February/March 2016 Issue
The 2016 class of the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame
will be recognized for innovation and
accomplishment at an induction ceremony on Feb. 12.
Photography courtesy of University of Arkansas
Top photo: William T. Dillard II, Dr. George K. Mitchell, Winthrop Rockefeller and Patricia P. Upton
A hall of fame induction not only honors that year’s inductees, it also connects those individuals to a history of accomplishment and illustrates to future leaders what is possible.
This year’s Arkansas Business Hall of Fame includes well-known names that will join a small crowd of past inductees, demonstrating a history of business excellence in Arkansas through the years.
The University of Arkansas Sam M. Walton College of Business and the hall’s board announced the following inductees for the 2016 class:
• William T. Dillard II, chair and chief executive officer of Dillard’s Inc.
• Dr. George K. Mitchell, former president and chief executive officer of Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield
• Winthrop Rockefeller (1912–1973), former governor of Arkansas and founder of Winrock Farms
• Patricia P. Upton, founder and former president/chief executive officer of Aromatique Inc.
They will be inducted at a ceremony on Feb. 12 at the Statehouse Convention Center in downtown Little Rock.
Matthew Waller, interim dean of the College of Business, makes the connection between this year’s class and those already in the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame, as well as with future honorees.
“The original purpose of the hall of fame was to recognize businesspeople, Arkansans, either by birth or by choice, who have really made a difference in business — in Arkansas, the United States or the world,” he said. “When you start recognizing people like this, you wind up encouraging others with the kinds of things that can be done. It’s remarkable.”
Waller refers to the first honorees in 1999: William T. Dillard Sr. of Dillard’s Inc.; Charles H. Murphy Jr. of Murphy Oil Corp.; Jackson T. Stephens of Stephens Inc.; and, Sam M. Walton of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. — all household names in Arkansas and the country.
Philip Tappan, executive vice president of financial services at Simmons Bank and a member of the hall of fame selection committee, said the hall of fame continues to “serve as a source of inspiration to the next generation while recognizing the accomplishments of the past or present generation.”
“While we may have a lower average of wealth and prosperity, we are blessed with an above average level of enterprise, workforce dedication and resources,” he said.
Waller said the first year’s class of inductees, as well as each one since, has embodied all of these qualities.
“When you think about it, Sam Walton is unequivocally one of the greatest entrepreneurs of all time: Wal-Mart is one of the biggest businesses on earth,” he said, also pointing out that Stephens is the biggest investment bank in the nation outside of Wall Street, that Murphy Oil was the first company to drill in Iran, and that Dillard’s is one of the most successful department stores in the nation.
All of these honorees created wealth, just as the 2016 class has done with their business innovations and successes. This is what makes Waller most proud of the hall of fame and his school’s work in spotlighting what these individuals do for Arkansas.
The selection process is rigorous. According to Waller, the board of directors may only choose four people per year from the nominations they receive. Once someone is nominated, he or she can only stay on the nomination list for five years before they become ineligible if they are not chosen.
“Everyone is very worthy, and it’s a tough process each year,” he explained. “The nominations are lengthy, with several letters of recommendation for each. The selection committee sees the primary variable as this: Did the person make a real impact on business?”
Because of the four-person annual limit, Tappan said, “Incredibly there remain a great many nominees who have not been selected. Arkansas is blessed with an abundance of enterprising spirit.”
Lifelong ethical business practices of the honoree are also important, Waller pointed out. This is because the hall is connected directly to the College of Business, and, therefore, with students at the University of Arkansas.
“The mission of the school of business is to advance and disseminate business knowledge,” Waller said. “We have courses in ethics in the business college, so when we hold these people up, we want them to be people the students would aspire to be.”
Waller, who joined the college in 1994 when he moved to the state from Michigan, believes Arkansans and the nation have something to learn about business in the Natural State.
There are aspects of the business climate in Arkansas that may surprise those outside the state, and those within. Waller lists the availability of capital as one key trait that makes entrepreneurship possible, and he cites the affordability of living in Arkansas, as well. The transportation hubs don’t hurt, either.
“You can ship from Arkansas all over the world quite easily,” he said. “You don’t need to be in New York City or Silicon Valley to succeed in business. We’re quite successful at getting startups to grow.”
Tappan agrees, describing Arkansas as having “an abundance of talented, motivated workers who support enterprise growth.” The state has also been able to attract capital and governmental structures favorable to business.
Each year, hall of fame inductees reiterate that Arkansas is a ripe ground for business success, from that first class and extending into the future.