All in the Family: Stewart Information Services Corporation Has Changed a Lot since Its Founding in 1893. Now This Company Is a 21st-Century Corporation Offering State-of-the-Art Solutions in Real Estate Information Services

Article excerpt

STEWART MORRIS JR. CAN PROUDLY BOAST that he is the third generation of his family to head the company that is now called Stewart Information Services Corporation, Houston.

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It's been an industrious journey for his family. As he recalls, "My grandfather, W.C. Morris, worked for Maco and Minor Stewart, founders [in 1893] of the company, and married their sister, Willie. My father, Stewart Morris, worked in the company all his life, starting at age 10, and he is still there at 84. I started at age 10 and have put in 45 years since."

The line may not end with Morris Jr. His oldest child, Faith, turned 10 in 2000 and started working in the company that year.

"It's in the blood, like a line of old hunting dogs," Morris jokes. "Faith has shown a real natural ability. We talk business in the family it seems like all the time. The kids, by the time they go to work, have traveled with me, visited some of our agents, ran through the offices and seen the processes."

And what if they don't take to the family business? Well, that's OK, too.

"It seems like the title business is fundamental to a lot of businesses," Morris says. "What you learn in our business is how to handle real estate transactions, and real estate is one of the main engines in our economy. Everybody gets into real estate sooner or later, so if the children want to go into law or some other kind of business they have at least this foundation."

If his children do end up lending a hand in Stewart Information Services, it will be at a company that has grown and changed as much as they eventually will. The old title business has for the most part become a high-tech business of information ascertained, constructed and delivered via technology. And because a company such as Stewart has become so adept at transmitting data electronically, it's only natural for it to do more than deliver just title insurance. It transmits other real estate documents as well.

Today, Stewart Information Services can be better understood in terms of being a real estate information and transaction management company. Stewart delivers via eCommerce the services required for settlement by the real estate and mortgage industries: title reports, flood determinations, credit reports, appraisals and automated valuation models (AVMs), document preparation, property reports and background checks.

Stewart also provides post-closing services to lenders, automates county clerk land records, does property ownership mapping, provides geographic information services for governmental entities and offers expertise in tax-related exchanges.

The breakdown

Although Morris would prefer to define his organization as being composed of six different divisions, others could legitimately conclude Stewart Information Services is a) about title insurance and b) about real estate information services. In fact, in official reports, Stewart discloses results from just two divisions--and that's because under Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulations a business segment must attain a 10 percent level of revenue.

"We are growing some new areas, and those haven't emerged to where they have that big a portion of our top line [balance sheet], but they are on their way," Morris says.

In Morris' view, the company consists of the title business (Stewart Title Guaranty Co., Houston); the real estate information (REI) group (Stewart REI Data Inc., Houston); Stewart Mortgage Information (SMI), Houston; Stewart Realty Solutions, Houston (technology for real estate agents); Stewart Information International Inc., Houston; and Landata Systems Inc., Houston (title technology group).

Last year, Stewart revenues rose to $2.243 billion, which, reports the company, was a record. It was that kind of year for Stewart as records were also reached in regard to profits, earnings per share, title orders and book value per share. …