Despite Troubles, Family Carries On Peterson Legacy

by Serenah McKay  on Monday, Jun. 25, 2012 12:00 am  

The pending sale of Decatur State Bank, likely for no cash, is the latest blow to a family business empire built on scientific innovation and brought down by bank investments and challenging market conditions in the poultry industry.

The bank was chartered in 1954 by the late Lloyd Peterson, founder of Peterson Farms in Decatur. From humble beginnings in 1939, Peterson grew his chicken breeding and processing operations into the state's 39th-largest private company, as ranked by Arkansas Business in 2002. The company boasted 1,900 employees and estimated 2001 revenue of $150 million.

In 2004, Peterson appointed his grandson, Blake Evans, as CEO, and when Peterson died at 94 in 2007, the company still had revenue of about $128 million.

But by then, the family was heavily involved in ANB Financial, the Bentonville bank that would be closed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. in May 2008. The bank failure wiped out shareholder equity reported at nearly $180 million just seven months earlier, almost 30 percent of it owned by Peterson family members.

Two months later, Peterson Farms sold its broiler operations, propane company and other assets to Simmons Foods Inc. of Siloam Springs for an undisclosed sum.

At the time, Evans told the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal the sale had nothing to do with the failure of ANB, citing rising feed and energy costs as the reason for the sale.

Today, Evans - 36-year-old son of Lloyd Peterson's daughter Debra Evans - remains president of L&L Farms Inc., north of Rogers. The family's polled Santa Gertrudis cattle breeding operation, L&L Farms, is also the parent company of what remains of Peterson Farms, which produces broilers for Whole Foods Market and several genetic lines.

Decatur State Bank, which the family owns through Peterson Holding Co., began losing money in late 2010, and lost $12.7 million last year on assets of about $165 million. In April, the holding company agreed to sell the bank to Mathias Bancshares Inc., a bank holding company owned by real estate developer Sam Mathias of Fayetteville. Final regulatory approval of the sale is expected in the third quarter.

Peterson Holding Co. still owns Grand Savings Bank of Grove, Okla., which was founded in 1981 and remains profitable.

‘You Pick Up and Move On'

Blake Evans declined to discuss what impact ANB's failure had on his family.

"There is no reason to discuss how this affected my family," he wrote in an email. "Obviously if you lose something, you pick up and move on doing the best job you can. That is what my family and I have done."



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