The Sherwood Chamber of Commerce is set for the coming year after installation of new officers and board members at the chamber’s annual banquet held at Sherwood Forest Monday night. In addition to installing directors and officers, Galley Support Innovations, a Sherwood-based aerospace manufacturing firm, was selected as Business of the Year.
Accepting the award was GSI Chief Executive Officer Gina Radke and her husband, GSI Chief Financial Officer Wade Radke.
Other community awards, which were selected through nominations forwarded to the Chamber through mid-January, included:
Man of the Year – Bradley West (Gwatney Automotive Group)
Woman of the Year – Linda George
Veteran of the Year – Major George Baker – award accepted by daughter Shannon
Law Enforcement Officer of the Year – Craig Grisham (Sherwood Police) whose wife Michelle accepted the award on his behalf
Fire Fighter of the Year – Capt. John Majors (Sherwood Fire)
EMT of the year-Jessica Hunter (MEMS)
Educator of the Year – Katina White (Sylvan Hills Middle School)
Frank Fletcher, the owner of Fletcher Auto Group, delivered the keynote address for the event. Looking back on his more than 40 years as a businessman and entrepreneur, Fletcher’s address was filled with anecdotes on topics ranging from being adopted and growing up on a farm to his relationship with Sam Walton to how he brought Benihana to Arkansas.
On growing up as an adopted child – “Somebody dropped me off at a hospital and back then you didn’t inquire after anybody, you just went in and picked one up. My mother and daddy picked me up in Little Rock from the hospital and the first question everybody asks me is ‘why don’t you try to find out who your real parents are?’ I tell ‘em, I had real parents. They picked me up and took me down to Tamo, Arkansas…I grew up there on a farm, rode a tractor every day and worked in a cotton gin at night, and I wanted to get out of there as quick as I could.”
On playing basketball in junior high school: “I was 6’5” and a little big in the waist. In 7th grade I was a great basketball player because everybody else was six feet or smaller. We won the state championship for Grady in 7th, 8th, and 9th grades so the coaches came down from Pine Bluff and told my father, ‘this kid’s gonna be 6’9”, or 6’10”. I saw it as a way to get a car… From being a star at Grady, they broke out three of my front teeth and cracked two ribs in practice. But I got a car.”
On his time as a U of A student: “My dad said we’re gonna send you to school but if you make a C you’ll be back on this tractor the rest of your life… I go to Fayetteville scared to death. I had this black and white belt on, a little tie string like a cowboy wears. They burned all my clothes the first night I got in the fraternity… I found out the football players all took Social Dance. Well, I could dance so I took Social Dance and got an A. I forgot to tell you they sold my car… I made the Dean’s List and I tricked my dad, I told him I’d make good grades if he bought me a little car. He said go buy something really economical, so I went down to Star City and bought a white Corvette with fuel injected engine… I became immediately good looking in Fayetteville. It was like a new hairdo and a loss of weight.”
On life right out of college: “My background was tractor driving and cotton gin. I didn’t have any skills and Social Dancing didn’t teach me much of anything about getting a job… Worthen Bank here in Little Rock hired me to work in the trust department for $385 a month. The United Fund came by and said, well, Mr. Fletcher, everybody gives here at Worthen Bank. I said, I want to know where to get onto the GET list… I walked down to the employment bureau and told them I need to get a job. They said what are you good at? I said, well I’m good at BS. They said you need to be a salesman… They got me a job with a company called DuPont, and the rest is kind of history.”
On the early days with Sam Walton: “Back in the early days, nobody wanted to sell to Wal-Mart. They were a small little company and the local drug stores said, you sell to them and we won’t buy from you… Mr. Walton said, okay, I love DuPont. How much is it? I said, I want to sell you 300 gallons of paint. He said, how much is it? I told him $1500 and he started shaking his head. I said, is something wrong with your neck? And he goes, no, but I don’t have $1500. I don’t think he did, either.”
About bringing Benihana to Arkansas, Fletcher told of a trip he made to Dallas years ago, where at a visit to a Benihana Japanese Steakhouse in the Dallas area, some friends asked him if he had considered a franchise. Fletcher said he asked for the manager and was introduced to man who told him he was “Kevin, the big man.” After asking “Kevin, the big man” a few questions, including one about available franchises, Fletcher said Kevin asked where he wanted to put the restaurant, to which Fletcher replied, Hilton (the Wyndham Riverfront Hotel in North Little Rock, where Benihana is located, was formerly a Hilton). He said Kevin accepted a check for $35,000 and the terms were written out on a legal pad.
He said he received a call three days later from the Benihana corporate office, offering to send him some coupons.
“I said what do I need coupons for? She said, we returned your check because we don’t sell franchises to little bitty cities like North Little Rock. So I said, ma’am, you’d better send a lawyer with those coupons because I’ve got Kevin, the big man’s signature right here saying I can have a franchise. And that is how I brought Benihana to North Little Rock.”
Following Fletcher’s remarks, outgoing Chamber President Brooks McRae made his final comments as president, and presented three Chairman’s Awards. He named Matthew Selman board member of the year, Marilyn McKimmey as volunteer of the year, and presented Tom Brooks with a lifetime achievement award for his service to the chamber.
New executive officers installed at the banquet were Mita Sitaram as secretary, Sandy Ledbetter as treasurer, Bradley West as vice president, Stephen Wall as president-elect, and BJ Noland as president. The new board members installed were Paul Wilson, Beverly Williams, Tammy Tomkins, Leslie Steckbeck, Matthew Selman, Dr. Ben Pittman, Michelle Oglesby, Hannah McDonald, Sherry Jackson, Matt Hutchison, Jay Hartman, Matt Hankins, Becka Green, Dylan Everly, Misty Doneghey, Jason Davenport, Dr. Teri Cox, Melissa Brock, Gina Bettis, and Larry Barnes. Executive Committee members installed were Wayne Smith, Tracy Rouse, Karen Maynard, and Keith Byrd.