Our Past - History - Intro

Witt Stephens at the office headquarters in Little Rock, Arkansas. 1987

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’s brother Jack Stephens joined Stephens Inc. in 1946 and would later serve as Chairman and CEO from 1956 to 1986. Along the way, Witt and Jack invested in numerous businesses together through the family’s holding company, now known as SF Holding Corp.
The family’s investment portfolio continued to grow after Witt Sr.’s children, Witt Stephens, Jr. and Elizabeth S. Campbell, assumed active roles in the family firm in 1991 and 1981, respectively. In 2006, Witt Jr. and Elizabeth sold their interest in Stephens Inc., the investment bank and established The Stephens Group, LLC, to focus on principal investing.
  • The Stephens Group Story
    A tradition of excellence

  • 1927
    Humble Beginnings

    Witt Stephens begins selling belt buckles and other jewelry for the National Crafts Company.

  • 1933
    The Legacy Begins

    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.
    Read Company Balance Sheet >

  • 1945

    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, 72 years later, Witt’s grandchildren own AOG.

  • 1946
    The Stephens Brothers

    Witt's younger brother, Jackson T. “Jack” Stephens, joins him and forms a handshake partnership that lasts more than 45 years.

  • 1948
    Grant County Telephone Company

    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.

  • 1953
    Stephens Production Company

    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.

  • 1954

    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.

  • 1956
    President of Arkla

    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.
    Read article >

  • 1960
    Arkansas Legislator

    Witt is elected to the House of Representatives, which fulfills a promise made to his father.

  • 1968

    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.

  • 1970

    Stephens Inc. takes Wal-Mart public.

  • 1973
    Witt's Return

    Witt leaves his active role at Arkla after 17 years as President and Chairman of the Board and returns to Stephens Inc.

    Read article >>

  • 1985
    Worthen Banking Corporation

    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.

  • 1986
    The Stephens Group is Born

    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.

  • 1989
    Tyson Foods

    With Stephens Inc. acting as advisor, Tyson Foods acquires Holly Farms for $1.5 billion, which nearly doubles its national market share.

  • 1990

    Alltel Corporation purchases Systematics and then becomes Alltel Information Services, which is now Fidelity National Information Services.

  • 1991
    Witt Stephens Passes Away

    "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."

  • 1992

    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.

  • 1993
    Stephens Media Group

    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.

  • 1994
    Boatmen's Acquisition

    Boatmen's Bancshares purchases Worthen Banking Corporation, which eventually becomes Bank of America.

  • 1994
    Red Cedar Gathering

    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.

  • 1998

    Stephens Family invests in Texas-based retailer Conn's.

  • 2000
    Witt Stephens, Jr.

    Witt Stephens, Jr. assumes oversight of the combined Stephens Family energy and natural resource holdings.

  • 2001
    Hotchkis & Wiley

    Stephens Family invests in Hotchkis & Wiley, an investment management company serving institutional and individual investors around the world.

  • 2002
    Energy Transfer Partners

    Stephens Family partners with Ray Davis and Kelcy Warren and invests in Energy Transfer Partners and Energy Transfer Equity.

  • 2006
    The Stephens Group, LLC

    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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