Life begins at 50, the saying goes, to which the incomparable Phyllis Diller once replied, “Maybe it’s true that life begins at 50. But everything else starts to wear out, fall out or spread out.” (The women and men included on the following pages, at least, will find that funny … not to mention, they actually know who Phyllis Diller is.)
Fifty is the new 40, or something like that, but in this Ponce de Leon age of youth worship, we at AMP thought it would be nice to recognize those business leaders in Arkansas who aren’t under 40 or in their 20s. Once one hits the milestone age of 50, life doesn’t stop, after all. For many, it speeds up. Nominated by readers, the leaders recognized in AMP’s inaugural Fifty Over 50 list haven’t slowed down — they have realized more success, achieved new goals and even launched entirely new chapters. And we salute them.
The vigor of youth is a beautiful and necessary thing. But so is the wisdom and discernment of age. Besides, like the saying goes, 50 is nothing more than the new 40, right?
The members of AMP’s inaugural Fifty Over 50 list were nominated by readers. They represent a broad spectrum of Arkansas business, industry and politics. They are former state legislators, business owners, CEOs
and more who represent industries ranging from farming and construction
to restaurants and retail.
Some of them started on an upward trajectory early in their careers and haven’t slowed down. Others began new chapters later in their journeys and achieved success — and made profound impacts on their communities — in new ways.
We’re proud to recognize these women and men-… experienced, seasoned Arkansas leaders whose collective journey is just beginning.
In 1991, Susan Brashears and her husband, Doug, became the third-generation owners of Brashears Furniture. The company has been locally owned and operated in the Ozarks for more than 80 years. Based in Berryville, the company has locations in Springdale and Branson.
Brashears Furniture was previously selected as the National Retailer of the Year by the National Home Furniture Association and by NBC’s Extreme Home Makeover to participate in the Joplin Makeover edition after the devastating tornado.
Brashears feels it is important to support the communities in which she lives and works. Kids and animals in need are near and dear to her heart. Each year, the Brashears donate more than 100 mattresses to local children in need through their Beds for Kids program. Brashears Furniture also supports local Humane Societies and many other local nonprofits.
Pennye L. Bray
Environmental Director for the Water Division
Pennye L. Bray is environmental director for the Water Division at ECCI, an environmental engineering and consulting firm in Little Rock. A graduate of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Bray has worked in the environmental field for 35 years, beginning as a chemist and later serving as manager of the first aquatic toxicity testing laboratory certified in the state of Arkansas. In this role, Bray was responsible for overseeing several colonies of test organisms to meet the required EPA criteria and standards, ensuring all bioassays were scheduled and properly conducted, QA/QC for all data produced, statistical analysis of the data, report writing and managing the staff in the toxicity lab. Bray eventually transitioned into consulting where she has worked for the last 30 years.
In her current role, she works with industries all over Arkansas and surrounding states to assist in compliance with environmental permits and reporting requirements. Bray manages numerous projects, assists other employees in ensuring that projects are completed, and is involved in bringing in new business, submitting cost proposals and mentoring new employees.
Northwest Arkansas National Airport
Aaron Burkes joined the Northwest Arkansas National Airport in November 2018. Currently, he serves as a member of the Transportation Industry Council for the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and serves on the board for Arvest Bank of Benton County. He previously served as a member of the Governor’s Cabinet as president of the Arkansas Development Finance Authority. Prior to joining state government, Burkes worked as a vice president of administration/ CFO and other senior leadership roles with Madison College and as the executive director of a regional planning commission and council of governments in Iowa.
Burkes is a former state representative in the Arkansas General Assembly and has more than 17 years of banking and real estate development experience in Northwest Arkansas. He has a B.S. from the University of Arkansas, an M.A. in economics from Clemson University and a J.D. from Baylor University. He is a licensed attorney and licensed contractor.
Stephen Caldwell is the founder and Chief Word Architect for WordBuilders Communications, as well as a part-time writer dude (editorial consultant) for the Sam M. Walton College of Business. He has collaborated on more than 30 books, mostly as a ghostwriter, and is a regular contributor to the Walton Insights blog site. Some of his more recent book projects include Uncompromising by Comcast West President Steven White, The Dean’s List by Walton College Dean Matt Waller, Transfluence by former Prologis CEO Walt Rakowich, Love Is Just Damn Good Business by Steve Farber, Purple On The Inside by Waller and JBHT Chairman Kirk Thompson, 41 Deposits by Steve Graves and Flipped by Sage Partners co-founder Mark Saviers.
After a career as a sportswriter, columnist and editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Caldwell helped launch an award-winning magazine, The Life@Work Journal. He has more than 35 years of experience with a broad background that includes projects with ministries, start-ups, Fortune 500 companies, pastors and CEOs.
Katherine Blackmon Carroll
Law Offices of Katherine E. Blackmon
Katherine Blackmon Carroll is the owner and managing attorney of the Law Offices of Katherine E. Blackmon, a trauma-informed family law firm with an emphasis on helping clients navigate difficult times with empathy and expertise. Carroll earned her bachelor’s degree from Southern Methodist University and her juris doctorate from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. After Carroll passed the bar exam and received her license to practice, she began renting a one-room office in the Centre Place building in downtown Little Rock in 1997.
