On the road in and around Little Rock and Pine Bluff, Arkansas...


Little Rockís downtown skyline consists of about a half dozen high-rises. So whose name is on top of the tallest structure? Itís not a bank, an insurance firm or a utility company. Itís TCBY, the frozen yogurt company. TCBY (stands for "The Countryís Best Yogurt") was founded in Little Rock.

TCBY isnít big enough to make my list of companies to visit; however I canít resist going into the building. Thereís a yogurt shop in the lobby area. I ask one of the girls working in the shop if the head honchos have their own little TCBY shop on the executive floor. "Naw, they say, "they all come down here."

Stephens Inc.

I go to the downtown address I have for Stephens Inc. and find an empty building. Last year the privately-held investment firm moved into a new 25-story, blue glass building. Stephens Inc. (There is no comma after the name) occupies 11 floors in the buildingócalled the Stephens Building. The owner of the building is Stephens Holding Company.

The companyís trading floor is located on the first floor. I get a peek into Witt Stephensís old office. Witt Stephens, the companyís founder, passed away last year at the age of 83. His office on the second floor has a large picture window overlooking the trading floor.

Warren A. Stephens, the 35-year old President and CEO, has his office on the 25th floor. He has a great view of the state capitol buildingóArkansasís capitol building is a perfect three-quarter scale copy of the nationís capitol.

In case Iím confusing you: Witt Stephens is the founder of the company and he recently passed away. Wittís younger brother Jack (67 years old) is chairman of the company. Jackís son Warren is the 35-year-old CEO.

Though the company has only one office, it conducts business in all 50 states. That probably explains why the company has three corporate aircraft. About 500 people work in the corporate offices.


On the road in Pine Bluff, Arkansas...

But first, a word about dogs...

Riding a bike into Pine Bluff, Arkansas (population 57,000) is hazardous to your health. Iíve never been attacked by so many dogs. For a five-mile stretch on a backroad into town, at least 50 dogs actually come out onto the road to chase me. Now, Iíve done an awful lot of bike touring all over the country but Iíve never seen so many bicyclist-hungry dogs.

Most dogs that chase me are all bark and no action; once I stop my bike and greet them, they back off. Not the dogs of Pine Bluff. These dogs chase me in packs of two and three. Once time I stop and three dogs surround me. One looks like a Labrador/German Shepherd mix; another is a medium-sized terrier; the third is one of those tiny Chihuahuas. I should not have stoppedóevery time I try to ride off that blasted Chihuahua nips me. Thanks to a passing truck, I am finally able to make my escape.

Pine Bluff, Arkansas dogs, bad as they are, take a back seat to the farm dogs in southern Illinois and southern Indiana. Those dogs, for bicycle riders anyway, are by far the most vicious and persistent. Once, while riding through Bloomington, Indiana, I had two dogs tag-team me. The dogs gave chase on a country road. About every 100 yards or so one of the dogs would slow down and allow the other to pass and take the lead. They did this at least four times until one of them ripped a hole in one of my panniers (saddlebags.)

But the scariest and sneakiest dogs of all are Dobermans. Most dogs bark when they chase after you at least giving you warning or a chance to prepare. Not Dobermans. They wait until they catch youóTHEN they bark and/or bite. The traditional dog-early-warning system goes out the door.

Simmons First National Bank

As I ride into Pine Bluff, I know the name sounds familiar. I remember some kind of notoriety, but I canít put a handle on it. Then riding down Main Street, it hits me. Towering above the town sits the 10-story home office building of Simmons First National Bank. Simmons First National is the bank that usually tops the list of financial institutions around the country charging the lowest interest rates on bank credit cards. Walking inside, I introduce myself to the manager of the bank, George Brazeale. I explain my trek and tell him Iím passing through town. I want to see how this small-town bank stacks up against the big boys Iíve been visiting.

