VOL. 132 | NO. 20 | Friday, January 27, 2017
The Tipping Point
Through Banking and More, Williams Invests in Memphis
BY LANCE WIEDOWER, Special to The Daily News
Duncan Williams runs his investment bank the way others might run a family. “We do things differently around here,” he concedes. “When I walk out on the floor, nobody calls me ‘Mr. Williams.’ Mostly it’s, ‘What’s up, D.?’”
Duncan Williams (Ziggy Mack)
Williams is the president of Duncan-Williams Inc., a full-service broker-dealer founded by his father in 1969. Today, it employs more than 150 people around the country, and many of them have been with the Memphis-based firm for 25 years – some as long as 40.
Inspiring employees to stick around so long would be a feat for any firm. Williams says he does it by investing in his team and encouraging them to get involved in the community. Leading by example, he serves as co-chair of the Greater Memphis Chamber’s Chairman’s Circle, as well as on the boards of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau and New Memphis Institute.
“We have to be able to recruit great people,” Williams says. “And once we get them, we need to keep them here. If we don’t have a pipeline of good citizens, then nothing good will happen.”
Williams grew up in Memphis and attended the University of Alabama. After his father passed away in 1989, his mother encouraged him to gain experience in other markets, so he honed his skills for a few years at an investment bank in Birmingham. He moved back to Memphis in 1993 to take on a variety of roles at the family business – an experience he likens to “an MBA on steroids.”
He became president of the firm in 2000, at the age of 32.
“I never thought about not coming back,” he says. “My whole life I knew I wanted to be in this business. I’ve loved Memphis since I can remember.”
Looking back, Williams says his parents served as strong examples. Both grew up in small farming communities in West Tennessee. For both, Memphis was the “big city,” and both moved here after high school. His mother, Carolyn, remains chairwoman of Duncan-Williams today.
“So, in a way, I still get my allowance from my mom,” Williams quips.
His father, meanwhile, was a particular role model. While working as a branch manager at First National Bank, Williams Sr. happened to take an elevator ride with the head of the bond department – a chance event that would alter the family’s trajectory forever.
“Thank God elevators were slow back then,” Williams observes. “In the time it took to ride six floors, he had decided to hire my dad.”
Success followed thick and fast. After a short time running the bond department at First National, Williams Sr. decided to leave and found Duncan-Williams Inc. It’s a firm his son says he always knew he wanted to join.
Today, the investment bank has broadened its business. In addition to bonds, they also sell, finance and underwrite fixed-income securities to financial institutions and the general public. In 2015, they spun off an independent asset management business, and they have been ranked by Inc. Magazine among the 5,000 fastest-growing companies in America.
Meanwhile, Williams continues to invest in Memphis. He is part of the ownership group of the Memphis Grizzlies, and his company funds local nonprofits like the Germantown Performing Arts Center, Indie Memphis and Memphis Botanic Garden.
“You can go back in history, and there are no great cities that didn’t also have great art,” he observes. “Here in Memphis, I think we’ve always recognized the importance of the arts.”
Duncan Williams is an alumnus of the Leadership Development Intensive (LDI) at New Memphis Institute. Learn more at newmemphis.org.