The firm’s goals are to walk clients through difficult domestic situations and to provide representation tailored for each individual client. Blackmon’s firm serves the unique needs of each client and works toward fair resolutions while vigorously protecting its clients’ rights and needs. Under her leadership, Carroll’s team continues to fight aggressively for clients and just as frequently talks clients through the emotions that go hand-in-hand with experiencing a divorce or custody matter.
Louis A. Cella
Oaklawn Jockey Club
Louis A. Cella, a 1990 graduate of the University of Arkansas Law School, was named President of the Oaklawn Jockey Club Dec. 20, 2017, succeeding his late father, Charles J. Cella. Earlier in 2017, Cella became the third generation of his family to serve on the board of the Thoroughbred Racing Association (TRA). His grandfather, John G. Cella, served as president of the organization from 1959 to 1960, and his father served as president in 1975 and 1976. Cella also is a director of the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau (T.R.P.B.) and was elected to The Jockey Club, which establishes the recommended standards for the thoroughbred horse-racing industry. In 2018, he joined the board of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. He is also a member of the Equibase Management Committee and Director of the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation.
Cella has overseen the $100 million expansion of Oaklawn that represents one of the largest hospitality investments in the history of Arkansas. Completed last year, the project added a luxury hotel, multipurpose event center, expanded casino, spa, additional dining options and on-site parking and more.
Central Arkansas Library System
Nate Coulter has served as the executive director of the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) since 2016. CALS consists of 15 branches throughout Pulaski and Perry counties in Central Arkansas, as well as the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, Ron Robinson Theater and the Galleries & Bookstore at Library Square in Little Rock. Under Coulter’s leadership, CALS has expanded outreach and programming by hiring community liaisons to better engage Black and Latino communities and launching the Count UP math tutoring program and Rock It! Lab entrepreneurial hub.
A Harvard Law School alumnus, Coulter has served as legal counsel to Gov. Bill Clinton and maintained a trial practice in Arkansas for more than 25 years. He currently serves on the Downtown Little Rock Partnership Board and was one of the original members of the Our House Board and the Arkansas Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission. In 2016, Coulter received the Arkansas Bar Association’s Equal Justice Distinguished Service Award.
Arkansas Capital Corp.
As a natural extension of his university degrees, Rush Deacon began his career in what he describes as the less-exciting world of hourly billings – first with an international accounting firm in Houston and London, and then in local law practice. Later, he found his more passionate calling in executive leadership roles, first as president of Arkansas Development Finance Authority in Gov. Mike Huckabee’s administration.
In 2001, he joined Safe Foods Corporation in its early startup days as CSO and eventually, CEO, helping guide SFC from the always challenging development stage to becoming a profitable global leader in food safety technologies. In 2016, he resigned from his executive role at SFC (remaining on the board) to assume full-time CEO responsibilities at Arkansas Capital Corporation, the nonprofit, special-purpose finance organization. He recently led oversight by the SFC board in a successful sale of that company to a group controlled by The Blackstone Group of New York. On Jan. 1, he passed the CEO reins at ACC to Sam Walls III, but remains at ACC in a project finance role.
Store Manager/Board of Directors
Sissy’s Log Cabin
Jim Engelhorn was born and raised in Bloomington, Ill., where he started in the jewelry business at age 15. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois. After a lengthy career in management and consulting, he moved to Little Rock in 2017. He was general manager of another local jeweler before going to work for Sissy’s Log Cabin and is helping the company enjoy record growth the last four years.
Engelhorn has 37 years of experience in the jewelry business in sales and sales management. He is a Diamonds Graduate and multiple certificate holder from The Gemological Institute of America.
Jim English, M.D.
English Plastic and Cosmetic Surgery Center
Jim English, MD, FACS, FICS, an Arkansas native, is an internationally renowned surgeon with a career spanning 40 years. He is triple board-certified and has authored medical articles, textbook chapters and trained 25 surgeons through his fellowship program in Little Rock. He is best known as “The Face Doctor,” specializing in facial transformations that enhance the outer appearance to match the loveliness inside, focusing on attention to detail and realistic expectations. English also offers spa services for the maintenance of healthy, beautiful, glowing skin for a younger-looking countenance. His private medical practice and accredited surgical facility are located on the Baptist Health campus in Little Rock.
Pastor, Church at Rock Creek
Owner, Mr. Wicks
For 30 years, Mark Evans has been helping people from all walks of life make the most of their life in their relationships, personal lives and careers. As a teenager, he worked as the clubhouse manager for the Arkansas Travelers, where he learned the meaning of hard work, long hours and how to get along with people from all types of different backgrounds. During college, he worked as a personal and research assistant for the Arkansas Secretary of State, frequently traveling to official engagements throughout the state.