The building looks like it was built in the 1970ís. Everyone in the place stares at me like theyíve never seen anyone in shorts before. Or maybe theyíre staring because Iím from CaliforniaóI talk funny.

(For more information see: SFNCA)

Murphy Oil Corporation

Why is Murphy Oil Corporation (over $1.36 billion in revenues) located in out-of-the-way El Dorado, Arkansas? Because it was founded there, I find out.

Headquarters occupy a handsome, four-story building on the fringe of downtown. Downtown consists of an area only two blocks by two blocks so Murphy Oilís headquarters, three blocks away, is not very far. Built in 1984, headquarters sits on a site that previously housed an old mansion.

C. H. Murphy, Jr., the Chairman, has a collection of spurs in his office. Spurs are part of the companyís logo; also the companyís retail gas stations are called Spur.

I see the companyís boardroom; it houses the largest indoor globe Iíve ever seen. Itís reportedly the largest globe ever made by Rand McNally and it lights up when touched. Side note: I found out the CEO at Rand McNally Company in Skokie, Illinois collects antique globes.

El Dorado isnít exactly a transportation hub: Little Rock, Arkansas to the north is 120 miles away; Shreveport, Louisiana to the south is 100 miles away. This fact helps explain why the company has two corporate aircraft (both Citations.)

The companyís welcome canít be beat. They give me fresh chocolate chip cookies (still warm from the oven) and a spiffy tie (blue, with small red spurs all over it.) Now thatís what I call southern hospitality.

(For more information see: MUR)

Temple-Inland Inc.

Diboll, Texas, about 120 miles north of Houston and 170 miles east of Dallas, population 5,000, is home to Temple-Inland Inc. The company has interests in paper, packaging, building products and financial services (1991 revenues $2.51 billion)

Temple-Inland corporate headquarters is easy to find because a huge 20- by 30-foot U.S. flag graces the entrance. Anyone in town could have directed me to the place because itís a "company town." Sitting on a 39-acre site studded with pine and oak trees, the company-owned, four-story, 76,000 square-foot building has a serene look. You feel as though youíre in a park. In fact the site used to be a city park. The company wanted to have its headquarters on the main drag running through town so it worked out a land exchange with the town. That explains the swimming pool complexóa leftover from the town park. About 350 employees work in the building.

The executive dining room is known as the "Big Pops" room. Named for Arthur Temple, Jr., Chairman, thereís even a plaque on the door with the name on it.

Thereís a helipad on the grounds for the companyís fleet of three helicopters. A county airport several miles away houses its three corporate planes (one of which is a Falcon 50.)

(For more information see: TIN)

On the Road in Northwest Arkansas...

Arkansas Best Corp.

Arkansas Best Corporation is the fifth largest motor carrier of general commodities in the U.S. The privately-held company had revenues in 1991 of $884 million. I get the figure from a prospectus that Randall Loyd, Director: Financial Reporting, gives me. The company is doing an initial public offering.

Headquarters is in a company-owned, one-story building located in a residential area about five miles from downtown Fort Smith, Arkansas.

Phew! The whole building reeks of cigarettes. About 230 employees work in the building and several nearby structures.

R.A. Young, III, the CEO, has a plaque on his desk which reads "No surprises." Youngís wood-paneled office also has a globe, four stuffed ducks, a stuffed peasant (SIC) and a working fireplace. He smokes lots of cigars. By the time I leave I feel sick from the smell of tobacco.

Donrey Media Group

Donrey Media Group is the privately-held media conglomerate founded by Donald W. Reynolds. Iíve heard of Reynolds because the 85-year-old tycoon is a fixture on the "Forbes" list of 400 richest Americans. Donrey Media owns over 50 daily and 71 non-daily newspapers, one television station, five cable television companies and 12 outdoor advertising companies (i.e. billboards).

