For generations these Arkansas families have made vital contributions to the state’s economic landscape, while also maintaining a commitment to giving back through numerous philanthropic endeavors.
The Ford family of Little Rock grew Alltel into the nation’s fifth-largest wireless carrier before selling the company, eventually acquired by Verizon for $28.1 billion, in 2007.
The company that evolved into Alltel was founded by Hugh Wilbourn, Joe Ford’s father-in-law, in 1943, and Ford led the firm from 1987 to 2002 when his son Scott took the reigns.
The Fords — Joe Ford, his wife Jo Ellen and son Scott — not only left a sizable business legacy in Arkansas but a philanthropic one as well. The Fords and Alltel gave $1.25 million to the William J. Clinton Presidential Foundation to help build the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock.
Jo Ellen Ford is a longtime supporter of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences who was instrumental in raising the money for its Center on Aging. Plus, she and Joe gave $1 million to the Arkansas Cancer Research Center at UAMS, now the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute.
Scott Ford, who sits on the AT&T board, gave $2.5 million to Little Rock’s Arkansas Baptist College for a residence hall, and today an entrepreneur center on campus bears his name. After leading the sale of Alltel, he formed Westrock Capital Partners and later Westrock Coffee and Rwanda Trading Co. to export coffee and build agribusiness in the east African nation.
Ford has said he started Rwanda Trading Co. to work closely with and improve the lives of Rwandan coffee farmers in an economy still recovering from the 1990s genocide. By 2012, the trading company had purchased more than 5 million pounds of coffee from Rwandan farmers.
It buys coffee beans from about 75,000 farmers in Rwanda and spends about $50 per farmer per year on basic agronomy training. The company’s goal is to teach Rwandan farmers how to improve their crops as they learn about fertilizer application, organic mulching, pruning and harvesting techniques.
The Dillard’s Inc. story is quintessentially Arkansan. A visionary founder grows a company from a small enterprise into a national or global entity, with a family lineage that carries on the business and the name for generations.
So it was that William T. Dillard started a small department store in Arkansas that became one of the fastest-growing department store chains in the country. First son William T. Dillard II took over to lead the company through massive growth, and now grandson William “Bill” Dillard III serves as company vice president, with a collection of other family members in the leadership and management mix.
Born in Mineral Springs in 1914, the first William T. Dillard learned the retail business at Sears and Roebuck before graduating from the University of Arkansas and getting his master’s degree at Columbia University. He returned to Arkansas to open his first department store in Nashville in 1938, which was the beginning of an empire that expanded first through acquisition, then through location in suburban malls, and through purchasing underperforming stores from competitors.
Dillard kept the company HQ in Little Rock and retired in 1998, with William T. Dillard II taking over as CEO and second son Alex becoming president. Daughters Drue and Denise and third son Mike all became vice presidents, while Bill Dillard III joined the business through a regional division based in Phoenix in 1994.
“Business without integrity isn’t good business and in the long run won’t be successful,” was the philosophy of company founder William T. Dillard, who, along with wife Alexa, helped establish the UAMS Chair for Geriatric Medicine.
On his path to his vice president’s position, Bill Dillard III worked in Hong Kong at William E. Connor Associates, a sourcing firm for manufacturing and retail companies. He also worked in buying, sales management, product development and merchandising.
He once said he has “more and more come to realize we’re all created uniquely and creatively.”
Bill Dillard III serves on the board of directors for CHI St. Vincent Health System, Young Life, Search Ministries and eSTEM Public Charter Schools, among others. He’s also on the steering committee for ForwARd Arkansas
One of Dillard’s longstanding philanthropic commitments, as a company, is to Ronald McDonald House Charities. Since 1994, Dillard’s has given RMHC local chapters more than $12.3 million, funded primarily through the sale of its exclusive “Southern Living Christmas Cookbook.”
Earlier this year, the company served as presenting sponsor of Baptist Health’s Bolo Bash Luncheon, and is signed on to present the 2016 luncheon to be held next spring.
It may look like a long way between the piney woods and oil fields in south Arkansas and the arts scene in Little Rock, but the Murphys bridge the distance.
