Bell, LaFrance, Ward, Wray to Join Arkansas Business Hall of Fame

One woman and three men – all distinguished leaders in business and community service in Arkansas – make up the class of 2015 inductees to the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame.

The Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas and the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame Board announced that these outstanding leaders will join the 66 other members of the Hall of Fame on Friday, Feb. 13, 2015:

  • Al Bell, who as an executive and owner of Stax records made the Memphis Sound a major part of pop music in the 1960s and 1970s.
  • Stephen L. LaFrance Sr., who built USA Drug from one store into the largest privately owned chain of drugstores in the United States.
  • Millie Ward, who is co-founder and president of Stone Ward, a full-service advertising agency with offices in Little Rock and Chicago.
  • Donald E. “Buddy” Wray, who served in several executive positions over decades with Tyson Foods, including chief operating officer and executive vice president and special assistant to the president and chief executive officer.

“We are pleased to welcome another distinguished group of business leaders to the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame,” Walton College Dean Eli Jones said. “They join an exceptional list of inductees who have been recognized among the best in Arkansas business. The outstanding achievements of these four, just as all of the hall of fame’s current members, will have an impact on the future business leaders in Arkansas and around the world.”

The Arkansas Business Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be held at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock. The Arkansas Business Hall of Fame is permanently housed in the atrium of the Donald W. Reynolds Center for Enterprise Development at the Walton College on the University of Arkansas campus in Fayetteville.

Greg Lee, a Walton College alumnus and the retired chief administrative officer and international president of Tyson Foods Inc., chaired the selection process. A nominating committee of 18 business leaders encouraged people throughout the state and beyond to make nominations. A selection committee of nine business and community leaders reviewed the nominations and chose the inductees. Criteria for selection included: the significance of the impact made as a business leader, the concern demonstrated for improving the community and the display of ethics in all business dealings. In addition, living inductees must be over the age of 60.

Al Bell

Al Bell 1Al Bell, legendary power behind the popularity of the Memphis Sound as owner of Stax Records, was born Alvertis Isbell in Brinkley. His recording industry accomplishments include disc jockey, record producer, songwriter and executive at both Stax Records and Motown Records Group. In his more than a half-century in the music business, Bell has worked with artists such as Otis Redding, Issac Hayes, Booker T and the MGs, Sam and Dave, Rufus Thomas and the Staple Singers. Bell was involved in shaping the evolving sound of the Staples and wrote one of their biggest hits “I’ll Take You There.”

He was instrumental in Stax’ release of hit soundtracks such as Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song and Shaft in 1971. In 1972, Bell conceptualized and was executive producer of the Wattstax festival concert in Los Angeles. The Stax film division made a 1972 film of the festival that was nominated for a Golden Globe as best documentary.

Bell has received numerous awards and recognitions for his career achievements. The Trustee’s Award at the Grammy Awards, the W.C. Handy Lifetime Achievement Award, Arthur A. Fletcher Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Black Chamber of Commerce and the National Award of Achievement from the U.S. Department of Commerce are just a few of the many. He also was named one of the 100 Most Influential Black Men by Ebony magazine.

Stephen L. LaFrance Sr. (1941-2013)

LaFranceStephen L. LaFrance Sr., who built a single drug store into USA Drug – the largest privately owned chain of drugstores in the United States, was born in New Orleans. After he earned a bachelor of science in pharmacy from Northeast Louisiana State College in Monroe, LaFrance became a pharmacist at the Medic Pharmacy in Shreveport, Louisiana. Four years later, he moved to Pine Bluff, where he opened a pharmacy in the Gibson’s Discount Store.

His total sales for his first day as a business owner there: $26. A far cry from what his enterprise would become: USA Drug – a chain of retail drug stores headquartered in Pine Bluff covering 9 states and more than 150 locations with over $750 million in annual sales; a wholly owned wholesale drug distribution operation regularly serving more than 1,200 customers in 14 states in addition to USA Drug’s own retail drug stores; a real estate portfolio with strategically located retail properties; and an Arkansas organization supporting more than 3,500 employees and their families.

In 2012, shortly before LaFrance died, Walgreens acquired USA Drug for more than $550 million. During his lifetime, LaFrance preferred his philanthropic efforts to be anonymous. The Salvation Army, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, the Arkansas Children’s Hospital and work on diabetes at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences were just some of the projects that enjoyed his support.

Millie Ward

MillieWardMillie Ward, co-founder and president of Stone Ward, was born in Irontown, Misssouri, and earned a bachelor of arts in communications at Arkansas State University. In 1976, she began her advertising agency career as a copywriter at Gunter & Associates in Jonesboro. By 1984, she was a copywriter at Resneck Stone, where she was promoted to partner.

In 1991, she was named president and together with co-founder Larry Stone, that agency became Stone Ward, which now has offices in Little Rock and Chicago. Ward’s leadership made the agency a leader in creativity and in diversifying its client base. Stone Ward had fewer than 10 employees 30 years ago but now has a team of 56 talented individuals. The agency brought in more than $47 million in capitalized billings last year. Ward is the former chair of the Advertising Marketing International Network, one of the nation’s largest networks of independent agencies representing 26 agencies with $21 billion in capitalized billings.

Ward has been selected by the Arkansas Business Publishing Group for their “Arkansas Power List.” She has also been named one of AdWeek‘s “Women To Watch,” one of the “Top 100 Women” by Arkansas Business and Woman Business Owner of the Year by the National Association of Women Business Owners. In 2012, she was named Arkansas Top Manager of the Year by Sales and Marketing Executive International.

Donald E. “Buddy” Wray

Buddy_MedDonald Wray, universally known as Buddy, began his career at Tyson Foods Inc. in 1961 as a service technician. He joined the management of the Tyson plant in Rogers and then was made manager of the company’s first processing plant in Springdale. Wray was part of a small team of Tyson principals who managed acquisition growth and played a pivotal role in Tyson’s product development, sales and marketing through the 1970s and 80s.

He was named chief operating officer, overseeing all operations including live poultry production, processing and sales. In 1991, Wray was promoted to president and held that office until he retired in 2000. He was a member of the Tyson board of directors from 1994-2003 and came out of retirement in 2008 to serve as executive vice president – special assistant to the president and chief executive officer.

Wray was named University of Arkansas Distinguished Alumni of the Year in 2000. In 2004, the university established the Donald “Buddy” Wray Chair in Food Safety in the Dale Bumpers College of Agriculture. In 2012, Wray was named by the Northwest Arkansas Community College as a “Quality of Life” honoree, which recognizes individuals for their leadership in building and sustaining an excellent quality of life in northwest Arkansas. He was inducted into the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame in 2012.

A list of previous inductees into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame is available at waltoncollege.uark.edu/abhf.

Tickets to the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame induction ceremony, a black-tie optional event, are $150 per person. For more information about tickets and event sponsorships, please contact the office of external relations at the Sam M. Walton College of Business, Donald W. Reynolds Center for Enterprise Development 217, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR 72701-1201, 479-575-6146, by email at abhf@walton.uark.edu, or on the Web at waltoncollege.uark.edu/abhf.