Sharecropper’s Daughter on Amazon and Kindle
post on 1/2/2012
The life and times of a young girl growing up in the rural south as the daughter of a sharecropper in 1949. Penny comes of age through hard times, her love and talent for cutting horses and taming her first love; Smith who is heir to the Silver Leaf Plantation her family works for.
Book is 15.53 on Amazon – Kindle 3.99
Contact Billy for autographed copies of Sharecropper’s Daughter
Art by Laura Botsford word press blog is at http://poetstreets.com/
Horse and Girl Drawing by Deborah Voyda Rogers entitled Mable Strickland
My Son Hank Henderson in the Arkansas Democrat
Hank Henderson at the Car-Mart in Fayetteville
Self Portrait – Date and place of birth: July 8, 1963, in Little Rock
Family: daughters Hannah, Hailey and Sarah Beth
Occupation: President/Chief executive officer of America’s Car-Mart
My favorite time of day is, ” The morning. I’m probably up and around at 5:30 each morning.”
The last book I read was, ” This Wheel’s On Fire, which is Levon Helm’s biography. Before that, I read Eric Clapton’s autobiography.”
My favorite commercial, ” I’ve done is the one where we had associates who were with us 10 years or more.”
The best part of my job is, ” the people I work with, without question. They’re so positive and caring.”
A place I would like to visit is, “Australia. A good friend told me of some of his experiences there as we sat in the duck blind this year. He inspired me to move it to the top of my list.”
The number of guitars I own is, “Twelve. One my dad gave me last year, made out of wood from a tree in the yard of the place where I grew up.”
The best thing I cook is, “gumbo. I don’t burn the roux and put too much okra in it.”
One thing I wish I were better at, “is knowing how to communicate with teenage girls. Or maybe I should start with an easier language, like Chinese.”
One word to sum me up, “Blessed.”
If you’ve watched TV in the last six years in Northwest Arkansas, you’ve seen Hank Henderson. The chief executive officer and president of America’s Car-Mart, Inc. has been in about 90 commercials for his company since 2006, all ending with his wide smile and cheerful send-off that customers “drive easy!”
As the head of the Bentonville-based buyhere/pay-here auto chain, it seems safe to assume that Henderson knows a lot about cars. Nope. Henderson loves his work at Car-Mart, where he has been for almost a quarter-century. But the idea that he would spend his weekends taking apart the transmission on his three-quarter ton GMC diesel pickup makes him laugh. “Cars are not a hobby for me by any stretch,” he says. “For me, it’s always been about our customers and our associates,” and helping the company grow.
Henderson says this with his typical slow, Southern drawl, a product of his childhood in rural Arkansas. Hearing that speech pattern, and seeing the easy smile that emerges in all his commercials, the natural conclusion is that Henderson is a simple guy. Henderson likes to downplay his intelligence, but those who know him well say there’s no doubt about it – he’s as bright as he is genial. “Behind that southern Arkansas country interior is a very intelligent man,” says longtime friend Ben Lipscomb of Rogers. “He is a country boy, but don’t let that fool you; there’s a world of difference between ‘country’ and ‘dumb.’”
Henderson is country, all right. An avid duck hunter ever since he was a boy growing up near England in Lonoke County, he eagerly awaits the next time he can pile into his pickup with his Labradorsand Lipscomb, his longtime hunting buddy, and go off to Oklahoma or southern Arkansas to hunt.
Henderson likes to jam on his guitar with his bandmates, which they do at least a few times a month inside a converted garage at Henderson’s Bentonville home. When the band Cousin Smitty belts out country songs, Henderson is at the microphone. It seems only natural that someone from rural Arkansas would be into country music, but in actuality, his band plays plenty of rock. He enjoys all kinds of music, even the stuff his three daughters favor.