Charles H. Murphy Sr. already held timber and banking interests in Union County when oil was discovered in the Caddo Field north of Shreveport, Louisiana. As the years progressed Murphy expanded his property and owned interests in different oil operations in the area.
Son Charles H. Murphy Jr., with help from his father, obtained legal clearance to transact for himself by age 16 and was immersed in the business when Charles Sr. suffered a stroke in 1941. The younger Murphy took over the company at age 21, and in 1944, after a stint in the Army during WWII, he and his three sisters combined their interests into C.H. Murphy & Company, which became Murphy Corp. in 1950 and Murphy Oil in 1964.
The company grew into a world energy corporation through acquisitions, innovations, exploration, development and spinoff enterprises that included Deltic Timber and Murphy Oil USA. In 2014 Murphy Oil Corporation posted revenues of $5.48 billion.
Charles Jr., who died in 2002, served on the Arkansas Board of Higher Education, as a trustee of Hendrix College and chairman of the National Petroleum Council, among other roles.
Grandson Charles H. “Chip” Murphy III, an investor, and wife Cindy, a marketing/media specialist for nonprofits, are known for their philanthropic efforts for a number of hospitals, scholarship funds and the arts, which included raising more than $6 million for the Arkansas Repertory Theatre from 2008-2011.
Cindy Murphy’s board commitments include the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Foundation, The Rep and Women & Children First. She’s also a member of the Chairman’s Council for the American Ballet Theatre, while Chip serves on the boards of ARORA and the Accademia dell’Arte. They give their time and resources to countless local charities.
In January 2007, Murphy Oil Corp. president and CEO Claiborne Deming, Charles Sr.’s grandson, made the “El Dorado Promise,” a pledge of $50 million over 20 years to help pay college tuition for the city’s high school grads. Deming, who retired in 2008, and his wife, Elaine, founded the El Dorado Education Foundation, which created the El Dorado Mathematics Chair, the first endowed position in a secondary public school.
The Murphy Foundation, based in El Dorado and headed by Madison Murphy, son of Charles Jr., focuses on medical and other aid to the poor, especially children; education and scholarships and scientific research.
Johnnie Bryan “J.B.” Hunt and his wife Johnelle founded J.B. Hunt Co., a rice hull packaging firm, in 1961, and from that came J.B. Hunt Transport in 1969, today one of the world’s largest trucking companies with revenues exceeding $3 million.
In addition to business, the Hunt name in Arkansas is synonymous with philanthropy.
J.B. Hunt died in 2006, but Johnelle has continued the Hunts’ tradition of giving back to their community. Before his death, the Hunts gave $5 million and pledged $10 million from the company to the University of Arkansas for what would become the the J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. Center for Academic Excellence, and donated $5 million toward the construction of a new hospital for Mercy Health System of Northwest Arkansas.
In addition, they donated to UAMS and the Arkansas Center for Addiction Research, Education & Services.
Johnelle Hunt’s community activities and awards are too numerous to list here, but include serving as treasurer for the UofA Campaign for the 21st Century, a major fundraising drive launched in 2000 that raised more than $1 billion; serving on the UAMS Foundation board and that of the Beau Foundation benefiting prenatal care in northwest Arkansas.
Last year, Johnelle Hunt was honored by the Rogers-Lowell Chamber of Commerce with the Dick Trammel Good Neighbor Award.
“This is truly an honor for me,” she said at the awards banquet. “If Johnnie could just be here standing beside me, because he is the one who started it all. I just always tried to follow along and keep it going.”
Johnelle Hunt was most recently honored at the inaugural Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame ceremony, a joint project of Arkansas Business and the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce.
Alice Walton’s earliest forays into artistic expression may have been serving as chief Christmas present wrapper at the little Ben Franklin store in Bentonville, where her father Sam worked.
As perhaps the state’s most notable patron of the arts, a founder of one of the nation’s most popular and well received museums of American art, Walton has certainly come a long way, not unlike the business Sam founded. The one that became the multinational retail powerhouse headquartered in northwest Arkansas.
After working for Ben Franklin, Sam Walton opened his first store in Rogers in 1962. With an eye toward innovation and expansion, he had opened 24 stores by the end of the decade and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., was incorporated in 1969 and was publicly traded by 1970.