After a career in student ministry wrapped up in Florida, Evans returned to his home state in 1995 to start a new church concept in Little Rock. From an opening day attendance of 24 people, The Church at Rock Creek has grown to more than 5,000 members in the last two decades. In addition, Evans is the owner of Mr. Wicks men’s clothing store in Little Rock’s Heights neighborhood.
As a second-generation KFC franchisee, Chris Fowler began his career as a cook in the family’s restaurant business, eventually becoming President in 1985. Until the recent sale of the business, Fowler operated 91 restaurants in eight states. He was a strong voice for his fellow KFC franchisees having earned numerous awards and serving in multiple leadership positions.
Fowler credits his family, friends and employees for his success and accomplishments.
To give back, he supports charitable organizations such as the NEA Baptist Charitable Foundation, the American Cancer Society, the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute and Arkansas Children’s Foundation with his wife, Kim, through donations and fundraising events. He also devotes time serving on the American Cancer Society and UAMS boards. He looks forward to working on new business ventures and spending time with his family, especially his granddaughters, Caroline and Clara.
Community Bank President
Farmers & Merchants Bank
Sally Gilbert is the Mountain Home community bank president for Farmers & Merchants Bank, based in Stuttgart. She has been with Farmers & Merchants since October. She previously served seven years as the community bank president for Arvest Bank’s Mountain Home operations and for almost 10 years as senior vice president for business development at Centennial Bank before that. In her current role, she leads Mountain Home operations, which include five locations in the Mountain Home area, for Farmers & Merchants.
Gilbert received her bachelor’s degree in communication management from Missouri State University, and she is a graduate of the Walton Institute. She serves on the board of Baxter Regional Medical Center and is a member of Mountain Home Rotary Club.
President & CEO
Baldwin & Shell
Bobby Gosser began his career at Little Rock’s Baldwin & Shell Construction Co. in 1987. Over his successful career, he has served as an estimator, project coordinator, project manager, division manager, vice president, division president, president-elect and since January, president and CEO. His numerous certifications, honors and awards include Estimator and Recruiter of the Year from the Arkansas chapter of the American Society of Professional Estimators (ASPE) and Chairman of the Year from the Arkansas chapter of Associated General Contractors (AGC).
Gosser is a member of the American Society of Professional Estimators; he is also involved with the Associated General Contractors of America Arkansas Chapter, Ford NGL Committee and is a past member of the MBE Construction Mentoring Program. In addition, Gosser has been active his entire life in community affairs in his hometown of North Little Rock. He has recently served as board chair of the North Little Rock Chamber, is a member of the North Little Rock Rotary Club, has been board chair of the Heflin Family YMCA, the Burns Park Athletic Association, and served as a board member of the North Little Rock School District.
Throughout her career, Kalene Griffith has worked collaboratively and enthusiastically with her Bentonville community, the Northwest Arkansas region and the state to promote and share the tourism story. Griffith has led Visit Bentonville since 2005, bringing with her key learnings from her previous career in early childhood education and time working for the Walt Disney World Resorts in Orlando.
These experiences helped ignite her passion for tourism and helping people.
Griffith currently serves as chair of the Arkansas State Parks and Tourism Commission and is a board member of the Arkansas Hospitality Association Travel Council, Arkansas Association of Convention Visitors Bureau, Bentonville Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Bentonville Inc., Bentonville Public Arts Advisory Board, Bentonville History Museum, Amazeum Children’s Museum and Dress For Success. She has won several distinguished business awards from statewide publications and was named one of AY Magazine’s Intriguing Women in 2019.
Mayor of Arkansas City
Community Outreach Coordinator, Aristotle
Rick Hales is the mayor of Arkansas City, the county seat of Desha County; the Director of Community Partnerships for Aristotle Unified Communications of Little Rock; a licensed Realtor and developer; and one of the leading proponents of tourism development around the Delta Heritage Trail.
At Aristotle, he brought broadband internet service to Arkansas City, a historic “last mile community” located at the levee of the Mississippi River. He is renovating three properties in town listed on the National Register of Historic Places and owns and runs the historic Furr House bed and breakfast.
The University of Arkansas at Monticello alum served in the U.S. Army as an operations systems research analyst for the Army Chief of Staff at the Pentagon. Back home, he applied his talents in owning and operating a low voltage electronics business for nearly three decades, serving southeast Arkansas residences, businesses and schools. In Arkansas City, he has plans to develop a catfish/rib joint with live blues music, an internet café and coffee shop within the town’s historic district.
Rush F. Harding III
Director, Investments and Strategic Opportunities
Rush F. Harding III graduated from Clarendon High School in 1972 and received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point from Sen. John McClellan.
He graduated from the University of Central Arkansas and joined T. J. Raney & Sons. In 1979, with Adron Crews and five other partners, he founded the investment banking firm known as Crews & Associates. He served Crews as EVP from 1979 to 1996, was named president in 1996 and CEO in 2000. In September of 2021, Harding accepted a position at Bank OZK as Director of Investments and Strategic Opportunities.
Harding was a long-standing member of the boards at UCA and Pulaski Academy and also has served on the boards of the Arkansas Arts Center, Philander Smith College and the Methodist Foundation of Arkansas. In 2018, Harding was granted an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Philander Smith College for his contributions of time and resources to the college and the Central Arkansas community.