There’s a lot more than meets the eye when it comes to Henderson. Yet he still holds small town values and the kind of determination he learned rising at the crack of dawn and working with his father on the family’s farm. It’s those values that motivate him to keep Car-Mart growing, which had a fantastic 2011, in terms of increased revenue and number of lots opened. And it’s that determination that has made him an advocate in the fight against juvenile diabetes, someone who wants a cure but cares little about receiving credit for his philanthropic efforts.
“Hank is a modest guy and he’s very humble,” says Scott Herren of Bentonville, Hank Henderson’s cousin and the drummer in his band. “But when I say he’s smart, he’s scary-smart.”
Last summer, Henderson’s daughters talked him into getting purple curtains. He hung them up in his detached garage, part of its transformation into a band room. Ever the detail-oriented guy, Henderson put in a drum riser so Herren can sit up high while Cousin Smitty plays.
Henderson’s passion for music dates back to his childhood in rural Arkansas. His father played guitar and his grandmother taught piano and played the organ at several churches. Henderson says “one of the big thrills of my life” was going a mile down the road and playing music with his great-uncle. “He’s been into music pretty much his whole life,” says Henderson’s mother, Mary Henderson of Portland. “We had both him and his sister take piano lessons [as children], just so they would know what music was, and he sang in the youth church choir.”
Henderson grew up in Blakemore, an unincorporated community in Lonoke County, and went to school about 10 miles away in England. During his childhood, his dad farmed, raising primarily cotton and soybeans, which meant that young Hank was expected to get up early in the morning and help out with the many chores. There was nothing unusual about this in that part of the state, Henderson recalls; most of his friends were doing the same thing. He didn’t particularly care for the early-morning chores, but years later realizes they played a major role in shaping his work ethic.
“Growing up, my dad would tell me that this was going to benefit me,” Henderson says. “I certainly didn’t see it at the time, but later in life, without question [I do].
“There’s so many different things you learn, the work ethic – if it’s got to get done, it’s got to get done – and also the resourcefulness.”
Henderson’s resourcefulness was what got him a job with Car-Mart in the first place. He attended the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, and after he got a business degree in 1986, he took a job with a car rental and leasing company in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He thought he wanted to live in a big city, but he was miserable in Texas, and wanted desperately to move back to Arkansas. He contacted a job recruiter in Little Rock, who got him an interview lined up, but it was canceled by the time he got into town. So Henderson went to the recruiter’s office to ask her what else she had in Arkansas. While there, he noticed there was something on her desk about a used-car lot in Little Rock. Curious, he asked the recruiter about it, but she told him he was overqualified. Undaunted, Hank Henderson wound up applying for a job with Car-Mart, starting out as a trainee and then working on one of the lots, selling cars. Within four months, he was transferred to Northwest Arkansas to work in Car-Mart’s corporate office.
“He’s got a really great mind for our business,” says Car-Mart’s chief operating officer, Eddie Hight of Rogers, who has worked with Henderson for more than 20 years. “He’s very perceptive. He’s got what I consider an uncanny knack for reading folks.”
Henderson quickly rose in Car-Mart’s ranks. He spent much of the 1990s splitting his time between Car-Mart and Dynamic Enterprises Inc., its parent company at the time. Car-Mart was founded in 1981 by the late Bill Fleeman, the owner of Dynamic Enterprises. Beyond Car-Mart, Dynamic Enterprises had three divisions – construction, residential rentals and commercial rentals – and Henderson worked in all of them. That was enormously beneficial, he says, as was his close association with the late Nan Smith. Smith was the chief operating officer of Car-Mart from its founding until 1998, and later the chairman of its board.
By 2002, the year the company went public and the 38 year-old Henderson became Car-Mart’s president, he was ready to assume the mantle of responsibility. (In 2007, Henderson added CEO to his title, but he says his job barely changed at that time.)
“It was a heck of an education,” Henderson says of the years working with Smith. “I think back how fortunate I was. You learn so much you don’t even realize.
“Nan could be tough and demanding, but she was also one of the most compassionate people you ever met. She really instilled in the company the values we have today, and it’s been my task to keep those intact.”
