Simmons First Announces New Foundation Led by Tommy May

by Gwen Moritz  on Wednesday, Apr. 17, 2013 9:57 am  

Simmons First National Corp. shareholders speeded through routine business at the annual meeting Tuesday night to concentrate on the upcoming changing of the guard.

George A. Makris Jr., the CEO-elect, surprised retiring CEO J. Thomas May by announcing that May would be the "inaugural chairman" of the new Simmons First Foundation. The foundation, which will be funded with an initial endowment of $1 million, will officially be incorporated on Jan. 1, 2014, the day after May retires after 26 years with the company, 19 as CEO.

The foundation will concentrate on making cash grants for projects in communities within the bank holding company's expanding footprint, including the "Tommy May Make a Difference Grant." But the details of the grant procedure have yet to be worked out, Makris said after the meeting.

As he did last year, May, 66, addressed the banquet crowd at the Pine Bluff Convention Center by video. He has ALS, the muscle-wasting condition also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, and it has left him confined to a wheelchair and affected the strength of his voice. He did, however, make several appearances on the stage, including participating in another surprise announcement: The renaming of a meeting room at the Simmons headquarters in Pine Bluff as the Dr. Harry L. Ryburn Community Room in honor of the 37-year member of the Simmons board of directors who led the board's succession planning process.

In his recorded message, May praised the board's two-and-a-half-year process that culminated with the selection of Makris, a longtime board member who has spent his career in his family's beer distribution business, as the next CEO.

May referred to Makris as "the perfect person" and "the right person at the right time to lead what I think is an exceptional management team."

In their remarks, May and Makris repeated touched on the same points: The need for more acquisitions to drive company growth and hopes for a more normal interest rate environment.

May told shareholders that Simmons, which last year made two acquisitions in Missouri assisted by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., is "positioned to be a consolidator in a consolidating industry."

"Our focus in 2013 is going to be on top-line revenue growth," May said.

Makris told Arkansas Business that the drying up of FDIC-assisted deals for failing banks means that Simmons is more actively seeking conventional acquisitions that are good fits.

Makris told the audience the banks that Simmons has acquired have been "in a low-growth mode for some time," but the new management plans targeted marketing efforts in markets where Simmons is not a familiar name in banking.

"We don't sell chickens, and we don't sell mattresses," he said.

Simmons has a 57 percent market share in Pine Bluff, but "our real growth opportunities are outside our hometown," Makris said.

May said the company is "obviously poised for rising interest rates. We have to be patient. We obviously don't control that process."

Also at the meeting:

  • Shareholders increased the size of the board of directors from 10 to 11 to add David L. Bartlett, the company's president and chief banking officer. Bartlett is also president-elect of the Arkansas Bankers Association, the eighth Simmons executive to have that title.
  • The rest of the slate of directors were re-elected: May; Makris; Ryburn; Murphy Oil Corp. CEO Stephen Cossé; Edward Drilling, Arkansas president of AT&T Corp.; William E. Clark II, CEO of Clark Contractors LLC of Little Rock; Sharon Gaber, provost and vice chancellor of the University of Arkansas; Pine Bluff attorney Eugene Hunt; W. Scott McGeorge, president of Pine Bluff Sand & Gravel Co.; and Robert L. Shoptaw, the retired CEO of Arkansas Blue Cross & Blue Shield.
  • The pending retirement of Robert C. Dill, EVP and marketing director, was announced. He intends to retire on Sept. 30 after 47 years with the company.
  • Former director Henry F. Trotter Jr. was presented with a medallion for his years of service on the board.



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