Smith's Career Path Leads Back to NWA

by Paul Gatling  on Friday, Dec. 7, 2012 8:53 am  

A little more than five years after being honored as a member of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class, James Smith is still a community-minded bank executive in Benton County.

The path from then until now, however, has been marked by ups and downs.

Smith, 42, is the commercial loan manager and market manager for Northwest Arkansas for Springfield, Mo.-based Great Southern Bank. The $4.2 billion company opened a loan production office in Rogers in 2003, and in May 2010 opened a full-service branch — its only Arkansas branch — in the Pinnacle Hills area of Rogers.

In terms of countywide deposits, $16.9 million as of June 30 this year, the bank — with 15 local employees — has a modest market share in Benton County, about 0.36 percent.

The bank’s niche, however, is easily defined. During a recent sitdown at his office, Smith said: “Our sweet spot is commercial real estate. That is what we are good at. That’s what we are great at.”

In 2007, Smith was senior vice president of private banking at Bank of Arkansas NA in Bentonville. He’d been in the industry for 10 years, long enough to pick up on the warning signs of a strained economy.

“That was about the time the meltdown was starting, and I could feel the vibrations in Northwest Arkansas,” he said. “I could feel them within my own bank. Everyone knew there was a real estate bubble here.”

The concern was enough for Smith to listen to an offer from Washington Mutual Bank to lead its retail banking expansion efforts in southern Texas. He was hired in July 2007 to put together retail-banking teams in San Antonio, Houston and Austin.

Fifteen months later, Washington Mutual — at the time the country’s largest savings and loan association — failed, and was placed into receivership. The bank’s assets were sold to JPMorgan Chase, which now operates the former banking assets as a part of Chase Bank.

“It was a pretty dark time,” Smith said.

Fortunately, Smith was chosen to stay on through the merger. But he opted to take a different route when he was recruited to Capital One Bank as a market sales executive in the Houston area.

That eventually led to a promotion, and by the end of 2010, Smith was leading strategic initiatives for business banking for the entire company.



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