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AP&L's main woman.

AP&L's Main Woman

At Age 37, Kay Kelley Arnold Already Is Nearing The Top Of The Corporate Ladder

Kay Kelley Arnold remembers well that night in November 1980 when Frank White shocked political experts nationwide with his victory over an idealistic politician named Bill Clinton.

Clinton was running for a second two-year term as Arkansas' governor. On his staff at the time was a 26-year-old native of Heber Springs -- Kay Arnold.

In the minds of young Democratic political activists such as Arnold, the Clinton administration represented Arkansas' version of the Kennedy Camelot period, which had captivated the nation almost two decades before.

Suddenly, in one shocking, dreamlike night, it came to an end.

Just more than a decade later, Kay Kelley Arnold has scaled the types of heights few women climb in the male-dominated world of Arkansas business.

In April, she was named vice president for communications at Arkansas Power & Light Co., a high-profile job at one of the state's most high-profile companies.

She's AP&L's first female vice president.

Add to that the fact that she is married to perhaps the state's top jurist -- U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Arnold -- and Kay Kelley Arnold easily ranks with the likes of Hillary Rodham Clinton and Betsey Wright as one of the state's most influential women.

This is a vastly different time from November 1980, when it seemed to Arnold and other political dreamers that their world had collapsed.

"We were all in shock," Arnold says while finishing a sandwich at Little Rock's Capital Hotel, remembering a night she has tried so hard to forget. "When you're on the inside, you take losses personally, especially when no one expects you to lose. It's hard."

But, she seems to be thinking, you get over it.

"Yeah," Arnold says to the luncheon companion, who has finished her sentence for her. "You do. It was not the best day of my life. But although I did not enjoy the end result, I remain committed to the process."

Like many of those who worked in that first Clinton administration, Arnold had no idea what she was going to do when she awoke the morning following the election.

Arnold completed law school at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, although she was not sure she wanted to practice law.

In 1981, Tom McRae, then head of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, called and told her that The Nature Conservancy was hoping to open an Arkansas office.

Based in Washington, The Nature Conservancy finds, acquires and manages lands that support prime examples of certain plants and animals.

As the liaison on Clinton's staff to what is now the Department of Arkansas Heritage, Arnold had dealt regularly with Nature Conservancy officials.

A New Challenge

She was hired. She would have to manage a staff. And meet a budget.

"I was fortunate to obtain that kind of experience early in my career," Arnold says. "The Nature Conservancy runs its operation more like a business than any non-profit organization I know of. I did not have previous management experience. But they taught me management and business techniques."

Her efforts in four years at the helm of The Arkansas Nature Conservancy were successful. About 60,000 acres of forests, swamps and prairies have either been given to or purchased by the organization. Saved from developers, the tracts often are turned over to state or federal agencies.

In 1986, Arnold again went to work for Clinton, who had returned to office in January 1983. This time, she would be a member of his Cabinet -- director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage to be exact.

Arnold was in the Caribbean on vaction with her husband -- to whom she has been married since 1979 -- staying at one of those get-away-from-civilization island retreats that have no telephones and no televisions in the rooms.

""Richard and I came back to the room one day, and there was an urgent message to call the governor," Arnold says. "I thought it was a joke from my office. In fact, I called them and told them not to bother me during my vacation."

Arnold was informed it was no joke.

So she phoned Betsey Wright, Clinton's chief of staff at the time, and asked what was up.

Wright told her that Tom Dillard was leaving DAH to take over the archives at the University of Central Arkansas at Conway. Then, Wright put the governor on the phone.

"He figured that since I knew the department, I was the best choice for the job," Arnold says. "I asked Richard what I should do. He didn't hesitate. He said it was an opportunity that I should take advantage of."

Kay Kelley Arnold had taken another step up the ladder.

She went from managing four people at The Nature Conservancy to managing more than 90 employees at DAH.

Under her control were six state agencies: the Arkansas Territorial Restoration, Arkansas Arts Council, Arkansas Natural and Scenic Rivers Commission, Arkansas Heritage Commission, Arkansas Historic Preservation Program and Arkansas Commemorative Commission, which operates the Old State House and Trapnall Hall in downtown Little Rock.

Each of the six agencies had its own director. Yet Arnold was the supervisor, the direct link between those six agency heads and Gov. Clinton.

"It was a huge challenge," Arnold says. "The people who ran the agencies had been there for some time, however. They knew their programs. They made it easy on me."

It was Arkansas' sesquicentennial year, and Arnold was in charge of some activities, necessitating a crash course in the state's history.

"I would like to think that after the fireworks were over, there was an increased interest in Arkansas history on the part of both students and adults," she says.

Political Skills

Arnold also was forced to hone her political skills. When it comes time to dole out the taxpayers' dollars, Arkansas legislators traditionally have been hesitant to appropriate money for historical, cultural and natural heritage programs.

Projects such as new roads always have rated far above museums and arts centers.

"The 1987 legislative session proved to be educational for me," Arnold says.

It was much more than that.

"We were able to pass a real estate transfer tax that has been extremely beneficial to our efforts to fund natural areas, parks and historic properties," she explains. "It gave security to programs that otherwise would have no security."

In early 1988, another call came.

This time, the person on the other end of the line was Charles Kelly, AP&L's vice president of communications.