PUBLIC AND PRIVATE
At this year’s Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Gala in May, Henderson is being honored for his yearsof fundraising efforts. True to form, Henderson chose not to mention this when asked about his connection with the foundation. He’s happy talking about his work with the organization, and how he was spurred into action when his daughter, Hailey, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 8, but when it comes time to talk about an accolade, he leaves that to someone else.
“He’s a pretty humble guy,” Hight says. “He doesn’t really care to be out in the spotlight.”
Yet Henderson actually is in the spotlight. Partly this is due to having the top job at a publicly traded company. Prior to 2002, he says, the company virtually never revealed its financial situation to outsiders, because it didn’t need to. That changed when Car-Mart went public. Overnight, it had to become much more open. If the company hit a rough patch, it couldn’t take some time to resolve the problem; its obligation to its shareholders meant that problems had to be anticipated down theroad, and responses had to be quicker.
Car-Mart has 112 dealerships in nine states, having most recently opened one in February. Its stock rose almost 45 percent in 2011, making it the best-performing stock among Arkansas’ 16 companies that trade on the major exchanges.
“The biggest influence Hank has had over the past 10 years is in the culture of our company,” Hight says. “He’s done a really good job of protecting the culture we have worked hard over the last 30 years to create.
“He works really hard as we grow and expand, making sure we stay true to the values this company was built upon.”
That culture includes taking care of customers, and working hard to earn repeat business. It means keeping much of the organization decentralized, training people at the dealerships and then trusting them with responsibility, rather than having all decisions made in Bentonville. “Less than 10 percent of the company’s employees work” he says, “in Bentonville.” Henderson’s primary job is to maintain that culture, and to keep the company squarely focused on the future. Car-Mart always has a five-year plan, he says, and in order to stay on that plan, he needs to make sure the company is doing the correct things today, as well as having the right people in the right jobs.
“Our role as a corporate office is that as long as we can continue to recruit bright people who care about people, and are looking for an opportunity, and we provide the support they need, that we’ll continue to grow this company,” he says, summarizing his philosophy.
Then there are the commercials. Henderson has been in about 90 of them since he became the company’s pitch man in 2006. He didn’t want to be in the commercials, and had actually shot down the idea before, but the advertising department drafted him into it while he was out of town. Henderson dresses casually for the commercials, wearing jeans and a shirt bearing the company’s logo, just as he does in real life. They’ve been on the air long enough that he gets recognized in public – just not often by name.
“I refer to him as my friend ‘Drive Easy Henderson,’” Lipscomb says. “He gets this: ‘I know you from somewhere, I just can’t place it.’”
So from his job and his commercials, Henderson’s a public figure. Which he’s fine with, realizing it comes with the turf, but being recognized in public isn’t what makes him happy. His daughters handle that. Henderson has twins that are about to turn 15, and another daughter who’s 12. Being involved is extremely important to him, whether it’s taking them to their horseback-riding shows or transforming his backyard into an enormous haunted campground when the girls host Halloween sleepovers.
“By passing on that love of horses [Henderson loved to ride horses as a boy], Hank’s been able to teach them responsibility at a young age,” Herren says. “I can’t say enough about him as a dad.”
Henderson travels frequently for the job, and it would seem difficult for him to juggle the responsibilities of his position with being a father – not to mention his duck hunting and music. But he has always been someone who is able to handle many tasks simultaneously.
When Henderson was 3 years old, his mother recalls, his Sunday School teacher pulled her aside and said that Hank refused to be still in class. At the same time, the teacher said, when it came time to repeat the memory verse, Hank was the only one who could do it. Even at that age, he was already an exceptional multitasker, and someone who knew it was important to listen closely to what people were saying. “He’s a farm boy from a rural county who’s done real well for himself,” Lipscomb says, “but hasn’t gotten above his raising.”
Northwest Profile, Pages 35 on 03/04/2012