James T. Stephens
The following biographical sketch was compiled at the time of induction into the Academy in October 2012.
James T. Stephens, was born on April 14, 1939, in Birmingham. He is the son of the founder of EBSCO Industries, Inc., Elton B. Stephens (who was, himself, a member of the Alabama Academy of Honor), and Alys Robinson Stephens. After attending public school in Birmingham, Stephens obtained an A.B. in history in 1961 from Yale University. In 1964, he graduated with a Masters of Business Administration from Harvard University.
Stephens started his business career at an early age, working during summers in high school as a commission-compensated, door-to-door salesman of magazine subscriptions across the southeast. After college, his graduate degree, and service in the U.S. Army as an airborne qualified infantry lieutenant, Stephens returned to Birmingham and his family’s business. He served as president of EBSCO from 1970 through 2005, and as chairman since 2002. Under his leadership at EBSCO, the company grew from 750 to 5,500 employees. Information Services, as both a subscription services agency and a database publisher for worldwide libraries of academic institutions and corporations, grew to be the company’s major line of business. EBSCO also continued to broaden diversity into other areas of business and now consists of 35 different entities. These range from real estate development to structural joist and roof deck manufacture and from promotional gift manufacture and distribution to an insurance agency. EBSCO is the world’s largest manufacturer of fishing lures and brings to market a line of hunting products. The company shares 15% of its before-tax profit with employees through its EBSCO Savings and Profit Sharing Trust, which for 25 years has averaged 9% of payroll annually to personnel. The company is an extraordinarily charitable corporation, contributing 5% of before-tax profits to charity and matching each $1 of employee contributions to the United Way with $1.50.
Stephens has served as board chairman for the Highlands School, Altamont School, and Birmingham-Southern College. He has also served as chairman of the Greater Alabama Council of Boy Scouts of America and of the Endowment Board of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. He received an Honorary Doctor of Laws from Birmingham-Southern College and an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of Alabama. In 2003, he was inducted into the University of Alabama College of Communication and Information Sciences Hall of Fame, and in 2008 into the Birmingham Business Hall of Fame and the Alabama Business Hall of Fame.
Stephens has the guiding belief that a society’s goodness is defined by the average and the lowest-level quality of life achieved for its citizens, and its greatest asset is a system which furthers meritocracy and avoids unearned privilege. His estate plan bequeaths his estate, excepting some real property, to a foundation with the aim of gifting its content within 10 to 15 years. Stephens is the sole $2 million cumulated donor to the Birmingham Metropolitan Area United Way. He now maintains 78 scholarships for college students with financial need and academic worth at Jefferson State Community College, Troy University, Birmingham-Southern College, and various institutions through Eagle Scout Scholarship Awards. He makes every effort currently to support a wide variety of charitable endeavors from UNICEF and Doctors Without Borders to God’s Outreach Center in Harpersville, Alabama.
Stephens enjoys family, especially grandchildren, travel, reading about history and international relations, hiking, and horseback riding. He and his wife, Julie, have four children -- Bryson, Trent, Bart, and Alys, all of whom are married and the parents of Jim and Julie’s nine grandchildren.