East Arkansas Bank Buy Brings more Competition to Conway Market

by George Waldon  on Monday, Oct. 5, 1998 12:00 am  

The game was officially afoot Aug. 11. That's when Conway businessman Johnny Allison quietly resigned his nomination to join the board of directors at Regions Financial Corp. of Birmingham, Ala.

Allison also stepped down from board positions with two former members of the First Commercial Corp. family of banks, First National Bank of Conway and First Arkansas Bank of Jonesboro.

Robert "Bunny" Adcock Jr. joined Allison in cutting his corporate ties to the Little Rock-based holding company that is now part of Regions when he resigned as a director at First National of Conway.

"We decided we needed to go so we wouldn't have a conflict of interest," Allison says.

The resignations freed Allison and Adcock to pursue their ambitions to buy an Arkansas bank and start building a new Faulkner County banking franchise.

That pursuit ultimately took them to Monroe County and the small farming community of Holly Grove, population 675. There they struck a deal to buy Holly Grove Bancshares Inc. and gain control of Bank of Holly Grove and its $27 million in assets.

"Several of the board members are up in years and ready to retire," Adcock says. "We were in the mood for the acquisition. We heard through the grapevine there were two other bidders, but we never heard any names."

Allison says, "It's just a good, little hometown bank."

The $5 million purchase is expected to clear regulatory approval by next month, enabling Allison and Adcock to open a temporary loan production office in Conway before Thanksgiving.

When statewide bank branching becomes law in January, they intend to begin full-service banking in Conway. Their first location will be on Salem Road near Prince Street, on property they already own. Deals for two downtown Conway locations are pending.

The new president and chief executive officer of the bank will be Randy Sims, who resigned recently as senior executive vice president at First National Bank of Conway.

"We're going to be busy for the next few weeks but having fun," Sims says.

Joining Sims in a tandem exodus is fellow FNB staffer Randy Mayor, who will retain his title of chief financial officer with Bank of Holly Grove and add executive vice president. Rounding out the cadre is Lori Case, a former vice president of marketing with First Commercial in Little Rock who will take on that role with Bank of Holly Grove.

By year's end, the staff size is expected to grow to 27. "We hope we provide a home for a lot of displaced employees," Allison says.

Sharing the Wealth

For now, it's largely the Allison and Adcock show in terms of ownership. But that will change come spring.

They intend to raise $10 million through a private stock offering targeted for March or April. They anticipate drawing to the bank venture as many as 250 stockholders, ranging from the well-heeled such as stockbroker Alex Lieblong to the mom-and-pop investors.

The bank will have a capital foundation broad enough to support a institution with $200 million in assets when the stock proceeds are coupled with its existing $3.5 million in capital.

"There's something exciting about sharing the wealth and sharing the excitement of growth," Allison says.

Expanding the ownership also makes good business sense. Investors are a powerful recruiting draw to bring business to the bank through new accounts, loans and referrals.

"We're looking for partners to help us build the institution," Allison says. "Buddy, I and the management team could probably do this on our own, but we couldn't do it as fast."

Word of the Allison-Adcock venture began spreading two months ago, and would-be investors have been lining up ever since. Except for the possibility of some carryover of original Bank of Holly Grove stockholders, ownership of the bank will be exclusive to residents of Faulkner County

"We've had a bunch of chances to deviate, but we haven't," Allison says. "We'll be the only home-owned financial institution in Faulkner County. I turned down a $1 million offer from an investor outside the county, and I'm holding tight, pard."

Although the immediate focus of growth is in Conway, the Holly Grove operations will remain. The Conway branches may operate under a name like Bank of Conway. The possibilities of further acquisitions and branch expansions into other markets is in the indeterminate future.

"There's a real void for a statewide home-owned bank organization," Allison says. "We have no intention of ever selling this organization."

He adds that there are three ways to reward shareholders: through dividends, profits derived from selling the bank (which Allison reiterates he is not interested in doing) and taking the company public.

Although his latest banking venture is still in the formative stage of development, Allison makes no bones that converting the institution into a public company is a distinct possibility.

"Absolutely," he says. "We're not of the size to do that, but it makes sense for our shareholders."