Arnold spoke with Kelly about becoming general manager for corporate communications.

Her earlier career stops had been in the areas of education, non-profit work, politics and government. This would be a chance to experience the high-pressure world of a regulated utility.

Once more, Kay Kelley Arnold took the plunge.

"Those who have never been in a corporate environment don't know the challenges that are inherent in such jobs," she says. "I was prepared to get slapped in the face, seeing that I was handling advertising, media relations and community relations for a big utility. Luckily, I didn't experience that.

"Like any utility, we have our problems. And like any utility, we tend to be an easy target. That certainly was true in the mid-1980s when the Grand Gulf controversy was raging."

Arkansas ratepayers were being asked to pay a large share of the cost of a nuclear power plant near Port Gibson, Miss. The plant had been built by AP&L's parent company, then known as Middle South Utilities Inc.

The ratepayers didn't like it. Neither did the politicians.

Off To D.C.

Arnold served for only 11 months as AP&L's general manager of corporate communications. Late in 1988, the New Orleans-based parent company (now Entergy Corp.) decided that each of the four retail operating companies -- AP&L, Louisiana Power & Light Co., Mississippi Power & Light Co. and New Orleans Public Service Inc. -- should have their own lobbyists in Washington to complement the Entergy federal affairs staff.

AP&L President Jerry Maulden and Cecil Alexander, the company's chief lobbyist, offered Arnold the job.

She immediately sought advice from her husband, who had lived in Washington as a member of Sen. Dale Bumpers' staff.

Again, Judge Richard Arnold advised Kay Kelley Arnold to take a chance.

Beginning in January 1989, Arnold was a one of the most frequent of frequent fliers, making the 1,000-mile commute from Little Rock to the nation's capital on a weekly basis.

As a former member of two Clinton administrations, she knew the ins and outs of state government.

Now, she would learn the larger, more complicated world of Congress and its byzantine committee system. Nights at the hotel (and later the Washington apartment AP&L provided her) were spent studying materials she had gathered. Days were spent dealing with congressional staffers, committee staffers and other utility lobbyists.

"I had been so locally oriented in Little Rock," Arnold says. "This job allowed me to get a feel for the issues facing utilities nationwide. It gave me an idea of where we are going in the 1990s and into the next century. I gained a better understanding of the utility industry as a business entity."

At first, she was flying to Washington on Tuesdays and returning home on Thursdays. When Congress took up the Clean Air Act, the Tuesdays became Mondays. And the Thursdays became Fridays.

Living in two cities is never easy. Arnold's schedule was exceptionally tiring. Yet she did it for 15 months.

"My family and my friends were very indulgent," Arnold says. "They basically gave me more than a year off from my duties as a wife and friend."

How did the federal judge who doubles as her husband handle the routine? Arnold laughs before answering the question.

"I definitely came back to a house that was dirtier than the one I left behind," she says. "I'm looking forward to being involved in the community again and doing simple things such as fishing for trout on the Little Red River.

"I am learning to adjust to not working until 9:00 every night. In Washington, you get used to that schedule.

Replacing Kelly

In her job as vice president, Arnold replaces her former boss, Charles Kelly.

As part of the massive restructuring effort at Entergy, Kelly was promoted this spring to vice president of communications for Entergy's new Little Rock-based Distribution and Customer Service Group.

Entergy distribution and customer services will be handled out of Little Rock. The corporation's nuclear division will be headquartered in Jackson, Miss. And generation and transmission operations will be run out of New Orleans.

There have been layoffs. More are expected.

It's not the easiest time to be in charge of communications.

"It's period of transition," Arnold says, choosing her words carefully. "There's not a set date at which we will say, |The changes are over now.' We'll continue to evolve.

"But you'll find that is true across the board in American business. The corporate world once was seen as stable. That's no longer the case. In an increasingly competitive international marketplace, there's recognition that change is inevitable.

"Look at this company. It has changed dramatically. We're doing it to adapt to a different environment and to remain profitable for our stockholders. Change is the one constant in corporate life today. You either adapt or you fail."

Despite the uncertainty, Arnold says she has no plans to get back into government and politics. She likes the corporate world.

"I don't mean this as an insult to my friends in government," Arnold says. "But people in the corporate sector generally work harder. They're more motivated and take more responsibility for their actions."

Not that she won't remain interested in politics.

After all, this is a lady who as a child worked in Winthrop Rockefeller's unsuccessful 1964 and 1970 campaigns and in his successful 1966 and 1968 campaigns. A lady whose grandfather was active in Cleburne County politics.

Just don't look for her to run for office.

"I have never had and will not have that desire," Kay Kelley Arnold says forcefully.

For now, at age 37, she's remaining on a path that could make her one of the first women ever to head a major utility in this country.

PHOTO : MOVING TO THE TOP: Kay Kelley Arnold, 37, has reached the kinds of heights few women achieve in the male-dominated world of Arkansas business. In April, Arnold became Arkansas Power & Lihgt Co.'s first female vice president when she was named vice president for communications. It is a high-profile job at one of the state's most high-profile companies.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related article on Ann Pride's appointment; Arkansas Power & Light Co.'s first female vice president, Kay Kelley Arnold
Author:Nelson, Rex
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Jul 22, 1991
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