Stephens Gears Up to Grow Bond Business

Larry Bowden returned to familiar ground at Stephens Inc. when he made an internal career move this year.

Bowden, a 26-year veteran at Stephens, was named executive vice president and manager of fixed-income sales. The Little Rock investment banking firm is part of Stephens Group Inc., which ranks as the second-largest private company in Arkansas with estimated 2005 revenue of $1.4 billion. (Stephens has never provided revenue figures for Arkansas Business' annual list of private companies.)

Bowden, 52, succeeded Keith Krueger, who held the post for seven years. Bowden joined Stephens Inc. in December 1979, working in the fixed-income sales department before going on to hold several other positions.

In his new role, he oversees an institutional sales force of 45 along with an additional 35 staffers involved with trading support, administration and analysis work. Beyond the Little Rock headquarters, 20 more are scattered among the company's 20 other offices.

Stephens Inc. was founded on fixed-income sales and public finance business, and though the company has broadened its interests, the two sectors remain a business legacy of the firm.

Stephens ranked No. 45 in the nation among bond underwriters with 83 issues in 2005 valued at more than $848 million, according to Thomson Financial.

"We are aggressively trying to grow the branches," Bowden said. "We have a goal of achieving 50 percent growth during the next two years. That will be dependent on hiring the right people. We're interviewing some people around the country that we're very excited about."

Earlier this year, Dennis Clay was recruited to rejoin Stephens as senior vice president and underwriter/syndicate manager in fixed-income as part of the company's push to expand.

Clay had worked at Stephens five years before joining Little Rock's Crews & Associates in 2005. Before that, Clay's public finance career included Little Rock's T.J. Raney & Sons Inc., which he joined in 1986, and continued after the firm's 1989 acquisition by Morgan Keegan & Co. of Memphis.

The prospect of helping Stephens grow its business attracted Clay to return to the company.

Regionally, Stephens is hoping to tap in on a watershed of bond financing as the Gulf Coast region seeks to rebuild after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Some estimates place the value of bond issues at $60 billion to $80 billion in Mississippi alone.

"Arkansas and Tennessee is still our bread and butter and to a certain extent Louisiana," said Curt Bradbury, chief operating officer at Stephens. "The key for us is to be in there slugging away to get our share of financings."

Bowden worked three years in fixed-income sales before transferring in 1982 to the financial services group at Stephens, the clearing operation for member banks across the country.