The name “Duncan Williams” has been part of the Southeastern financial scene for more than 40 years.
Duncan-Williams Inc. was founded in Memphis by A. Duncan Williams in 1969, a time when Memphis was notorious for high-living, hard-charging, super-selling “bond daddies” who sold municipal bonds to small-town banks.
After regulators cracked down and drove the bond daddies to other states, Duncan-Williams was one of the survivors. Williams died in 1989, and the company was taken over by his wife, Carolyn, who is still the major stockholder and co-chairman of one of the largest female-owned broker-dealer firms in the country.
The CEO is their son, Duncan F. Williams, who jokes that, “I still get my allowance from my mom.”
Williams is a graduate of the University of Alabama. He and his wife, Abbie, have three young children. Under his leadership, the company has moved into stocks and capital markets and embarked on a “500 by 50” expansion aimed at producing $500 million in annual revenues by 2019, when the firm will be 50 years old. It currently has about 170 employees and offices in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Charlotte, Seattle, Cleveland, Atlanta, and other cities. In 2010, Inc. Magazine ranked the firm as one of the 5,000 Fastest Growing Private Companies in the U.S. Duncan-Williams’ revenue grew by 183 percent from 2006 to 2009, making it one of the hottest investment banking firms in the country.
The company is active in the community as well. It is the title sponsor of the Memphis Grizzlies Charitable Foundation’s youth mentoring program called TEAM UP. Beginning in 2011, Duncan-Williams became the presenting sponsor of the Indie Memphis Film Festival.
Williams is past chair of the Leadership Academy, a member of the Memphis Economic Club, on the board of Presbyterian Day School, and a member of the advisory board of SunTrust Bank.
The stock market gets the headlines, but the bond market is much bigger. Civilizations are built on debt. Whether it’s an aqueduct in Rome or an arena in Memphis or a school in Itawamba County, Mississippi, some government, agency, or corporation is always building something and borrowing money to pay for it.
Duncan-Williams is one of the companies that buys and sells that debt — a broker-dealer in the trade talk. The company is involved in nearly all of the deals that have to do with the debt of Memphis and Shelby County.
The company is headquartered in The Forum, a glass office building on Poplar Avenue in the suburban heart of the business and financial center of Memphis. In 2011, Duncan-Williams extended its lease for another dozen years. The nerve center is the trading floor where the jargon and acronyms that most people only hear on the news or see in their mortgage statement come to life each morning. This is the world of Fannie and Freddie, taxables and munis, calls and spreads and basis points, GNMAs and junk bonds.
Name: Duncan Williams
Company: Duncan-Williams Inc.
Address: 6750 Poplar Avenue, Suite 300
Services Provided: Full-service brokerage and investment banking firm
How Long with Company: 19 years, 12 years as CEO
Number of Employees: 125 in Memphis and 170 overall
What makes a good CEO: “The people who work with you have to know that they have your full support, and that in almost all situations the needs of the employee should come before the needs of the CEO.”