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)

“At the age of 14 or 15, I began assigning some reality to the thought that, ‘Gosh, I might have an enormous responsibility soon,’” Gleason declares. “I became the top of the class in law when my father died. That was one of the last things my father saw me do. I was the last child; he knew I would make it and be OK.”

Arkansas Gazette reporter Bob Wells, a former roommate at Hendrix, recalls frequent visits by senior and junior students seeking scholarly aid from his freshman roommate. Wells also remembers their initial bull session together.

“That first night we were in the room, he told me he was going to graduate in two years, marry his high school sweetheart, get a law degree and go into business,” Wells says. “And he did. I never knew anyone who had it laid out like that.”

A Spiritual Conviction

Unlike Gleason’s other endeavors, his first effort at marriage ended in divorce. (“That was the first project that I ever failed at that I put my will toward succeeding,” he admits.)

By age 28, Gleason thought he had accomplished everything he had ever hoped for — a flourishing career, a second wife and children in the wings. “But my life was a mess,” he discloses. “Financially, it was a success. … May 28, 1982. That’s the beginning of the story of my life. That day, I realized that being the best, the first and accomplishing and possessing were the wrong goals.”

A spiritual conviction overcame Gleason that day in a Texas hotel room while reading “Born Again” by Charles Colson. Christian friends had been talking with Gleason for several years about changing his personal goals, from a life based on increasing monetary net worth to a more fundamental net worth. A restructuring of priorities, i.e., God, family and self, followed.

Despite Gleason’s conversion, his second marriage also ended in divorce. “That was a real trial,” he says of the obvious disappointment. “As a believer, that was a terrible decision to make.” Friends report Gleason has weathered this crisis and continues to work hard at living his Christian tenets.

Friends also note that before Gleason’s conversion, he was driven, almost compulsive, toward business and its rewards. Those same friends and Gleason himself say he now has a more balanced life.

He and his third wife, Linda, are newly married with two sons from his second marriage (Tripp, 4, and Peter, 2) and her two children (Amy, 11, and Eric, 6).

Friends reveal that Gleason has retained his business drive, but he is no longer driven, as was the case when he bought the Bank of Ozark.

“It was an all-or-nothing deal,” Gleason observes. “I had to make the bank pay for itself. … I would never come within miles of doing that again. It would be like me trying to take over First Commercial today. If I really wanted to, I could gamble and go after big deals. I don’t have the incentive.



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