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The family business.

Brother, Nephew, Son Will Continue Following Death of Witt Stephens

W.R. "Witt" Stephens left the family business to the family.

His younger brother, Jack, 68, is chairman of the Little Rock-based investment banking firm Stephens Inc.

Jack's son, 34-year-old Warren, is president and chief executive officer of Stephens Inc.

Witt's 23-year-old son, Witt Jr., recently joined the family business as an associate.

Witt Stephens left the investment firm at the end of 1956 to devote his energies to Arkansas Louisiana Gas Co. as president and chairman of the board. Jack began running Stephens Inc. in January 1957.

Still, the cigar-chomping founder never gave up the trading game.

Until Nov. 15, when he was hospitalized, Witt Stephens came to the office each day, made transactions and kept in touch with longtime clients.

In the words of one local broker, "He was outworking 30-year-olds."

Stephens left his various enterprises in good shape financially. All have respected management teams.

Still, his absence will have an impact.

For one thing, Stephens left behind hundreds of clients who perhaps were more devoted to Witt Stephens than Stephens Inc.

"The relationship between client and broker is a personal relationship," says one Little Rock broker. "Those who continued to do business with Mister Witt probably will find it difficult to maintain the same type of relationship |with a new broker~."

Holdings Everywhere

"He's going to be sorely missed," another analyst says. "He's the best salesman and classiest guy I've ever met in the state of Arkansas.

"You can't lose someone like that and not feel it. |But~ they've done a good job diversifying."

The Stephens family seemingly is into everything, from its well-known investment firm to being the largest stockholder in the Little Rock-based Alltel Corp.

Until a reorganization four years ago shifted money from the brokerage firm to a holding company, Stephens Inc. was the largest brokerage operation off Wall Street. At the time, it had more than $500 million in capital, ranking 16th nationally.

What Witt and Jack built, Warren Stephens is preserving.

"The job of a second generation of wealth is often preservation of assets, rather than exhibiting the flair that created them," one broker told The New York Times in 1988. "Warren wants to make money for the firm, but he wants to do it by lots of transactions rather than riskier ventures."

Still, Warren has shown nerve.

In 1989, when Stephens was counseling Tyson Foods Inc. in its battle against ConAgra Inc. for control of Holly Farms, Warren and Jack were at Springdale for final negotiations.

The only thing holding up the deal was Tyson's final bid.

Don Tyson, chairman and CEO of the poultry giant, stood up and said $69 a share was all Holly Farms was worth.

Then, Warren responded aggressively, "Now, Don, if it is worth $69, it has got to be worth $70, and $70 will get this deal done."

It did.

Warren Stephens has taken on more of a public profile than Jack, his reclusive father. It was Warren who announced at a news conference the family's donation of $2 million of land for the proposed Diamond Center in downtown Little Rock.

Waiting in the wings is Witt Jr.

Upon graduation from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville last June, Witt's only son was voted the outstanding finance student in his class. He now works at Stephens Inc. as an associate.

Has Witt Jr. inherited his father's business and people skills?

It could take a decade or more to answer that question.

Among stockbrokers, Witt Stephens was the master.

Alex Lieblong of the Little Rock office of PaineWebber Inc. says Stephens put most brokers to shame, right up until the end.

"His insight and thirst for this business has been passed on to others at Stephens," says John Barnes of the Little Rock office of Shearson Lehman Brothers Inc. "The legacy he developed will continue."

Stephens Holding Company

Stephens Inc.

Investment Banking Capital: $100 million

Financial Services

* Discount Brokerage * Stephens Link * Investment Advisory Services

Municipal Underwriting Corporate Finance Stephens Capital Management (Manages about $350 million)

Stephens Group

Includes family interests outside the investment bank. Capital: $400 million

Two biggest entities with combined total of about $200 million.

Stephens Production Co. (Oil and gas exploration)

Alltel (Family has 10 percent ownership)

Also partial ownership of:

* Worthen Banking Corp. * Beverly Enterprises * Other multiple private investments
COPYRIGHT 1991 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

 
Article Details
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Title Annotation:Warren Stephens takes over Stephens Inc. after death of Wilton R. Stephens
Author:Webb, Kane
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Biography
Date:Dec 9, 1991
Words:727
Previous Article:Career building.
Next Article:Selling overseas: almost 800 Arkansas businesses look outside the country's borders.
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