William Dunavant

William Dunavant, better known as Billy Dunavant is one of the leaders in the cotton industry.

Billy Dunavant was born on December 19, 1932 to William and Dorothy Dunavant. He was educated first at the McCallie School in Chattanooga, then at prestigious Vanderbilt University, and finally received his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Memphis State University. His maternal grandfather, T.J. White, was a cotton farmer from Tunica, Mississippi. His paternal grandfather, Colonel William P. Dunavant was in the railroad business and created one of the main cotton transporting railroads of the time. Billy’s father began working for T.J. White and Company at the age of 21. After T.J. retired, the company was passed to Billy’s father; however, because of the untimely death of his father, Billy took over the company at the young age of 29.

When Dunavant took over the company in 1961 they handled around 100,000 bales of cotton a year, and ninety percent of their sales were in the United States. Dunavant “partly attributes his success to a ‘God-given’ talent for proper timing.” Everyone in the industry knows that Dunavant is blessed with this talent and that it is the reason for many of his accomplishments. With this skill for good timing he was able to expand the cotton industry out of the country. Today, the company sells over 4 million bales of cotton to more than 80 countries around the world. Dunavant Enterprises is on the Forbes 400 list of largest private companies and according to the Memphis Business Journal, it is the largest private company in Memphis.

One reason for Dunavant’s great success is his innovative business techniques. In a 1976 article in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, his great business strategy is discussed: “Dunavant’s company was one of the first to go into ‘future contracting,’ whereby a farmer agrees to a price before he plants. It’s a risky venture speculating on future cotton prices but Dunavant prospered while others floundered.” On March 13, 2007 Billy Dunavant was inducted into the Futures Industry Association’s Hall of Fame for his work in the cotton futures business.

Dunavant is a man of his word especially in the business transactions that he makes. Much of the business that he did was done over the telephone. "If a cottonman doesn't keep his word, 'he is through,' [Dunavant] said." The ethical way that he ran his business can be seen as a model for other business leaders in all industries.

After a very fruitful career in the cotton industry, Dunavant stepped down as chief executive officer in 2005 to pursue his interests in tennis, fishing, hunting and golf. Before his retirement Dunavant completed the second-largest cotton sale in history. The sale was to China and it was a gross sale of $225 million. Although Dunavant is no longer the CEO, he says that he will remain chairman of the board forever. Dunavant Enterprises and the cotton industry have been such vital and integral parts of his life that he is not willing to let it go altogether.

Dunavant has always been extremely involved in the Memphis community working with institutions such as Rhodes College, Memphis University School, and Boy Scouts of America. Dunavant’s love of tennis inspired him to build the Memphis Racquet Club in 1972. His aspirations for a professional football team resulted in him selling the Racquet Club in 1992. The football team, the Memphis Showboats, was unfortunately not a success but the venture showed Dunavant’s hope to improve the Memphis community.

It is ironic to note that this man who been such integral part of the cotton industry is in fact allergic to cotton. In his early years when he spent hours in a room with cotton, he would have to give himself a shot three times a day. This is one of the many examples of his dedication to his work. Billy Dunavant’s contributions to the futures market and the world economy for cotton have made a lasting impression that will impact the cotton industry for decades to come.


* “Coffee Break – Dunavant among 19 named to Futures hall.” The Commercial Apeal. 10 March 2007: C1.
* Coleman, Laura. “Dunavant now king in cotton.” The Commercial Appeal. 21 November 1987: A1..
* “Cotton Has Played Big Role In Life of Carnival Rulers.” Press Semiter. 9 April 1973.
* “Dunavant steps aside.” The Commercial Appeal. 2 August 2005: B4.
* “Dunavant Steps down in June – Innovative cotton merchant opened markets around globe.” The Commercial Appeal. 6 January 2005: C1.
* “Dunavant to get humanitarian award.” The Commercial Appeal. 20 August 1991: C5.
* Gatewood, Dallas. “Cotton Carnival King William Dunavant Jr.” The Commercial Appeal. 8 April 1973
* Mark, Roy. “’Impetuous’ Dunavant Plants his projects in High Cotton.’” The Commercial Appeal. 28 March 1976.
* Maum, Emmet. “Dunavant’s ‘Knack for Timing’ Fosters International Success In Cotton Market.” The Commercial Appeal. 15 March 1981.
* Porteous, Clark. “Cotton Dealing is 24-Hour Business for Dunavant.” Press Semiter. 8 January 1977.
* Roberts, Jane. “From a cotton empire to a Montana ranch.” The Commercial Appeal. 31 July 2005: A14.
* “Scouts will salute Dunavant.” The Commercial Appeal. 26 Oct. 2005: C1.
* VanWyngarden, Bruce. "Q. and A. with William B. Dunavant." Memphis Flyer 19 Feb 2001 30 Sep 2007 http://www.memphisflyer.com/memphis/Content?oid=oid%3A6748
* “William Buchanan Dunavant, Jr.” Marquis Who’s Who TM. Marquis Who’s Who, 2007. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale. 2007. http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC

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