Allison is well-acquainted with the rewards of investing in banks. He controlled the seventh-largest block of First Commercial stock when the merger with Regions was announced. Those shares were worth about $50 million.

It all started with Allison buying a 25 percent stake in the Conway bank for $900,000 in 1984 and selling the bank to First Commercial a few months later in an $11.1 million stock swap.

His varied banking interests include savings and loan association survivors like Coast Federal Savings Bank of Los Angeles, which was purchased by H.F Ahmanson & Co. of Irwindale, Calif., which in turn is in the process of merging with Washington Mutual Inc. of Seattle.

Allison also is an indirect investor in BankAmerica Corp., the successor to NationsBank Corp. He became the bank's landlord after buying its main Conway location in November 1997 for $2.8 million.

The 38,000-SF office building was originally the headquarters of First State Bank of Conway, which was bought by Little Rock's Worthen Banking Corp., which was bought by St. Louis-based Boatmen's Bancshares Inc., which was bought by NationsBank Corp. of Charlotte, N.C., which merged with San Francisco-based BankAmerica Corp.

And, no, this building isn't one of the downtown locations in the works for Bank of Holly Grove.

"I'm sure [BankAmerica] will be here as long as they want to be here," Allison says. "They have a four-year lease with several options to renew."

He relocated his office to the building's second floor a month ago. The move is a definite step up from his former locale, an informal comfortable prefab residence on the grounds of the old King Homes Manufacturing plant west of Conway.

New Surroundings

His new hardwood-paneled digs, once a bank president's office, include a telephone within easy reach of the commode in the executive bathroom. The tele-potty amenity is a non-functioning holdover from previous occupants, Allison reports with a laugh.

Friends had pestered him for years to set up shop in a less-remote office, one more in keeping with his status as a multimillionaire. But his decision to move into the heart of downtown Conway had as much to do with added security as fashion statements.

The coded security lock door is a barrier that was absent when John Avery Slack escaped from prison and walked into Allison's old office unannounced last year. The ex-Green Beret forced Allison at gunpoint to drive him to the Conway airport in hopes of fleeing the country.

"The next time someone tries to kidnap me they will have to work a little harder," Allison says.

Allison thwarted his abductor's getaway scheme by careening his Mercedes convertible into the path of a city dump truck. Slack was serving time for kidnapping the wife of Allison's friend, Lieblong.

Allison and Lieblong hold a combined 20 percent stake in Marine Bank of the Florida Keys. Founded three years ago in Marathon, Fla., the institution is approaching $50 million in total assets.

Allison also owns a small piece of Little Rock's Pinnacle Bank. He was among the second batch of investors who bought into the bank after it opened in 1997.

Adcock was in on the First National deal in 1984, too. His banking interests can be traced back even farther to Merchants & Farmers Bank in Dumas, which his family controls.

The family sold Adcock Seed and Grain Co., and Adcock focused his career sights on banking. He rose to executive vice president at First National in Conway after working his way up as a management trainee in 1970.

Adcock maintains his agri roots in Desha County with his ownership of Ballowe Farm five miles north of Gould. The 1,500-acre cotton and soybean spread backs up to Cummins Prison Farm.

Allison's fortune was founded in the mobile home business, and he is still a paid consultant for Cavalier Homes Inc. of Wichita Falls, Texas.

Faulkner County Bank Deposits

Deposits % 1997 % 1996

Institution/Headquarters (thousands) Market Market

First National Bank/Conway $277,277 42.3 39.6

Four locations in Conway and one each in Greenbrier,

Mayflower and Vilonia

NationsBank/Charlotte, N.C. 147,039 22.4 28.3

Four locations in Conway

First Community Bank/Conway 93,999 14.4 11.2

Two locations in Conway and one in Greenbrier

Mercantile Bank of Arkansas/North Little Rock 70,538 10.8 14.3

Two locations in Conway

Superior Federal Bank/Fort Smith 32,394 4.9 4.9

Two locations in Conway

First Financial Bank/El Dorado 13,775 2.1 -

One location in Conway

National Bank of Arkansas/North Little Rock 10,824 1.7 0.3

One location in Conway

One National Bank/Little Rock 9,189 1.4 1.4

One location in Greenbrier

Banks Branches Deposits

Total 8 21 $655,035

Source: Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. as of June 30, 1996-97.



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