Then & Now: Dearnley’s career comes full circle with LR return

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 614 views 

Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the Sept. 25 issue of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “Then & Now” is a profile of a past member of the Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class.


Matthew Dearnley has come full circle in his commercial real estate career. It started in Little Rock more than 20 years ago when he began working for his father-in-law as vice president at Central Properties Inc.

The son of a Wall Street portfolio manager, Dearnley was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y. He was 16 when he moved to Arkansas. His father joined Little Rock-based Stephens Inc. after the stock market crash in the 1980s.

He graduated from Pulaski Academy in Little Rock and returned to New York for college. At the time, he said he’d never return to Arkansas. After graduating college, he met a Little Rock native living in New York City.

“She was on my plane going back,” he said. “We talked when we got off the plane in Cincinnati … for an hour … Then, we waited through the baggage line and taxi line together. I ended up asking her out.”

He was speaking about his wife, Jessica, whom he married halfway through graduate school. He earned his MBA from the University of Miami in 2002 before moving to Little Rock to work for his father-in-law.

Less than a year after moving to Little Rock, he left for Northwest Arkansas and joined Orion Capital Partners in Fayetteville. Orion was developing Blessings Golf Club for John Tyson, chairman of Tyson Foods. Dearnley was a partner at Orion when the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal named him to the Forty Under 40 class in 2005.

In 2007, he and some partners at Orion co-founded the Northwest Arkansas office of Flake & Kelly. He was managing partner of the office until 2020, when he moved back to Little Rock.

Dearnley, 50, pointed to his time there as a career highlight.

“When I left, we had over 1 million square feet of property under management,” he said. “We had a big brokerage team, and we’ve been able to turn it into one of the big commercial shops in the region.”

He remained in Northwest Arkansas when his wife relocated to Little Rock in the fall of 2019 to work alongside her father and company founder, John Flake. The following spring, she co-founded Flake & Co. in Little Rock.

Dearnley said he spent about a year in Northwest Arkansas as his eldest daughter completed high school in Fayetteville before moving to Little Rock to join Flake & Co. He said watching his wife grow the company has been another career highlight.

“We are a small family company,” he said. “I am head of brokerage here, but being a small company, everyone contributes everywhere.”

Flake & Co. has 10 employees.

“We do a lot of work with a lot of the doctors in town,” he said. “John Flake and Karen Flake are our biggest clients when you look at the properties we manage.”

Flake & Co. helped one of his clients, Summit Utilities, find land in Heber Springs that the utility recently acquired. They’re also collaborating on a project in Cabot.

“I’ve developed a large office complex [and] apartment complexes,” Dearnley said. “I’ve been very proud of what I’ve seen our brokerage team do and the amount of real estate we have bought and sold throughout Arkansas.”

Dearnley and his family own land they’re looking to develop in Northwest Arkansas. They also own area retail and office buildings.

His goal is to help turn Flake & Co. into one of the leading commercial firms in the state. The firm has 1.25 million square feet under management and looks to double that in two to three years.

“We’ve got a few big things in the works, and long term, we’re hoping that this is something that we can build up and pass down to the next generation,” he said.

Dearnley and his wife reside in Little Rock and have three children: Celeste, Allison and Colin. They are 20, 18 and 16, respectively.

“They have been my bedrock along with my wife, Jessica, where we’ve been married 22 years now,” he said.

He supports Jericho Way and wants to become more active in the Downtown Little Rock Partnership.