Record profits, sales and growth continued, while technology revolutionized the checkout process and supply chain management, among other things.
By 1990 Walmart was the nation’s top retailer and began expansion into other countries. Son Rob Walton became chairman of the board after Sam died in 1992 and served until this year.
Meanwhile the company continued to embrace technology — providing online shopping through Walmart.com in 2000 — and to grow, cracking the Fortune 500 in 2002.
By 2014, Walmart had 2.2 million associates at more than 11,000 stores in 27 countries.
The company has endured criticism for employee treatment, including its payment policies, among other things, but it has also tried to be a leader through community service and innovation. Walmart contributed $18 million and thousands of truckloads of supplies to Hurricane Katrina and Rita relief in 2005, has made efforts toward sustainability through zero waste goals and renewable energy efforts and committed $2 billion through 2015 to fight hunger in the United States.
The Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation helps Arkansas colleges, universities, community trusts and foundations in Arkansas and other states. In 1998, the Foundation gave $50 million to the College of Business Administration of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, which was renamed the Sam M. Walton College of Business. In 2002, the foundation gave $300 million to the University of Arkansas and family members made other, personal gifts to universities in the state, leading to the building of Bud Walton Arena and the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville.
Alice Walton’s own altruism was manifested in her love of the arts, a passion she’d had since childhood, though her exposure to the arts was limited during her childhood. She earned her bachelor of the arts at Trinity University and went on to work in corporate finance with a number of business interests that saw her net worth rise to $34.8 billion by July 2015, according to Forbes.
But despite the business success, Walton’s proudest and likely most enduring accomplishment is the founding, with other family members and the Charitable Support Foundation, of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. The museum has been widely praised both for its exhibits and architecture, and upon her announcement as a member of the inaugural class of the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame, Walton said it was not only her passion and love of her life, it was created to help cast her native state in the best possible light.
“I’ve long thought that one of Arkansas’ biggest challenges was to think higher of ourselves. So I think it’s been a very positive influence in that perspective,” she said.
A visitor to central Arkansas need only drive through Little Rock to note the local impact of the Stephens family.
The Stephens name adorns a 25-story office building downtown, a medical tower on the midtown campus of UAMS, the downtown campus of the Episcopal Collegiate School, the basketball arena at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, a baseball stadium, and the heart center at the CHI St. Vincent campus.
Founded in 1933 by Wilton Robert “Witt” Stephens, Stephens Inc., has grown to become the country’s largest off-Wall Street investment and financial services firm. Witt’s younger brother, Jackson T. “Jack” Stephens, joined the firm in 1946 and became its president 10 years later when Witt left the firm to lead Arkansas Louisiana Gas Co.
Through the years, Jack Stephens and his son Warren, who took over as Stephens Inc. CEO in 1986, have donated tens of millions to local projects and causes.
Jack Stephens gave $48 million to UAMS for what would become the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, and another $3 million established two endowed chairs in geriatrics at UAMS.
He provided $22 million so UALR could construct an on-campus arena, the Jack Stephens Center, and a $2.5 million gift to St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center created the Jack Stephens Heart Center. Golf is a Stephens family passion (Jack is a former chairman of Augusta National Golf Club), and a $5 million gift brought the First Tee program to Little Rock, where it teaches values to young people while introducing them to golf.
Plus, art donated by Jack Stephens to the Arkansas Arts Center has been valued at $22 million. Warren and wife Harriet donated $30 million to the Episcopal Collegiate School, which used the money to create an Ivy League-like campus for its lower and upper schools on Cantrell Road. Plus, Warren donated 11 acres along the Arkansas River in North Little Rock for construction of Dickey-Stephens Park, home of the Class AA baseball Arkansas Travelers.
When John W. Tyson set out on a trip to Chicago in the mid 1930s to seek a better price for his Arkansas chickens than he could get at home, he triggered the birth of an empire that stands as one of the pillars of business in Arkansas and around the world.
That first trip, with 500 chickens, was profitable enough to fund another, which eventually led to expansions into breeding innovations, hatcheries, feed production, transportation, processing plants and the founding of Tyson Foods Inc., in 1963. When John Tyson was killed in an automobile accident in 1967 son Don, who had dropped out of school to join the family business, took over as CEO, and by 1995 the company was the world’s largest poultry producer and ranked 110 on the Fortune 500 list.
