Founder of Dillard's Department Stores Dies

William T. Dillard Sr, the founder of Dillard's department store chain, died this morning in his sleep at his Little Rock home. He was 87.

A company news release expressed great sorrow with the death of company's founder and board chairman.

The department store is one of the largest in the country. Dillard founded the company in 1938.

Dillard's Incorporated was formerly known as Dillard Department Stores Incorporated. The chain started with a two-thousand-500 square-foot store in southwestern Arkansas and has stores in more than half the country.

In 1989, Fortune magazine called the chain "a quiet superstar ... family run, highly computerized, extremely competitive and great for investors."

The chain, with more than 340 stores in 29 states, had sales of $8.7 billion last year. It is the nation's third-largest upscale department store chain, behind Federated and May. The family still runs the chain and holds four of the 12 seats on the company's board.

"I have no hobbies," Dillard once said, and his wife Alexa once said that he wouldn't live long if he ever retired. However, Dillard had turned over the day-to-day management of the company to sons William II, Mike and Alex.

Dillard served in the Navy during World War II. By 1948, he had made enough money to open a department store in Texarkana. He sold the Nashville store and opened two more in Magnolia and Tyler, Texas.

By 1960, Dillard once recalled, he was 45 and making more than $500,000 a year. "But I wasn't satisfied. I wanted to be a leading department store owner."

So he moved to Tulsa and bought Brown-Dunkin, which was heavily in debt to four banks. "It was the best gamble I ever made," he said. "In 18 months I stopped the losses, refinanced and made it whole."

Before computers, Dillard had store managers call him every night with a total of the day's receipts. When one manager said he had a slow day because of bad weather, Dillard said, "If I had wanted a weather report, I would have called the weather bureau."

For Dillard, "growth is the name of the game."