George Gleason II: The Wizard of Ozark Bankshares

by George Waldon  on Monday, Mar. 31, 2014 12:00 am  

George Gleason II was barely in his 30s when he was featured on the cover of Arkansas Business. (Photo by Andrew Kilgore)

Gleason, a former Dardanelle Sand Lizard defensive lineman, blitzed through Hendrix College at a record-setting clip of two years. At the University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville, he graduated No. 1 in his class. Guess who wrote the top paper when Gleason took the Arkansas bar exam: Yeah, he aced that one, too.

When a restless Gleason turned his energies from securities law at the Rose Law Firm toward banking, he also met the familiar face of success. Working with business veteran Carl Holt and a young staff, he built the Bank of Ozark with 35 employees and total assets of $28 million into today’s Ozark Bankshares Inc., with more than 100 employees and assets totaling $150 million.

With 36.37 percent stock ownership and voting control of another 27.84 percent, Gleason is the final decision-maker.

“I have great trust and respect for his mental abilities,” Holt, the chairman of Ozark Bankshares, says. “It’s unusual for someone that age to be capable of handling it. But everything he said he’d do, he did.”

Many agree that Gleason is super bright and knows how to generate rapid growth. His insight in pulling back from loan activity in 1984 when other hard-chargers continued deeper into a financial ambush triggered by plunging oil prices and deflation was nothing short of savvy.

“It almost makes him unique in respect to the institutions that were engaging in aggressive growth and lending practices,” Arkansas Bank Commissioner Marlin Jackson remarks. “Ozark Bankshares did it far more successfully than others. They didn’t go unscathed, but they took their fair share of lumps.”

Gleason concurs, but the company’s wounds are superficial by comparison. “We had no significant losses, but there were problem loans and situations that had to be worked out,” he states. “We expect 1987 profits to be slightly less than 1986, and that’s primarily caused by a decrease in net interest margins, part of an industrywide trend.”

Oil Belt loans (mostly in Oklahoma) have always comprised less than 10 percent of the holding company’s investments. Commercial real estate in Arkansas is far and away the organization’s mother lode. The investments are spread from Arizona and Nevada in the west to Mississippi and Tennessee in the east.

Ozark Bankshares is now refining an informational network that will enable management to further streamline operations and poise the holding company for additional expansion.

Gleason discloses plans for two to four new banks in the near future. As a matter of logistics, he’s most interested in acquiring banks in the northwest of the state or west-central Arkansas.

“We don’t plan on looking until 1988,” Gleason relates. “It’s not in the budget, and we have no plans till then.”

‘His Permanent Mark’

 

 

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