Leadership Change Causes Ripples at Southern Bancorp

by George Waldon  on Monday, Feb. 27, 2012 12:00 am  

Southern Bancorp's roster of shareholders is dominated by names such as the Walton Family Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation and Metropolitan Life Foundation as well as corporate benefactors.

Smiley's ascent to president and CEO, without the benefit of a nationwide search, marks a departure from the norm for Southern Bancorp Inc., typically led by an experienced banker.

Smiley is no stranger to understanding corporate balance sheets. His career was built on the success of Systematics Inc., the Little Rock financial software and services firm he founded in 1968 and led for 20 years.

Dominik Mjartan, senior vice president and a spokesman for Southern Bancorp, downplayed any fractious relationship between Baldwin and Smiley. Mjartan, who fielded all calls to the company, also said Smiley's lack of traditional banking credentials was a non-issue.

"I don't think it has any real bearing on operations," he said. "I don't think we could find an executive with more credibility and history in the banking industry than Walter. Based on everything I know, he's one of the most impressive bankers I've ever known."

Mjartan said the decision to make Smiley the permanent CEO of Southern Bancorp, without a formal search for other candidates, was easy.

"We saw a need to have Walter stay longer," Mjartan said. "He's been the off-and-on chairman of the organization over the years. There was no big change. He's been a leader of this organization since the beginning."

Other Changes
Olaimey's recent hiring wasn't part of the original succession plan at Southern Bancorp outlined in the announcement that also accompanied Baldwin's departure in January 2011.

At the time, Scott Fife was named president and CEO of Southern Bancorp Bank, overseeing operations with 42 locations in Arkansas and 16 in Mississippi. Last month, Fife returned to his former position as president of Southern's three-branch El Dorado market.

"He did a fantastic job after Phil left," Mjartan said. "He's an impressive banker with strong lending skills. I think he decided that the travel and demands of the job were putting a toll on his family."

Also gone from the succession plan is Brent Black, Southern's 36-year-old chief financial officer whose promotion to senior vice president coincided with Baldwin's retirement in January 2011. Black left the company in May to go two blocks down the street to join Summit Bank of Arkadelphia.

In an October 2009 interview with Arkansas Business, Black spoke fondly of helping oversee a profitable and growing bank network as well as a philanthropic organization that makes a difference in people's lives.



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