Centennial Bank Looks to Bag More FDIC Transactions This Year

by George Waldon  on Monday, May. 3, 2010 12:00 am  

Randy Sims, CEO of Home BancShares and its Centennial Bank: "We're still on the hunt."

After the FDIC briefing, the Centennial Bank staff is ushered into the building for introductions and an overview of the ownership transition. The short meet-and-greet includes a teleconferenced appearance by CEO Sims.

"Shock, tears, joy, it's every emotion in the world," Allison said. "Then, it's our job to make those people comfortable because we're going to keep most of them."

About 100 FDIC staffers and 40 Centennial employees were part of the Old Southern closing/purchase. That compares to the much smaller Key West Bank that drew 40 from the FDIC and 15 from Centennial.

The company began training a pool of staffers in the fall to be ready for deployment in the event of a winning bid.

"We have prepared ourselves for whatever," Sims said. "It's a pretty big deal for people around here to get to do."

Tracy French, Centennial's Cabot regional president, led the transition team in the Old Southern deal. French, who has a background in turnaround work, remains there as the assimilation process continues.

After several unsuccessful bids, French finally got the call to head to Orlando. "Uh-oh, here we go," he thought to himself.

"The people here know what they're doing," French said. "The staff is relieved to be out from under the regulators so they can quit sitting on problems and get back to business."

According to Sims, the main cause for Old Southern's demise can be traced to its portfolio of real estate loans, a familiar source of problems for bankers across the land. And as with other financial institutions, the downfall came in not pulling back from real estate lending as fast as needed.

"It's northwest Arkansas times two," Sims said of the Orlando real estate market. "They got into such a hole they couldn't get out."

Despite the market setbacks, Centennial executives are bullish on the Orlando area, a banking market almost as big as the entire Arkansas market.

"That's going to be a really, really good market for us," Sims said. "If we can get some more fill-in acquisitions, we will have a nice footprint in south Florida. At least, that's our goal."



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