Incoming CEO George Makris Jr. Plans to Tap Simmons First's Big, New Markets

by Gwen Moritz  on Monday, May. 6, 2013 12:00 am  

And that’s where selling beer, especially beer from one of the most successful marketing organizations in retail history, may come in very handy indeed.

“When I was in the beer business, I didn’t understand why everyone didn’t drink one of my products,” Makris said. “As a bank, we need to ask why everyone doesn’t use our products.”

And, “I’ve said many times: We’ve got products people don’t know they need.”

Observing the success Anheuser-Busch has had marketing in a variety of markets, he said, “has taught me a good balance between standardization and customization.”

Growth Intentions

Simmons First National Corp. intends to grow, and talk of hunting for acquisition targets was unavoidable at the shareholders meeting and in last week’s interview. But to say that Simmons has a growth strategy might be too generous: Makris indicated that the company is open to growth in just about any form it takes.

FDIC-assisted deals — like the ones that brought in Excel Bank of Sedalia, Mo., and Truman Bank of St. Louis last year and Southwest Community Bank of Springfield, Mo., and Security Savings Bank FSB of Olathe, Kan., in 2010 — are slowing to a crawl and the terms aren’t nearly as generous as they were at the height of the banking crisis.

So Simmons has turned its sights back to the kind of conventional deal-making it used over two decades to acquire banks like First Bank & Trust of Jonesboro, National Bank of Commerce of El Dorado, First State Bank & Trust Co. of Lake Village and Alliance Bank of Hot Springs.

In many cases, Simmons changed the bank’s name but agreed to keep the charter and the local board of directors intact.

Maintaining separate charters is an expensive luxury, especially when one bank has a national charter and the others are state-regulated, but Makris said having local directors serving on loan-review committees has also saved the bank a lot of money.

“That’s one of the reasons our credit quality is so good,” he said, noting that the Simmons corporation’s asset quality problems had been limited almost exclusively to northwest Arkansas.

Simmons has no plans to collapse the eight existing charters, but Makris acknowledged that there were factors — particularly regulatory headaches — that could eventually affect that preferred organization.



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