President and CEO
White River Bancshares/Signature Bank of Arkansas
Gary Head began his banking career in 1983 with McIlroy Bank and Trust in Fayetteville and was recruited in 1984 by First State Bank where he served as vice president, commercial lending. Head graduated from the SMU School of Banking in 1987 and that same year, rejoined McIlroy — which became Arvest Bank — as VP for commercial loans. During his tenure with Arvest, Head served as loans division manager and EVP/sales manager. In 1999, he was named president and CEO of Fayetteville operations. Head maintained that position until May 2004 when he resigned to launch Signature Bank of Arkansas.
Signature officially opened its doors on May 9, 2005, and under Head’s leadership has grown to sit on the cusp of becoming a $1 billion bank. Head is a graduate of the University of Arkansas and the SMU and LSU (master’s) schools of banking. He serves on the boards of many Arkansas organizations including the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce (vice chair), the Northwest Arkansas Council, Ozark Guidance Center Foundation, Pagnozzi Charities, Goshen Fire Department, Arkansas Independent Community Bankers Board and the Washington Regional Medical Center Foundation.
Matt Jones, JD, CFP
Matt Jones, JD, CFP, serves as president at Legacy Capital and is a wealth adviser to clientele throughout the United States. His areas of expertise include asset management, estate tax and multigenerational wealth transfer planning and life insurance planning. Jones received a BSBA in financial management from the Walton School of Business at the University of Arkansas, where he was a member of the Razorback tennis team.
While enrolled in law school, he clerked at three of Arkansas’ largest law firms before deciding his passion was in finance and investments. He also spent part of his early career with investment banking firms such as Morgan Keegan Inc. of Memphis and is also a multiple qualifier for MDRT’s exclusive Top of the Table recognizing the life insurance industry’s top advisers. Jones is active in the community, serving on several nonprofit boards and ministries. He currently serves as chair of the Baptist Health Foundation Board.
Dr. Asad Khan
MidSouth Health Systems
Dr. Asad Khan is a board-certified general and child/adolescent psychiatrist for MidSouth Health Systems in Jonesboro, where he has worked for 18 years. His postgraduate training was at University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas. He provides mental health services to children in local schools and also works as a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist for Consolidated Youth Services of Jonesboro. He also teaches family practice residents at UAMS as an adjunct assistant professor of psychiatry.
Khan chairs the executive committee of the Democratic Party of Craighead County and serves on the boards of Craighead County Community Foundation and the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust, the fundraising arm of the largest cancer hospital system in Pakistan, which provides free cancer treatment to those who can’t afford care. He was born and raised in Pakistan in a family of practicing psychiatrists. His father was a pioneer of psychiatry in Pakistan and his parents served the refugees from Afghanistan after the invasion by the USSR.
President and CEO
As president and CEO of Tyson Foods, Donnie King leads more than 139,000 team members at more than 150 facilities around the world. The Tyson portfolio of brands includes Tyson®, Jimmy Dean®, Hillshire Farm®, Sara Lee®, Ball Park®, Wright®, Aidells® and State Fair®. King started his career at Tyson Foods in 1982 in the poultry segment and has since held leadership positions in businesses across the company.
Most recently, in the roles of COO and international business group resident, he helped grow Tyson’s global footprint including in high-growth markets in Asia. He also served as president of North American operations, where he was responsible for poultry, fresh meats, international and prepared foods operations. King has served on the board of directors of the National Chicken Council and the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business management from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.
President and CEO
Arkansas Community Foundation
Heather Larkin, a native of Charleston, joined Arkansas Community Foundation in 1998 and became its president and CEO in January 2008. She is committed to and enjoys engaging people and connecting resources to build stronger communities in Arkansas. She was also named as a scholar in residence at the Clinton School of Public Service Center for exemplary contributions in the field of community philanthropy.
Larkin is a Hull Fellow and attended the Hull Leadership Program, a program to nurture and inspire the region’s philanthropic leaders. She attended Hendrix College in Conway and while at Hendrix, she competed in several sports including cross country, track and basketball. Larkin serves or has served on the boards of Just Communities of Arkansas, Keep Arkansas Beautiful Foundation, Rotary Club 99 and Acansa Arts Festival. She was inducted into the Hendrix Athletic Hall of Honor in 2007. She is also a member of various organizations and is a graduate of Leadership Greater Little Rock class 19 and of Leadership Arkansas Class 1.
Dr. Lubna Maruf
Chief Medical Officer and Market Vice President
Arkansas Health Network
Dr. Lubna Maruf has been positively impacting the lives of patients as a primary care provider for 25 years. But she’s just getting started. In her 50s, Maruf has become a leader in rethinking and improving health care delivery in Arkansas. She serves as the chief medical officer and market vice president of Arkansas Health Network (AHN), where she is working to improve the health care experience for patients, providers and employers.
