Northwest Arkansas Council CEO stepping down to work for Steuart and Tom Walton

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 1,596 views 

Northwest Arkansas Council President and CEO Mike Malone is ending his 10-year tenure with the influential organization, but will remain active in regional development in his new role working for Steuart Walton and Tom Walton.

The council announced Thursday (Aug. 18) that Malone will step down in mid-September to work for the two Walton heirs to help them with “a variety of initiatives in Northwest Arkansas that elevate quality of life in the region.” The Waltons, grandsons of Wal-Mart co-founders Helen and Sam Walton, are involved in numerous projects in Northwest Arkansas, including “The Plant” and a movie theater in downtown Bentonville. They were also behind the successful effort in 2012 to change Benton County’s liquor law status.

Malone was hired in 2006, and succeeded Uvalde Lindsey, who was first council president. The council was founded in 1990 by Sam Walton, Don Tyson, John Tyson, J.B. Hunt, Mark Simmons and a group of about 30 Northwest Arkansas business leaders.

Donnie Smith, the council’s presiding co-chair and CEO of Springdale-based Tyson Foods, praised Malone’s time with the council.

“He’ll certainly make a successful transition into his new role,” Smith said in a statement. “Everyone in Northwest Arkansas knows Mike because he did a fantastic job of connecting the Council to hundreds of organizations across Arkansas, to local governments, to legislators and to business people. People across the state look to Mike because he has a great feel for what can be accomplished in Northwest Arkansas and who needs to be involved.”

Malone told Talk Business & Politics he is proud to have been part of many project successes with the council, and especially with how the culture has changed in the region.

“Really, I’m most proud that over the decade this region has worked together in so many ways. There is a collaborative spirit here, and folks are willing to roll up their sleeves and work to get things done. We had that, certainly, before I was here … but I think we’re better at it now than ever before,” Malone said.

Mike Malone
Mike Malone

And while some may see the work on Interstate 49 as a headache, Malone pointed to it as another regional success, saying the orange barrels are a sign that “congestion relief is on its way.”

Malone also said the region’s development strategy – “Building on Success: The 2015-2017 Blueprint” – is producing results and furthering the regional growth strategy plan used between 2011-2014.

“The region has come together to define our future and I feel like that’s a project that we helped guide, and the results of that have been really amazing,” Malone said.

When asked what he will do for the Waltons, Malone avoided specifics, saying he is eager to continue work that develops the region.

“They (Steuart and Tom) are doing a lot of great things in Northwest Arkansas. So I’m going to be another set of hands, who understands the region, and who can help turn what they are working on and what they want done into action,” Malone said. “And yes, I will be working with a lot of the same partners and a lot of the same organizations … so I am thrilled to be a part of that.”

As to if the council will look outside the region for a new CEO, Malone said the job will generate “a lot of interest and a lot of great candidates,” and the search committee “will want to get the best person for the job, whether they are from here or not.” Smith will lead the search for a new CEO.

“We’ll work hard to find just the right person,” Smith said in a statement. “The Council’s leader must be a convener, an ambassador, a diplomat and a peacemaker. He or she will need to be cognizant of how the decisions we make today impact the region’s long-term future, and our leader must be sensitive to what’s best for Northwest Arkansas as a whole rather than what’s best for any individual community.”

The council has had leadership roles in many Northwest Arkansas developments, including the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, the Benton-Washington Regional Public Water Authority, improvements to U.S. 412 between Springdale and Siloam Springs, and in lobbying for the money to build Interstate 49 between Fayetteville and Fort Smith. The council is also involved in numerous efforts to improve workforce training programs, and provides support for many downtown renovation projects in Northwest Arkansas.

In partnership with Northwest Arkansas chambers of commerce, the council in 2011 established the region’s Business Retention and Expansion (BRE) program, which educates regional business and civic leaders on how to aid in the hiring needs of area employers.