Who Is William T. Dillard II?

William Dillard II is the chair of the board and chief executive officer (CEO) of Dillard's Inc., a chain of department stores based in Little Rock, Arkansas. He's the oldest son of William T. Dillard, the founder of Dillard Department Stores. He began his career at Dillard's in 1967 and became executive vice president in 1973. From 1977 to 1998, he served as president and chief operating officer (COO). In 1998, he was named CEO of Dillard's. In 2002, Dillard II also became the chair.

Key Takeaways

  • William T. Dillard II is the son of William T. Dillard Sr., the founder of Dillard's department stores and Dillard's Inc.
  • DIllard II and his siblings have been caretakers of the family business since the turn of the century, but they haven't done much to modernize it.
  • DIllard's continues to be a winner in the retail industry relative to its competitors—such as Macy's and Nordstrom's—because of William T. Dillard II's focus on catering to his customer base.

Understanding William T. Dillard II

William Dillard II was born in Nashville, Arkansas in 1945. He received a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Arkansas and a Master of Business Administration from Harvard University. He also holds an honorary doctorate of business degree from the University of Arkansas.

William Dillard II is the first son of William Dillard, the founder of Dillard's. William T. Dillard Sr. was the son of grocers. He founded Dillard's department store in 1938 and took the company public in 1969. Dillard Sr. wanted his sons to work in his business, and many of them do. In addition to William T. Dillard II, his son Alex Dillard is the president and director, his son Michael Dillard is a director and executive vice president, and his daughter Drue Matheny is also a director and executive vice president of Dillard's.

William Dillard Sr. capitalized on the growth of the mall in the mid-20th century, specifically in the south and southwestern America. Some of Dillard's success relative to its competitors—such as Nordstrom's and Macy's—has been its investment in real estate. Dillard's owns approximately 44 million square feet out of the total 50 million square feet of the real estate that its stores occupy. Dillard Sr. also developed a practice of extensively scouting the best locations for his stores, a practice his son has maintained.

William Dillard II's success has been to preserve the strategy pursued by his father, though it is notable that Dillard's only work experience is at the company his father founded. Many critics of the company say the company's management is insular and reluctant to change in the face of changes to the retail industry in the 21st century.

Dillard II and his siblings in upper management have been excellent caretakers of their family business thus far, and the continued financial success of the company can be attributed to knowing their customers well and catering to their desires. Dillard II is in his 70s, and much of Dillard's customer base is the same: their target demographic is primarily older, middle class, and white.

This will eventually become a problem for the company as these customers are replaced by younger consumers who expect online interaction and more innovative styles.

Dillard II's legacy as a titan of the industry my rest on the ability of his son, William T. Dillard III's, ability to usher the company into the digital age. Dillard III is a senior vice president at Dillard's Inc. It's not clear if he is the next in line to run the company, but given the tight-knit family business, this succession scenario is heavily speculated.

William Dillard II has served on the board of directors of Acxiom Corporation since 1988 and on the board of directors of Barnes & Noble, Inc. since 1993. In 2015, he received the University of Arkansas Chancellor's Medal for service in higher education and society. He was inducted into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame in 2016.