One story I read said Reynolds is very frugalóa real penny-pincher. So Iím not surprised to find a gawd-awful green building with no windows when I arrive at headquarters. The building, located downtown, houses the offices for the local Ft. Smith newspaper. Turns out the Donrey Media Group moved to new offices about a year ago but the sign on the building still says: Donrey Media Group. No sense wasting a perfectly good sign, I guess.

About five miles from downtown I find the new headquarters. Itís a good-looking, two-story building. Two large billboards sit on the property near the street, company-owned, Iím sure.

When I walk into the building I find no receptionist or phones. On one side of the lobby I spot a glass case filled with pictures of and articles about Reynolds. I ask directions from a passing employee and find my way to the second floor. I check with the CEOís secretary. Turns out Fred Smith, CEO, isnít in so she refers me to Terry Johnson, Director: Communication Services. Johnson is a heck of a nice guy but he smokes the whole time Iím in his office. My head still reels from this meeting hours later.

About 135 employees work in the company-owned, 61,000 square-foot building. An employee tells me Smith (the CEO) spends most of his time in the companyís national office in Las Vegas. Reynolds also lives in Las Vegas. The Ft. Smith offices are known as the Administrative headquarters. Thereís a boardroom in the Ft. Smith offices and in the Las Vegas offices.

Iím told the office building in Las Vegas is a replica of a Spanish castle. The story goes that Reynolds, in his early years, took a boat trip to Europe. (The boat was filled with mules, by the way.) As the boat passed the Spanish shoreline, Reynolds saw several castles and reportedly said to himself, "I will have my own castle someday."

Commuting between Ft. Smith, Arkansas and Las Vegas, Nevada poses no special problems, especially if you have a Boeing 727 and an Astra in your corporate fleet. Reynolds has the right of first refusal on the 727, so Iím told. Iím particularly impressed with the nice reception I receive and the friendly people I meet at Donrey. As Iíve mentioned before, I usually get lousy receptions at media companies.

J.B. Hunt

I keep seeing these distinctive J.B. Hunt trucks in Portland, Maine; Portland, Oregon; Miami, Florida, and everywhere in between. J.B. Hunt Transport Services is the largest publicly-held truckload carrier in the U.S. Truckload means they take a full load and deliver the entire load to one destination as opposed to making various stops along a route.

Corporate headquarters is a good-looking, five-story building about half a mile from downtown Lowell, Arkansas. Lowellís about 10 miles south of Bentonville, Arkansas (home to Wal-Mart headquarters).

The company-owned, 150,000 square-foot building was built in 1990. A plaque on an outside wall near the entrance says: "A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed."

After waiting over an hour in the lobby, I finally meet with Douglas Reed, Personnel and Training Manager. He gives me an extensive tour. Over 900 employees work at the site. It has a stocked fish pond out back and a volleyball and basketball court.

Waiting in the lobby gives me a chance to examine an employee handbook. I am amazed at the companyís strict written dress code.

Here it is:

Menís Dress Code

A tie must be worn at all times.

No beards

No earrings

No athletic shoes of any color.

Socks must be worn at all times.

No denim pants, ever.

Now picture me. Iím wearing rugby shorts and Topsiders. No wonder people stare at me while Reed gives me my tour.

Womenís Dress Code

No denim pants, jean skirts or jean dresses.

Hosiery (not socks) must be worn at all times.

No sun dresses or revealing clothing shall be worn without a jacket.

Slacks can be no shorter than one inch above the ankle.

Play clothes are not considered appropriate office attire and are not permitted. Play clothes are defined as: very short skirts (a hem length 1 and a half inches above the knee or longer is acceptable), T-shirt-type dresses, cropped pants, etc.

No sandals or athletic shoes of any color.

J.B Hunt, Chairman, has two footballs in his office. One is signed by Johnny Unitas and the other is signed by the Dallas Cowboys. Hunt also has the largest globe ever made by Rand McNally. When you touch it, it lights up. How big is it? Take six basketballs, smash them together and you have a ball approximately the size of this globe.

(For more information see JBHT)