Growing a life and career

Dr. J. David Ashby, retired professor of economics and finance at Southern Arkansas University, has been designated the status of Professor Emeritus by the SAU Board of Trustees, an honor he said surprised him.

“I have known people who taught at SAU for much longer periods than I did who did not receive this honor,” Ashby said in his office at Mustard Seed Wealth Management, the Magnolia-based financial planning business he started in 2002.

Ashby, who retired from SAU in 2015, reflected on a long career as both a teacher and a personal finance advisor. He was named the 2015 recipient of the Distinguished Achievement in Accounting Education award given annually by the Arkansas Society of Certified Public Accountants. He taught in the areas of income taxation, estate planning and retirement planning, serving as the Peoples Bank Professor of Finance and Economics at SAU. Ashby also was a recipient of the SAU Excellence in Teaching Award, the SAU Excellence in Research Award and the SAU Honor Professor Award. In addition to publishing research in a number of professional journals, Ashby was a guest columnist for the Texarkana Gazette for eight years. He now works at Mustard Seed alongside a team of seven former SAU students.

“I can walk into almost any business in south Arkansas and there’s a good chance I’ve got a former student of mine working there,” Ashby said. “There’s also a good chance I won’t be able to remember their name!” he added, laughing.

Ashby took his undergraduate courses under Dr. David Rankin, former dean of the School of Business and later president of SAU. He began teaching at SAU in 1992 and completed his doctorate from Louisiana Tech University in 1996. “There was a Certified Financial Planner designation that no university in Arkansas offered as a program,” he said. “This was in 1997. I approached Dr. Rankin about that, and he said ‘go for it.’ We became the first university in the state to offer a registered program in financial planning.”

Ashby said he did some consulting work while teaching at SAU and often “kicked around the idea of starting a business” with one of his students, Darla Williams. “We decided to open a wealth management business. We started with nothing, in a one-room office where we could barely pay the rent. Neither of us took a paycheck the first two years. We would call people and ask to manage their money, and they would ask, ‘Well, how much are you managing now?’ And we’d say, ‘Zero, but we think we can do it.’ It took a long time to build credibility. Now we are managing more than $200 million in assets and are the largest wealth management firm in Arkansas not based in Little Rock or Fayetteville.”

Williams has retired, but Ashby went on to hire more of his former SAU students. “They are all excellent at what they do,” he said. “When you have this kind of situation, you can get the crème of the crop, and that’s what we have here.”

He and his wife Judy live in Taylor, Arkansas, and have five children and 13 grandchildren. “We keep pretty busy,” he said.

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