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)

A first meeting with Gleason leaves a visitor with thoughts of his articulate and polite speech that, like his facial expressions, change little. As the conversation progresses, however, he becomes more animated with an occasional wave of the hand, an arched eyebrow and slight voice inflections.

His mannerisms and bearing reflect a lifestyle that is mostly private yet display the attributes of a quietly charismatic leader.

Little Rock attorney Graham Catlett, a law school classmate of Gleason, notes: “He will make his permanent mark on Arkansas in his lifetime. I just hope we get to see him involved in public affairs.”

Gleason admits he once had political ambitions, but those ideas have, for the most part, been stored away. “I’m not much of a politician,” he expounds. “Maybe in an appointed position; I’m too frank to be successfully elected.”

Jim Miller, now assistant dean and director of admissions at the UA School of Law in Fayetteville, taught Gleason junior high science, history and civics.

“He is much like he is now,” Miller remarks. “He always had a gleam in his eye. You never knew what he was going to do, but it wouldn’t be bad. He was one of those kids who always seemed older than he was.”

Close friends affirm Miller’s assessment, describing Gleason as a 24-year-old going on 44 when he bought the Bank of Ozark.

His age was a non-issue when his funding proposal convinced Commercial National Bank to back the $3.5 million purchase. As collateral, he put up everything his father had built — the family’s 989-acre ranch in Yell County and a trust set up for his sisters and himself.

“We trusted him implicitly,” Gleason’s mother adds. The loan was paid off in September 1985, and his family made a tidy profit for their support.

“When I bought the Bank of Ozark, I borrowed 100 percent of the purchase price,” Gleason intones. “When you talk about fast track, that’s fast track. … I liked to go Mach 3 all the time, and our organization did.”

Gleason didn’t sprint through college solely out of his quest for a fast-paced life. A sense of urgency was involved.

His father had suffered a severe heart attack while Gleason was in the eighth grade. George Gleason Sr. wasn’t expected to live long. His son took the prospect of becoming the lone male in the family to heart.



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