Honored Nonprofit Exec Fired by Southern Bancorp in ?10

Ben Steinberg, former senior vice president of Southern Bancorp, is concerned about the future direction of the company since Phil Baldwin left.

"He understood the banking world and the nonprofit world and had a heart for both," Steinberg said. "I don't think he's replaceable.

"Southern is at risk of dismantling a very successful development banking model, and I think it's a tragedy."

Steinberg, who was named Arkansas Business Nonprofit Executive of the Year in 2008 as president of Southern Financial Partners, left Southern Bancorp in March 2010. What led him to leave the company where he thought he might someday retire?

"I had to choose between my principles or my job, and I chose my principles," Steinberg said. "I wanted to check Tanya Wright's references. It got me terminated."

At the time, Steinberg was interviewing Wright to fill the newly created position of group president at Southern Bancorp, which she now holds. The job entails overseeing nonprofit operations as well as key components of banking operations such as audit, loan review, compliance and human resources.

The hiring of Wright was being fast-tracked by Walter Smiley, longtime chairman and now CEO of the Arkadelphia rural development bank.

Before joining Southern Bancorp, Wright worked at Heifer International, where she held the title of global executive vice president.

Dominik Mjartan, senior vice president and Southern Bancorp spokesman, said Steinberg's recollection of his parting with the company is "totally incorrect" based on a quick review of personnel records and related files.