As AHN’s CMO, she leads the charge in managing more than 125,000 patients across the state by partnering with a growing group of nearly 3,000 providers and 18 hospitals. Maruf provides leadership as a board member of the Arkansas Behavioral Health Integration Network and is a citizen diplomat with Arkansas Global Ties. Her goal is to build a better health care system for Arkansas, one that others will want to emulate across the country. Last year, AHN’s emphasis on quality (score of 98.2 percent) and value-based care resulted in $12.9 million in Medicare savings as well as other record-breaking performances in commercial populations.
George McGill was elected mayor of Fort Smith in August 2018. As the first African American ever to be elected Fort Smith mayor, McGill is a trailblazer who has used his dedication to public service to advance the common good at the federal, state and local levels. Prior to his election as mayor, McGill represented Fort Smith, his hometown, in the Arkansas House of Representatives for three terms. As a state representative for District 78, he earned the respect of his legislative peers on both sides of the political aisle.
In addition, he was elected to key leadership positions even though he was in the legislative minority. McGill earned his Bachelor of Science in education and an MBA from the University of Arkansas.
President and CEO
Delta Dental of Arkansas
Kristin Merlo took over as president and CEO of Delta Dental of Arkansas in September, succeeding the retiring Ed Choate. Delta Dental is the largest dental and vision insurance provider in the state, helping with more than 800,000 members in Arkansas and more than 2.4 million members nationally.
Merlo has served in senior leadership roles in the Delta Dental system over the past 21 years, most recently as senior vice president and chief operating officer for Delta Dental of Virginia (2018-2021) and with Delta Dental of Washington (2000-2018). Before joining Delta Dental, Merlo served in various sales, marketing and brand management roles with Eli Lilly and Company. Merlo is a University of Virginia graduate, holding a bachelor’s degree in history and an MBA from the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business.
Founder, Jacksson David
Executive Director, Ark Angel Alliance
David Moody is the founder of Jacksson David LLC, a business consulting firm; the former deputy director of the U.S. Small Business Administration in Arkansas; and a “NASA guy.” He served for 13 years in the aerospace industry as a program analyst, manager and consultant for the Shuttle, Space Lab and Space Station programs at NASA. He has owned and operated several businesses in the fields of risk management, retail and business consulting; run a $52 million program for the Arkansas Energy Office; and invested in dozens of Arkansas startup companies. His consulting firm provides a variety of services for small- and medium-sized businesses. He was recently named executive director for the Ark Angel Alliance and is leading the Minority Business Empowerment Fund program with Southern Bancorp and the Croom Firm. His newest endeavor is developing the Faith-Based Executive Officers (FBXO) peer group.
Moody has served on a variety of boards including nonprofits dedicated to education, technology training, veterans and supporting startup companies. In addition to consulting, he speaks and writes on leadership, organizational culture and entrepreneurship, and has a social media following as StartupDad.
Dr. Keith Mooney has been with Arkansas Urology since 1987. He received his medical degree from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences after earning a bachelor’s degree from Hendrix College in Conway. He was a urology and surgery resident at UAMS. Mooney is certified by the American Board of Urology. He is a member of the American Medical Association, American Urological Association, American Association of Clinical Urologists, Arkansas Medical Society, Arkansas Urologic Society and Pulaski County Medical Society.
Media and Public Relations Specialist
SixtyOne Celsius Marketing and Advertising
Neal Moore is a 40-year veteran of the advertising, marketing and public relations business and began his career as a production team member at the Arkansas Educational Television Network (Arkansas PBS) and was a founding partner of The Communications Group in Little Rock. His new affiliation has him working on SixtyOne Celsius clients such as Stone Bank and the Mid-America Science Museum. He is an award-winning voiceover announcer and has added his voice to television and radio spots all over the country. He attended the University of Central Arkansas and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. He is a member of the board of trustees of Academics Plus Charter Schools.
Robert S. Moore Jr.
Arkansas Highway Commission
Arkansas Highway Commission Chairman Robert S. Moore Jr. graduated from McGehee High School, Ouachita Baptist University and the University of Arkansas School of Law. After college, he was an infantry officer in the U.S. Army and a Vietnam War veteran. Moore served 20 years under three governors as director of the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control. Beginning in 2007, he was elected to three terms in the Arkansas Legislature, and as Speaker during his final term, passed the original legislation for ARDOT’s Connecting Arkansas Program, one of the largest highway construction programs in Arkansas’ history. Having also passed legislation promoting tourism in the Arkansas Delta, Moore’s passion has continued to be the revitalization of his hometown, Arkansas City, and the surrounding Delta region. He has worked on major projects in southeast Arkansas including the Delta Heritage Trail, Choctaw Island WMA, the John H. Johnson Museum and the historic Desha County Courthouse restoration. He has received numerous awards for his efforts promoting tourism-based economic development and was inducted into the Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame in 2019. Moore is also a longtime, low-keyed, singer-songwriter who recently began publishing some of his work under his alias, JR Grace Music. Moore and his wife, Beverly, live on their farm just outside of Arkansas City.
