Gray Has a Wide-Angle Lens on the Economic Landscape

by Jennifer Joyner ([email protected]) 176 views 

Editor’s Note: Darin Gray is the former president and CEO of Gray Matters LLC, the parent company of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. It is now operated by the publication’s current management team and owned by the TDG Family Trust, of which Gray’s wife, Tami Gray, is the sole trustee.

Darin Gray has sown seeds in the soil of Arkansas enterprises for almost 30 years, starting with his early work at the state’s economic development commission, and continuing into his current role as leader of the state’s largest advertising and public relations agency. 

The chairman and chief executive officer at CJRW in Little Rock, Gray says he is competitive by nature but has built his career around supporting the mutual success of others — “as opposed to kind of running over them or up their backs.”

With his professional efforts largely focused on a desire to see fellow Arkansans succeed, Gray said the greatest yield for him personally has been perspective.

It’s been 19 years since Gray was named as one of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal’s Forty Under 40. It was 1997, the founding year of the publication, and Gray was vice president of business development at Nabholz Construction in Rogers.

Shortly afterward, he joined the Business Journal publishing staff. The magazine was new, and Gray was chosen to lead partly because of his longstanding relationships in the community, cultivated during his time at the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce, even back into his days as governor of Arkansas Boys State and president of the student body at the University of Arkansas. 

Although Gray had no previous experience in publishing, “It was a match made in heaven,” he said.

He went on to found the publishing company Gray Matters LLC in 2004, through which he ultimately acquired full ownership of the Business Journal from Arkansas Business Publishing Group of Little Rock in 2013.

Gray enjoyed a long career in media publishing that lasted until he resigned as president and CEO of Gray Matters in 2014.

“Taking a product, an entity, from its infancy and then to have grown it to the point of being able to hand it off to the next generation to run — that was very gratifying to me. That was one of my proudest moments,” Gray said.

At the same time, CJRW was in a very different stage of life when Gray took the reins in 2014, and the central Arkansas native takes pride in the work he’s done so far.

“Being able to come back to Little Rock and take a 53-year-old company, with deep roots, great structure, and move it not only into the 21st century, but beyond, to where we’re now leading this industry sector down here in the types of work we are doing — that’s also one of my proudest professional moments,” he said.

At CJRW, Gray has already led the agency through a move to a new office and the acquisition of competing agency Heathcott and Associates.

More changes are in store, as the firm continues to add to its significantly beefed-up digital department and expand its clientele outside of Arkansas, Gray said.

The proof of CJRW’s current good standing, he added, is in the stock price for the private, employee-owned company, which rose 26 percent year-over-year last December.

This is Gray’s first foray into the employee-owned sector, rounding out a career that has included stints in state government, nonprofit and for-profit.

“That’s kind of a 360-degree view of businesses growing and prospering, specifically in this state,” he said. “At CJRW, I’m fortunate to get to do what I’ve done all through my career. I get to help Arkansas companies do well, and when Arkansas companies do well, they hire Arkansans. It’s economic development. It’s job-based.”

Gray is a board member of the Centers for Missions Mobilization and founding member of the NWA CEO Forum.

He also previously served on the Arkansas State Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission. He was appointed by Gov. Mike Beebe and served as chairman in 2012.

A licensed private pilot, Gray likes to fly “every chance I get,” he said. “I’m usually never happier than when I’m up in the plane.”

It’s second only to spending time with loved ones. He and wife Tami have a 19-year-old son, Caleb, a sophomore at the UA this fall. “When I have downtime, I’m back with my family,” Gray said.