John Olaimey Tapped to Lead $1.1 Billion-Asset Southern Bancorp Bank

Opportunity came knocking loudly for John Olaimey when Southern Bancorp Inc. decided to look outside the company this year to hire a president and CEO of its namesake bank.

Tapped by Southern Bancorp's chairman and CEO Walter Smiley, Olaimey restarted his four-year banking career after leaving Little Rock's Centennial Bank in 2008.

Smiley's offer opened the door for Olaimey to not only step back into banking after a three-year hiatus but to lead one of the largest lenders in Arkansas.

Olaimey, 42, made the leap from being executive vice president and chief operating officer of a $228.9 million-asset banking concern at Centennial to becoming president, CEO and a director of a $1.1 billion one at Arkadelphia's Southern Bancorp Bank.

One advisory board resignation followed Olaimey officially joining the bank last month. It is unclear how much the move had to do with management changes since Smiley assumed control of Southern Bancorp Inc. a year ago.

Ronald Echols, an Arkadelphia CPA, resigned on Feb. 20 from the advisory board for Southern Bancorp's western banking operations in Arkadelphia, Hot Springs, Bismarck, Malvern and El Dorado. Why did he leave?

"I really had rather not comment on that," said Echols, who had served 12 years on the advisory board. "There are still some quality people over there, and I just don't think I should say anything."

The changes join the dismantling of Southern Bancorp's succession plan after the departures of Phil Baldwin as president and CEO of the holding company and bank and Brent Black as senior vice president and chief financial officer last year and the replacement of Baldwin's successor at the bank, Scott Fife, with Olaimey.

Walter Morris Jr., a Southern Bancorp Bank director and president of H&M Lumber Co. in Helena, declined to comment about changes at the bank, deferring to Dominik Mjartan, senior vice president and a spokesman for Southern Bancorp.

"I don't really have any comment," Morris said. "You need to talk with Dom about that, to keep on message."

Asked to talk about the search to find a new president and CEO for Southern Bancorp Bank, the company provided this statement through Mjartan:

"We did not conduct a formal search for a CEO of the bank. Most banks do not do a formal executive search when there are local candidates that meet the job requirements.

"Walter knew John only professionally, having worked with him at Centennial Bank, and was impressed with his intellect, drive, and most of all, his management ability.

"Based on his past observations, Walter, after a series of staff and local board member interviews, recommended him to the Board.

"John's corporate experience and experience in building systems and processes of a growing community bank is a perfect match for our bank needs.

"John, a known and proven talent, living in Arkansas was a much lower risk than a candidate recruited in a national search. Also, expensive recruitment and moving costs were avoided with a local hire."

 

‘I'm Impressed'

The only current Southern Bancorp director with a resume built on banking likes what he sees in Olaimey, a lawyer since 1998 who was vice president of corporate law for Alltel Corp. before joining the Centennial Bank venture.

"I'm impressed with John," said Jerry Sims, retired chairman and CEO of Blytheville's First Delta Bankshares Inc., a $314 million-asset holding company purchased in 2009 for $60 million by Southern Bancorp.

"He's a young man, and he has the energy to run a $1.1 billion-asset bank."

Sims said Olaimey was quizzed about his brushes with controversy, including business dealings with Gene Cauley.

Cauley, a former class-action attorney and leading Centennial shareholder when the bank was sold to Home BancShares Inc. of Conway in 2008, was sentenced to 86 months in federal prison in 2009 for stealing $9.3 million from a client trust account.

Sims was satisfied that Olaimey's work with Cauley was not troublesome and would not compromise his position at Southern Bancorp. "He's an intelligent young man," Sims said of Olaimey.

Before joining Southern Bancorp, Olaimey was president of Radius Group LLC. Formed in 2010, the Little Rock enterprise assists community banks with the management, marketing and disposition of other real estate owned.

In a statement provided by Southern Bancorp, Olaimey said he was excited about the opportunity to join the bank because "growing up in small rural communities and leading a community bank has helped me understand the role a strong community bank can play, especially in today's challenged economic climate."

Olaimey grew up in Pine Bluff and Camden. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in business administration and financial management from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in 1991.

He followed that with a law degree with high honors from the Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 1998.

"John brings a unique combination of banking, legal and executive management capacity to Southern," Smiley said in a statement from Southern Bancorp. "His experience in growing a community bank will be especially useful as Southern continues to develop the infrastructure of a $1 billion community bank."

According to the company, Olaimey will continue to live and work in Little Rock while also keeping an office in Arkadelphia, where the bank is headquartered.

Southern Bancorp's Little Rock office at 8924 Kanis Road is home to 15 nonprofit staffers and 10 bank and holding company staffers.

The 13,600-SF building was acquired from a group of neurologists in November 2010 for $1.4 million.