Central Arkansas Nursing Centers
Michael Morton incorporated Central Arkansas Nursing Centers in 1990 and has grown it into one of the state’s largest administrative services companies. It services 37 skilled care facilities, an assisted living facility and numerous other related businesses including a group purchasing organization, pharmacies, a mobile imaging lab and more, all owned by Morton. Central Arkansas Nursing Centers, based in Fort Smith, administers an annual payroll of roughly $150 million for more than 5,000 employees.
An Oklahoma native, Morton graduated from college at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah in 1972 and went to work as an accountant in an Oklahoma nursing home. By 1976, he and a partner had purchased a nursing home in Booneville and later built one in Perry County. Two years later, they purchased two more nursing homes in Hope, all before Morton’s 30th birthday and all of which he still owns and operates.
Dr. Victoria Ramirez
Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts
Dr. Victoria Ramirez began her tenure with the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts (AMFA) in 2019 and is currently leading the institution’s next chapter of transformation and the opening of its expanded campus in Little Rock’s MacArthur Park. Ramirez has more than 25 years of experience, having served as director of the El Paso Museum of Art and the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin. Previously, she worked in art museum education at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, where she found joy in teaching children and adults art history and appreciation. Ramirez is leading the reshaping of AMFA to expand exhibitions and programming to reach new audiences while honoring the legacy of more than 85 years of celebrating the visual and performing arts.
Founder and President
A native of Stillwater, Okla., and a graduate of Oklahoma State University, Jay Ramsey founded New York Bagel and Deli in Little Rock in 1994. As the demand for catering increased, Ramsey transitioned from a dine-in bagel shop and deli to a full-service catering establishment, Rx Catering, in 2004. Rx Catering famously caters to “anyone with an appetite” but specializes in business lunches, special events and weddings. Ramsey’s 28 years in food service has provided many opportunities for community service and involvement. Most recently, he served on the board of YoungLife supporting adolescents in growing their Christian faith. In addition, Ramsey provides free meals to local youth through the Lessons for Life organization, the Little Rock Marathon, the Ms. Arkansas Pageant and various homeless outreach programs. He attributes much of Rx Catering’s success to his long-term co-workers, some for 20-plus years.
Roberson’s Fine Jewelry
When Steve Roberson felt the pull to retire in 2008, Trish Roberson was just ready to get started. She had purchased at market for the store but up until that time, raising their four children had been her main focus. In 2008, with all of her kids out of the house, Roberson (then 50) was ready to take Roberson’s Fine Jewelry and turn it into the destination luxury jewelry store that it is today. Through an unparalleled eye for fashion and love for adventure, she has pushed the boundaries and expectations of what a jewelry purchasing experience should be.
Joe Ruddell is the president of Generations Bank, headquartered in Rogers. In his role, Ruddell is responsible for the bank’s loan and overall asset growth through oversight of the bank’s branch network, spanning from south Arkansas to southwest Missouri. Under Ruddell’s leadership as president, Generations has grown by approximately $180 million in total assets. Ruddell joined Generations in 2014 and has served in several roles including market president and NWA regional president before being promoted to bank president in January 2020.
Ruddell has more than 30 years of banking experience, which began at the Arkansas State Bank Department. His path was carved by serving in many different facets of the banking industry and through his servant-leadership style.
Ruddell holds a bachelor’s degree in business and economics from Hendrix College and a graduate banking degree from Southwestern Graduate School of Banking, Southern Methodist University.
The Sells Agency
The Sells Agency is a full-service marketing firm with a laser-like focus on achieving business success for clients. At the helm is CEO Mike Sells, with brand experience for more than 40 companies throughout the state and region. Not satisfied that agencies in the state at the time were too focused on specific marketing tactics — advertising, PR, design, digital, etc. — Sells created a true marketing firm focused on the business goals of its clients while offering a wide range of specific services. This has resulted in many long-term client relationships with many of Arkansas’ leading companies. When Sells isn’t steering the ship that is The Sells Agency, he enjoys spending time with his wife and visiting their children and grandchildren.
Dr. James Shemwell
Arkansas Northeastern College
Dr. James Shemwell is a product of the very institution he now leads. Having left Blytheville High School after the 11th grade to attend what is now Arkansas Northeastern College, he went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Arkansas State University. He later earned a master’s degree in finance from Texas Tech University and a doctorate degree in organizational leadership from the University of Phoenix. Prior to ANC, he spent a decade working in banking and business consulting.
Shemwell started out at ANC in 1994 as director of the college’s Osceola Center. He moved up the ranks to Dean for Technical Programs & Training in 1999, then to Vice President for Finance in 2010, where he served until his appointment as president in January 2013. Through his leadership, ANC has been recognized nationally for its successful model of workforce development, helping pave the way to Mississippi County becoming America’s new steel production capital. He also has spearheaded an outreach to underserved students. In 2021, the ANC minority graduation rate exceeded the national average for minority graduates by 10 percent.
Kris Shewmake, M.D., FACS
Shewmake Plastic Surgery
Dr. Kris Shewmake has been transforming the lives of his patients in his Little Rock private practice since 1996. His extensive experience with cranial and facial surgeries, including on infants with birth deformities, has allowed him to hone his skills for facial reconstructive surgeries and offer his clients the chance to look as young as they feel.
