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Blue Cross tops big private companies list.

Arkansas Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Little Rock, with revenue doubling in the past five years to nearly $2.5 billion, has taken the top spot on Arkansas Business' annual list of the state's largest private companies.

As always, that comes with an asterisk: Stephens Inc., the ultra-private investment bank in Little Rock, dropped to No. 2 based on a revenue that continues to be estimated at $2.25 billion. It is the least reliable number on the list and one of only six that have been estimated.

The price of entry to the list increased to almost $117 million from $100 million last year.

ABCBS, a nonprofit that dominates the state's health insurance landscape, was led from the beginning of 2009 through 2016 by Mark White, who retired at the end of the year. He was succeeded by Curtis Barnett, formerly senior vice president of external operations.

Barnett inherited a company that had $1.27 billion in revenue in 2011. The $2.5 billion it reported in 2016 is not a record for the list: Truman Arnold Cos., which is no longer eligible for the list after moving its executive offices to Dallas, topped $3 billion in 2011 when the price of its main product, aircraft fuel, was sky-high.

The 75 companies on the list generated total revenue, self-reported and estimated, of $37.5 billion, an increase of almost 10 percent from last year's list. But more than half of that growth is attributable to the highest-ranking debut of any company in the 30-year history of the list: McLarty Automotive Group of Little Rock, led by Mark McLarty. It reported $1.76 billion in revenue in 2016 after having been formed in 2014 to acquire existing auto dealerships and open new ones. (See story, Page 18.)

In what may look like a sibling rivalry, MAG took the No. 4 spot from RML Automotive, which dropped to No. 5 despite revenue growth of almost 13 percent last year. RML was formerly known as RLJ McLarty Landers Automotive Holdings, and was co-founded in 2004 by Mark McLarty's father and brother, Thomas "Mack" McLarty and Franklin McLarty, with Mark joining as a shareholder.

MAG is the only newcomer to the top 10, displacing Bruce Oakley Inc., the bulk transporter based in North Little Rock, which dropped from No. 7 to No. 12 on a 22 percent decrease in revenue.

Companies whose fortunes are tied to the agriculture industry saw revenue generally flat to lower in 2016, while those working in the health care industry--like ABCBS, Baptist Health (No. 8) and list newcomers Unity Health of Searcy (No. 17) and Central Arkansas Radiation Therapy Institute Inc. (No. 62)--saw revenue growth. (For more on Baptist Health and CARTI, see stories on Page 20.)

Welcome Back

McLarty Automotive Group, Unity Health and CARTI are the only true newcomers among the 75 companies on this year's list. All three should have been on last year's list but were not surveyed.

Two more companies have returned after being dropped last year:

* No. 59 Parker Automotive

Group of Little Rock, which last year submitted an incorrect revenue figure for 2015 that was too low to make the cutoff. It has been corrected.

* No. 74 Multi-Craft Contractors Inc. of Springdale, which entered the list at No. 75 in 2015 but didn't make the cutoff last year. (For more on Multi-Craft, see story on Page 19.)

Making Room

Five companies that were among last year's 75 had to drop off to make room for the five additional names. They are last year's Nos. 72-75--Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative of Ozark, Mid-South Sales Inc. of Jonesboro, Lewis Automotive Group of Fayetteville and Dyke Industries of Little Rock--as well as SF Holding Corp. of Little Rock, the holding company for joint investments of Warren Stephens and his cousins, Witt Stephens Jr. and Elizabeth Stephens Campbell. Since the Stephenses sold Stephens Media in February 2015 for $102.5 million, SF Holding's revenue is no longer estimated to be large enough for the list.

Finales

Two companies are making their final appearances on the list: No. 35 Vestcom international Inc. of Little Rock and No. 41 Ridout Lumber Co. of Searcy. Vestcom, which produces the shelf-edge price labels for retailers like grocery stores, was acquired in December by out-of-state ownership, Charlesbank Capital Partners. Ridout, family owned since 1971, was sold in January to US LBM of Buffalo Grove, Illinois.

By Gwen Moritz

GMoritz@ABPG.com

Caption: Curtis Barnett

[PHOTO BY MICHAEL PIRNIQUE]

Caption: Arkansas Blue Cross & Blue Shield sits atop the private companies list, but revenue at Stephens Inc., at No.2, can only be estimated.
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Title Annotation:OVERVIEW
Author:Moritz, Gwen
Publication:Arkansas Business
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:May 22, 2017
Words:772
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