Adhering to his company motto “Grow or die” Don Tyson saw to it that the company grew, making several important acquisitions until he retired in 2001. At the time of his death in 2011, Tyson Foods was still the world’s leader, with revenues of more than $25 billion and more than 300 facilities around the globe.
The aggressive approach to growth as well as political contributions and gifts during the candidacy and presidency of Bill Clinton conspired to give the company bad press at times, but there was no denying that Tyson Foods had become, along with Walmart and J.B. Hunt, one of Arkansas’ signature corporations by the time Don retired to settle in Fayetteville.
Like his father Don, John H. Tyson — CEO from 1996-2006 and company chairman since 2006 — learned the family business by working in it as a young man. Tyson acquired IBP, Inc., under his leadership to become the world’s largest protein processing company.
Don Tyson focused on charitable activities after his retirement and John has followed suit, investing some of the company’s success back into the state and American culture at large.
His efforts, often influenced by his faith, include serving on the boards of the Walden Woods Project — maintaining the legacy, writings and land of philosopher, author and naturalist Henry David Thoreau — the advisory board of Yale University Center for Faith and Culture and the board of Trustees at his alma mater, the University of Arkansas.
He chaired the committee for the university’s Capital Campaign for the 21st Century — to which the company and family donated $27 million — and has been a board member for a number of other causes, including the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and the Searchlight Leadership Fund. The Tyson Center for Faith and Spirituality in the Workplace at the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the UofA is named for John H. Tyson.
The Tyson Foods Foundation is the charitable branch of Tyson Foods Inc.
The Rockefellers of Arkansas only have to go back a few generations to find their New York roots, but a blend of thoughtful politics and philanthropy have made the Rockefellers a state institution.
The family staked its claim in Arkansas when Winthrop Rockefeller, grandson of Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller, moved from New York in 1953 following his divorce from his wife Barbara. He served two terms as Arkansas’ governor as he pursued politics like several other family members, including his brother Nelson, the former New York governor and vice president appointed by President Gerald Ford.
A moderate who ran as a reform governor, Rockefeller won the election in what had been a Democratic stronghold and made his party’s brand palatable. His only child, son Winthrop Paul Rockefeller, would serve as the state’s lieutenant governor and would briefly run for governor in 2006 before his cancer diagnosis cut short his bid and he died that year.
Cancer had also claimed the senior Winthrop Rockefeller in 1973.
The younger Rockefeller, sole heir of his father’s estate and with business interests that included real estate and auto dealerships, was among the richest men in the nation at the time of his death, with assets frequently estimated at $1.2 billion. But the Arkansas Rockefellers are more known for good works than any air of privilege.
The Rockefeller Trust established after the elder Winthrop Rockefeller’s death funded the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute on Petit Jean Mountain in Morrilton and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, which has given millions to worthy causes in the state, including reducing the number of poverty-stricken families, increasing high school, vocational school and college graduation rates and increasing the attainment of education and economic mobility in selected communities.
The Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute at UAMS is the state’s leading cancer research center and was renamed in 2007 for the former lieutenant governor after the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation made a donation of more than $12 million. Given the family’s history with the disease, treatment and cure has become a cause for Winthrop Rockefeller Jr. and his wife Natalie.
Before he opened his asset management company Theseus Hollings, LLC, in 2006, Win Rockefeller Jr. taught at The Academy at Riverdale for seven years. He is a longstanding cancer institute board member, and he helped found The Envoys — the group of of volunteers whose mission is to promote the cancer institute — in 2008. He has served as the group’s president and been a committee member and, with Natalie, a co-chair of the institute’s RockStar Lounge fundraising event. She also volunteers with Easter Seals, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and the Children’s Tumor Foundation, among other nonprofits. The two are parents to twin boys.
Lisenne Rockefeller, the widow of Lt. Gov. Winthrop P. Rockefeller, has been involved in philanthropy primarily through her work as a member of the board of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and has also served on multiple boards and was a founding member of the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas. She and her late husband provided leadership in founding The Academy at Riverdale, a nonprofit school in Little Rock for children with special needs.