After receiving his medical degree from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, where he was president of his class and a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society, Shewmake spent eight years in surgical training. His training included a general surgery residency at UAMS and a plastic and reconstructive surgery residency at the University of Texas-Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
From there, he spent an additional year at UCLA working with children and adults affected by facial birth deformities. Upon completion of his fellowship in 1992, Shewmake returned to his native state and served as chief of plastic surgery at UAMS and Arkansas Children’s Hospital before opening Shewmake Plastic Surgery in 1996. He is one of only two plastic surgeons in Arkansas to become a member of the Association of Plastic Surgeons.
Small & Associates Financial Services/Ameriprise
One of Central Arkansas’ prominent financial advisors, Joey Small is a private wealth advisor and president of Little Rock’s Small & Associates Financial, a private wealth advisory practice of Ameriprise Financial Services LLC. The firm provides financial advice “anchored in a solid understanding of client needs and expectations and built upon one-on-one relationships to help clients achieve their goals, today and tomorrow.”
Small has 22 years of experience with Ameriprise Financial, during which time he has been named to Barron’s Top 1,200 Financial Advisors 2014-2022, Barron’s Top 1,000 Financial Advisors 2009-2013, to the Ameriprise Chairman’s Advisory Council 2007-2022, and Forbes’ Best-in-State Wealth Advisors 2018, 2020-2021.
President and CEO
Brent Stevenson Associates
Brent Stevenson is president and CEO of his own company, Brent Stevenson Associates, a public-affairs association management firm in downtown Little Rock. He represents clients in the public policy arena. He works with the Arkansas Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and the Arkansas Forest & Paper Council.
A graduate of the Institute of Organization Management, Stevenson has 37 years of experience in governmental affairs. He has previously served as regional manager, government affairs for Georgia-Pacific Corporation and director of government affairs in the Arkansas Secretary of State’s Office. Stevenson currently serves as secretary/treasurer of the board for the Arkansas Sheriffs’ Youth Ranches. He is a past board member of the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce Executives, the Arkansas Society of Association Executives, the Arkansas Society of Professional Lobbyists and the Metro Economic Development Alliance and is a past president of the Arkansas Jaycees.
Catholic High School
Steve Straessle is a 1988 graduate of Catholic High School and has been a teacher there since 1992. In 2005, he took the helm as principal and continues to teach two classes in addition to his administrative and fundraising duties. His numerous accolades include being named DAR Social Studies Teacher of the Year in 1995, ASPA Administrator of the Year in 2016, and he was a member of the inaugural class of AMP Influencers of the Year in 2020.
Straessle is a member of the Arkansas Activities Association board of directors and serves on the Arkansas Office of Outdoor Recreation Commission. In 2018, he began writing a bi-weekly human interest column for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette highlighting the mountains and valleys of life. His work has appeared in other publications as well.
World Trade Center Arkansas
A respected business strategist both in Arkansas and across the globe, Denise Thomas has more than 25 years of experience in international trade. She has built a career connecting people and products through bilateral partnerships that focus on ethical sourcing and sustainability.
A 14-year veteran of the World Trade Center Arkansas, Thomas most recently served as the center’s director of Africa, European and Middle East trade. But her career in economic development began in Florida, where she joined the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce in 1998. There, she created a small business center with the U.S. Small Business Administration to house several chambers and centers under one roof. The location became a one-stop shop for entrepreneurs. A California native, Denise has made her home in Northwest Arkansas since 2003, when she joined Walmart as a recruiter. She worked with the world’s largest retailer to build strategic teams in diverse markets, both domestically and internationally.
Chairman and CEO
As chairman and CEO of the RPM Group, Kris Upton has led the growth of one of the state’s largest full-service commercial and residential real estate companies to more than 350 employees and associates with record annual sales volume approaching $1 billion. Upton is a certified public accountant (CPA) and a certified commercial investment member (CCM). Upton obtained a BSBA in accounting from the University of Arkansas in 1993 and studied investor relations at the University of Michigan. He has volunteered for Junior Achievement and youth sports and is a past member of the Executive Leadership Academy and the band, One Way. Upton says RPM’s culture and core values are anchored in building trustworthy, long-term relationships and serving clients with a level of real estate expertise that has differentiated the firm for more than 65 years.
President and CEO
Doug is president and CEO of Kinco Constructors, a multi-disciplined general contracting and construction management firm with offices in Little Rock and Springdale. Wasson provides corporate oversight and leadership of the company’s mission, vision and daily operations. Kinco, established in 1973, has grown to be one of the state’s leading construction companies with more than 100 employees.
Wasson is a graduate of Southern Arkansas University Tech with a degree in building construction. He joined Kinco Constructors while still in college and throughout his career has served in numerous positions from project superintendent to vice president, becoming president/CEO in 2000 from the company’s original founder. He is actively involved in numerous associations such as the board of Arkansas Hospice; Arkansas State Police Foundation; Construction Management Advisory Council at UALR; and he previously served on the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission Foundation Board. He was appointed in 2020 by Gov. Asa Hutchinson to serve on the Arkansas Contractors Licensing Board.
