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)

Since Then ...

2014: Ozark Bankshares Inc., obviously, is now Bank of the Ozarks Inc., and George Gleason is still running it.

From the $150 million community bank that Arkansas Business wrote about in 1987 has evolved a regional banking concern that now has assets of more than $5 billion, making it one of the 200 largest banks in the country. When the acquisition of Summit Bancshares of Arkadelphia is completed in late May or early June, Bank of the Ozarks’ assets will exceed $6.3 billion.

Bank of the Ozarks spread across Arkansas, especially the northern half, with a mix of acquisitions and de novo branching.

George and Linda Gleason moved to Little Rock some 20 years ago, and they — she was and still is a director — took the bank public in 1997. A share of stock purchased then is worth almost 40 times as much after almost 17 years and three stock splits.

No one has benefited from that market success more than the Gleasons. Their ownership interest has declined as the company has grown, from more than a third of the outstanding stock in 1998 to less than 9 percent in 2014. But they remain the largest shareholders, and their 3.2 million shares are now worth some $215 million. (For comparison: Bank of the Ozarks only had $150 million in assets when the original 1987 profile was written.)

Continuing the mix of “from scratch” branching and acquisitions — including the FDIC-assisted acquisitions of six failing banks in 13 months in 2010-11 — Bank of the Ozarks has developed a far-flung network of full-service offices stretching from Texas to the Carolinas. (The bank even opened a loan production office on Park Avenue in Manhattan in 2013, and just last month it opened a similar LPO on Avenue of the Stars in Century City, Calif. Both, needless to say, are a very, very long way from Ozark, Ark.)

Bank of the Ozarks has also been recognized as one of the most “efficient” banks in the country. Bank of the Ozarks’ efficiency ratio — essentially the number of cents spent to generate $1 in revenue — has consistently remained in the mid-40s in recent years, when most banks pray for 60.

That sort of attention to the bottom line has earned George Gleason national attention as well. In 2010, he was one of three honored by American Banker magazine as “Community Banker of the Year.” (John Allison, chairman of Home BancShares of Conway, would be similarly recognized in 2013.)

Away from the office, George and Linda Gleason have built a palatial French-style home on more than 100 acres in west Little Rock, and Linda Gleason told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that their estate plan includes an endowed foundation to maintain the property as a museum.



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