magazine subscriptions, starting at about age seven or eight. He worked his way through college with newspaper routes. After adding routes and hiring helpers, he was earning $4,000 to $5,000 a year. He attended the University of Missouri at Columbia, earning a business degree in 1940. His …

Webb, Kathy Lynette

Kathy Webb—the first openly gay member of the Arkansas General Assembly—has had a long career in private business (most notably as co-owner of Lilly’s Dim Sum Then Some restaurant), philanthropy, and local and state government. She has also been a leader in the women’s rights movement. Webb, who battled breast cancer, served as the founding president of the Chicago-area Susan G. Komen Cancer Foundation. Kathy Lynette Webb was born in Blytheville (Mississippi County) on October 21, 1949. The youngest of three children—with a brother twelve years older and a sister nine years older—of Maurice Webb and Atha Webb, she graduated from Hall High School in Little Rock (Pulaski County) before going on to Randolph-Macon Woman’s College (now Randolph College) in …

Wheeler, Lloyd Garrison

Lloyd Garrison Wheeler was a prominent and trailblazing African-American lawyer, political figure, and businessman in Illinois and Arkansas. Lloyd G. Wheeler was born in Mansfield, Ohio, on May 29, 1848. His father was active in the Underground Railroad, but when Ohio passed a law making the harboring of slaves illegal, the family relocated to Chatham, Canada, where Wheeler received his early education. When his mother died, he returned to the United States, settling in Chicago, Illinois. There, he worked at a variety of jobs, including on the railroad and as a shoe black. Throughout this period, his greatest ambition was a career in law. He became the first black mail carrier in Chicago while studying law in the office of …

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 …