Alonzo D. Williams Sr., M.D.
Arkansas Diagnostic Center
Dr. Alonzo Williams is a native of West Helena and earned degrees from Arkansas State University and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, where he is now a clinical instructor. Williams has served as the medical director for Arkansas Diagnostic Center for more than 25 years. Throughout that time, he has been diligent in pursuing the latest gastroenterology research and techniques in order to ensure excellent care for every patient. Williams serves as a gastroenterology consultant for hospitals throughout Little Rock and is an active member of a number of prominent professional organizations including the Arkansas State Medical Board.
River Rock Builders
Keith Wingfield and his wife, Patty, started River Rock Builders in 1999 to bring dream homes to life through state-of-the-art virtual technology and superior energy efficiency. Wingfield has spent his entire adult life working in the construction industry, with much of that time making custom homes as the owner of River Rock Builders. As the son of a full-time design engineer for Alcoa and a part-time builder in the ’60s and ’70s, he credits his father for much of his career path. His father, with the help of his brother, began building full time until the recession of 1980-81 when interest rates rose to 20 percent.
Wingfield is respected in the industry, having served as the area chairman for Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi for the National Association of Home Builders, a position that he says provides him with a deep perspective on issues facing the construction trades.
President & CEO
Judith S. Wooten, MHA, FACHE, joined the Arkansas Hospice team as vice president and chief operating officer in 2002. She was named president and CEO in 2011. Her health care career began as a patient representative in a large, tertiary-care teaching hospital in 1980, where she “fell in love with health care.”
Wooten earned a Master of Health Administration degree from Washington University School of Medicine in 1985. Since then, she has been a hospital administrator, a managed-care executive and a management and health care consultant. She is a Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) and a Certified Hospice Administrator, is the current president of the Hospice and Palliative Care Association of Arkansas and serves on the board of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. In recognition of her health care leadership and service, Wooten was named the 2020 recipient of the ACHE Regent’s Award for Senior Level Healthcare Executive.
Dr. Lee Wyant, DDS
Dr. Lee Wyant has practiced cosmetic and comprehensive restorative dentistry in Little Rock since 1982. He earned his Doctor of Dental Surgery from Louisiana State University School of Dentistry and went on to complete post graduate programs at LSU and Baylor College of Dentistry. Following his academic training, Wyant achieved accreditation by the American Board of Cosmetic Dentistry. He has been awarded a prestigious Accredited Fellowship in the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry and is one of only 50 dentists worldwide to achieve the highest level of competency in cosmetic dentistry.
Since establishing Smile Arkansas in 2002, Wyant has transformed the lives of thousands of people by improving smiles. His areas of expertise include cosmetic procedures such as no-prep veneers, porcelain crowns, bonding, whitening, gum lifts, full mouth rehabilitation, dental implant restoration and Invisalign.
In addition to serving on the board for the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry’s Charitable Foundation, Wyant has published extensively in academic journals including the Journal of Cosmetic Dentistry, Dentistry Today, Contemporary Esthetics & Restorative Practice and the ACCD Monogram.
Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics University of Arkansas
Since Hunter Yurachek’s arrival in Fayetteville as athletics director for the UA men’s and women’s programs, Razorback sports has been on an upward trajectory. Last year, Razorback athletes turned in one of the most successful years in school history including a program-best eighth-place finish (and highest finish among schools that sponsor 19 or fewer sports) in the 2020-21 Learfield IMG Directors’ Cup that tracks the nation’s most successful intercollegiate athletics programs.
Meanwhile, Razorback student-athletes combined for a 3.25 GPA and 104 student-athletes graduated from the UA. A multi-million-dollar renovation of the Randal Tyson Track Center was completed, while brand new facilities including the $27 million J.B. and Johnelle Hunt Family Baseball Development Center and the $15 million Frank O’Mara Track and Field High Performance Center were constructed. Yurachek also hired Sam Pittman to lead the football program and Eric Musselman to coach basketball, two hires proving to be among the best in school history. Plus, Razorback athletics had a positivity rate of less than 1 percent during the peak of the pandemic and was not the cause of an event cancellation in any sport due to COVID-19.
President and CEO
Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce/Associated Industries of Arkansas
Randy Zook is president and Chief Executive Officer of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and the Associated Industries of Arkansas. A few of his accomplishments during his tenure include strengthening the brand of the State Chamber, increasing membership, leading two successful ballot issue campaigns and refocusing attention on the workforce development system in the state.
For 34 years, he worked for Atlantic Envelope Company of Atlanta, a $200 million manufacturer of custom-printed envelopes and business products. He served as president and CEO of the company from 1989 to 2004. He is currently serving on the boards of the Arkansas Public School Resource Center, Economics Arkansas and McGehee Farm & Real Estate Co. In 2021, Randy was appointed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson to serve on the Economic Recovery Task Force, designed to make recommendations to the governor for Arkansas’ economic recovery from the effects of COVID-19.