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Business Icons: Jim Lindsey Builds Real Estate Empire from Toughness

5 min read

Lyndy Lindsey tells a story about his dad’s business toughness, sanitized for publication.

Jim Lindsey had graduated from the University of Arkansas and had been drafted by the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings in the second round of the 1966 draft. Part of his $75,000 signing bonus had gone to purchase property that was the site of Herman’s Ribhouse, the now-landmark steak restaurant then in its infancy in Fayetteville.

Herman’s owner, Herman Tuck, was late with the rent and, according to Lyndy’s story, was stalling the young landlord. Jim Lindsey showed up one night and politely asked for his rent.

When that didn’t work, well, Lindsey decided to use Option B. Lyndy said his dad evicted Tuck on the spot — in front of witnesses such as Tyson Foods executives Don Tyson and Joe Fred Starr, who had stopped their game of pool to watch the showdown.

“He was offended that this little college kid who owns the building is coming in to ask for the rent,” Lyndy Lindsey said. “Herman said, ‘I’ll get you the rent tomorrow.’ Dad turned to walk out and then came back in and said, ‘Let me tell you something, you get yourself and get out of here by morning. I want you out!’”

The eviction worked. Herman Tuck paid Jim Lindsey the next morning and was never late again, Lyndy Lindsey said.

“I threw a tantrum on him,” said Jim Lindsey.

It had further benefits, though, because Tyson and Starr were impressed by the young businessman’s mettle. A few days later, Tyson and Starr ran into Lindsey.

“They said, ‘You know, bets were out whether you were going to make it as a businessman; after that night, we both decided you were going to be just fine,’” Lyndy Lindsey said.

Jim Lindsey, now 71, interjects to say he remembers the details of that night exactly, and that his son didn’t tell the story as well as he did. Few people tell stories as well as Jim Lindsey; few people have such a story to tell.

“They think you have to be tough enough to step out in front of it, you know,” Jim Lindsey said, recalling that night. “I really wasn’t. I still ain’t, but I got to pay my bills.”

The Jim Lindsey story is well known in northwest Arkansas; it was even made into a 34-minute documentary that was narrated by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

Jones and Lindsey were teammates on the Razorbacks’ 1964 national championship football team. Lindsey played seven seasons with the Vikings before returning to northwest Arkansas for good.

He was prepared, having spent his bonus money on 137 acres in north Fayetteville, land that eventually became the Northwest Arkansas Mall.

That initial investment led to a real estate career that spawned a development conglomerate — made up of such companies as Lindsey & Associates and Lindsey Management — that oversees 145 apartment complexes throughout the mid-South.

Jim Lindsey has said that his incredible math skills are part of the reason for his success — associates rave about how he can calculate complex number problems almost instantly in his head. But Lindsey, the son of farmers in Caldwell (St. Francis County), also had an innate sense about quality land.

That combination made Lindsey one of the state’s premier developers.

“There’s a lot of people smarter than me at math, but not a whole lot,” Lindsey said. “Land is not a genius science. I think it is a lot more intuition than everybody thinks.”

Lyndy Lindsey tells of scouting with his dad for property for an apartment complex in Tulsa. On the way to the handful of sites their scout had preselected, the group got turned around on some back roads when Jim Lindsey pointed to a patch of land.

“Dad said, ‘What about that piece right here?’” Lyndy said. “That’s where we built. He has that intuition, the unbelievable intuition to find the right piece of property. There’s no doubt about it.”

Jim Lindsey said he settled on property development as a career, even while he was playing in the NFL, because his father and uncles had been farmers in east Arkansas. When he started buying, northwest Arkansas wasn’t the economic engine it is now. Instead it comprised an isolated university in Fayetteville and a few promising companies scattered up the road — Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt.

“I had just seen so many good things happen here,” Lindsey said. “I didn’t just jump out there and buy everything. I was cautious enough to choose and pick the best stuff in town.”

Lindsey also said he relied on advice from former teammate Ken Hatfield. Hatfield told him to pray about decisions, and Lindsey said prayer has never steered him wrong.

Lyndy Lindsey loves to tell this story, a figurative and literal description of what he said made his father great.

It was sometime in 1978 or 1980 — Lyndy can’t remember which year exactly — but it was a night of a heavy snowstorm, 6 or 7 inches as he remembered. The Lindseys had attended a Razorbacks basketball game and were returning to their home atop a steep drive on Lovers Lane in Fayetteville.

Cars were parked at the base of the hill and Leo Marvin, a pilot for the university, told Jim Lindsey that the weather had made it impossible for anyone to drive up the hill. Especially someone like Jim Lindsey, who was in the family’s blue Oldsmobile.

Jim Lindsey took off up the hill. Lyndy and his brother John David whooped and hollered from the backseat as their dad sideswiped something and jumped the curb a couple of times to regain traction in someone’s yard.

“There was no regard for the vehicle,” Lyndy said. “We were rooting on Dad like you wouldn’t believe.”

Jim Lindsey got the car in the family driveway, fishtailing maybe, but he had gotten up the hill that he was told he couldn’t get up.

“We were along for the ride,” Lyndy Lindsey said. “That is what his life has been. People told him he couldn’t do something, so he did it. He’s a one-of-a-kind individual.”

See more at Ten Arkansas Business Icons Have Stories to Tell

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