In 1933, W.R. (Witt) Stephens founded Stephens Inc. to trade Arkansas Highway bonds, which were then selling as low as 10 cents on the dollar. He had been encouraged by his father, A.J. Stephens, a state legislator who insisted that Arkansas would eventually make good on the bonds. By the time the bonds paid off at par in the early '40s, Stephens Inc. had gained a reputation for both municipal bond expertise and for providing sound financial counseling.
Witt Stephens was a man of great charm and unparalleled public influence. A man whose business, civic and political leadership helped shape the destiny of Arkansas and the nation.
To the family at Stephens Inc., he was a warm and generous man, an uplifting force. His dedication to quality, coupled with a burning desire for both personal and professional achievement, continues to be an inspiration to all who knew him.
Since its founding, the firm has expanded in a natural but conservative evolution. Trading municipal bonds led to municipal underwriting and to the development of close relationships with institutional and individual investors, many of whom have become our close and longtime friends.
Upon his graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1946, Jackson T. Stephens came to Little Rock and joined his brother Witt Stephens in the municipal bond business. The two formed the firm Stephens Inc. on a handshake partnership that lasted for over forty years, until Witt’s death in 1991. Witt was a gregarious and shrewd businessman and a great salesman. Jack was quiet, thoughtful, and equally astute. While Witt ventured into politics and running the local gas utility, Jack began to expand the investment business into the sales, trading and underwriting of corporate securities. He also began making direct investments in private companies for the firm’s account, predating by decades the private equity endeavors of Wall Street firms.
The expansion of the firm’s activities under Jack’s leadership in the 1950s and 1960s led to the firm becoming the largest investment banking firm in the country (measured by capital) located off Wall Street, and one of the top ten firms overall, along with the likes of Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs. Jack was instrumental in providing capital and investment banking services to an array of Arkansas companies that became large and successful enterprises: Wal-Mart Stores, Tyson Foods, J.B. Hunt Trucking, Alltel Corporation. He also invested in a number of community banks around the state, culminating in the purchase of Little Rock’s Worthen Bank, ultimately sold to what is now Bank of America.
His private investments were spectacularly successful. Three of them generated more than one billion dollars each in profits: Stephens Production Company, Systematics, and Donrey Media. Jack Stephens can lay claim to being one of the finest investors of the 20th century. His acumen as an investor was combined in remarkable fashion with his ability to form enduring personal relationships with his partners. Several generations of Arkansas companies and business leaders came to know Jack as not only a smart investment banker but as a loyal and reliable friend as well. Jack’s influence grew well beyond Arkansas to the boardrooms of corporate America and to the halls of Washington D.C.; his opinions were constantly sought by investors, CEOs, and politicians. In 1991, Jack’s trustworthiness and love of the game led him to be selected as the fourth Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club.
In the decade prior to his death in 2005, Jack began to step up his charitable activities, and today there are ample reminders of his generosity, at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, in Little Rock, and at the Medical School; at the Arkansas Arts Center; and at public and private schools around the state.
The ongoing business activities and reputation of Stephens Inc., now run by his son Warren, are largely the result of Jack Stephens’ personal attributes: thoughtfulness, quietness, graciousness, and reliability.
Warren A. Stephens is Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer of Stephens Inc., a privately owned diversified financial services firm headquartered in Little Rock, Arkansas. A graduate of Washington and Lee University, he received his BA in economics and later received his MBA from Wake Forest University. Mr. Stephens was named President and Chief Executive Officer in 1986, succeeding his father, Jack Stephens. Warren was named Chairman in 2005.
Under his leadership, the firm has remained true to its mission of providing capital to middle-market and small-cap companies while expanding into major U.S. markets and opening Stephens Europe offices in London and Frankfurt. Through its public finance arm, Stephens Inc. has been recognized for its integral role in revitalizing local economies, underwriting infrastructure and education projects around the Southeastern United States.
Mr. Stephens has been vocal in his belief that banks should remain modestly leveraged, pointing to his own company’s ability to weather the economic downturn of 2008 without government assistance. He is equally vocal in his support of capitalism, frequently speaking around the country to industry associations, students, and business leaders about capitalism’s unmatched power to lift people out of poverty, create jobs, and stabilize communities.
He has served on the NASD District Conduct Committee, and ended his tenure as its chairman. Mr. Stephens currently serves on the Board of Directors of Dillard’s Inc. and is a former member of the Board of Trustees at Washington and Lee University, and he co-chaired the successful Capital Campaign that concluded in June, 2015.
Civic and community involvements include: chairman of the board of the Arkansas Arts Center; chair of the Arkansas Arts Center Foundation Board (current); co-chair of the Arkansas Arts Center Capital Campaign with his wife, Harriet C. Stephens (current); chair of Episcopal Collegiate School Foundation Board (current); chairman of the Capital Campaign to renovate the current theatre for the Arkansas Repertory Theatre; and the Board of Directors for the Central Arkansas Boys and Girls Club.
Born on February 18, 1957 in Little Rock, Arkansas, he and his wife have three adult children, Miles Stephens (Katie), John Stephens (Mary Olive), and Laura Stephens.