In 1933, W.R. (Witt) Stephens founded Stephens Inc. to trade and invest in Arkansas Highway bonds, which were then selling as low as ten cents on the dollar. He had been encouraged by his father, A.J. Stephens, 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 providing sound financial counseling.
Witt Stephens begins selling belt buckles and other jewelry for the National Crafts Company.
Witt begins trading Arkansas highway bonds, which were selling as low as 10 cents on the dollar. After the bonds pay off at par, Witt founds W. R. Stephens Investment Company, building one of the premier Southeastern U.S. bond houses.
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Witt acquires extensive natural gas interests and controls most of the gas production and distribution in the state. When President Roosevelt tries to break up utility holding companies in 1945, Witt personally pays $1.2 million for the Fort Smith Gas Corporation (now Arkansas Oklahoma Gas Corporation or AOG). AOG is one of the few assets the Stephens brothers own separately. Today, 67 years later, Witt’s grandchildren own AOG.
Witt's younger brother, Jackson T. “Jack” Stephens, joins him and forms a handshake partnership that lasts more than 45 years.
Witt sells Grant County Telephone Co. to Hugh Wilbourn and Charlie Miller. This launches a fifty-year relationship and leads to the evolution of global telecom giant Alltel.
Stephens Family buys Oklahoma Producing Company and assigns its transmission properties to AOG. The remainder of Oklahoma Producing Co. serves as the foundation for a new natural gas and oil exploration company, Stephens Production. This purchase begins a relationship with the Walker family that spans three generations. Today Bill Walker and Witt Stephens, Jr. continue to oversee the family's oil and gas interests.
Witt acquires Arkansas Louisiana Gas Company (Arkla) from Cities Service Company. At the time, Arkla had one of the worst earnings records in the utility industry. Over two years Witt reorganizes the company, cuts expenses, negotiates rate increases from the State Public Service Commission and improves summer gas sales.
Witt becomes President and Chairman of the Board of Arkla, leaving the investment company in the hands of his brother, Jack Stephens. He extends and improves gas service to scores of communities and new industries with offers of long-term, low-cost contracts. Witt successfully leads Arkla from a turnaround to one of the best-performing utility stocks of its time.
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Witt is elected to the House of Representatives, which fulfills a promise made to his father.
Stephens Family partners with Walter Smiley to create Systematics and begins a relationship that spans more than 40 years. Systematics becomes a leader in bank-data processing and is ultimately acquired by Alltel.
Stephens Inc. takes Wal-Mart public.
Witt leaves his active role at Arkla after 17 years as President and Chairman of the Board and returns to Stephens Inc.
After the bankruptcy of Bevill, Bresler & Schulman depletes the capital of Worthen Banking Corporation in April 1985, the Stephens brothers provide the equity possible to recapitalize the bank.
Witt and Jack Stephens create Stephens Group to hold all the private holdings of the combined Stephens Family except for the investment bank, Stephens Inc. Warren Stephens takes over as CEO of Stephens Inc.
With Stephens Inc. acting as advisor, Tyson Foods acquires Holly Farms for $1.5 billion, which nearly doubles its national market share.
Alltel Corporation purchases Systematics and then becomes Alltel Information Services, which is now Fidelity National Information Services.
"Witt Stephens was an Arkansas legend. He was a great business leader who helped to build our state, and was a force in politics for decades. He was also a good friend to me. I treasured his friendship and advice, and I will miss him very much."
Stephens Family makes a major equity investment in Viking Range Corporation and plays a significant role in the company’s growth and expansion since that time.
Stephens Family acquires Donrey Media Group and renames it Stephens Media Group. Donrey Media owned and operated numerous newspapers, outdoor advertising franchises, cable operations and television stations, including the Las Vegas Review Journal.
Boatmen's Bancshares purchases Worthen Banking Corporation, which eventually becomes Bank of America.
Stephens Family partners with the Ute Indian tribe to create a natural gas gathering and treating company, Red Cedar Gathering, located in La Plata County, Colo. The company’s operations occur primarily in the Southern Ute Indian Reservation.
Stephens Family invests in Texas-based retailer Conn's.
Witt Stephens, Jr. assumes oversight of the combined Stephens Family energy and natural resource holdings.
Stephens Family invests in Hotchkis & Wiley, an investment management company serving institutional and individual investors around the world.
Stephens Family partners with Ray Davis and Kelcy Warren and invests in Energy Transfer Partners and Energy Transfer Equity.
Witt Stephens, Jr. and Elizabeth S. Campbell sell their interest in Stephens Inc., the investment bank, and establish The Stephens Group, LLC, to focus on principal investing.
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