Posted 3/29/2012 07:29 am
Updated 11 months ago
George Gleason is brimming with good corporate news and primed for an annual shareholders' meeting still weeks away. But then, Gleason always seems prepared.
For now, the chairman and CEO of Bank of the Ozarks Inc. will make do with a quick presentation for an audience of two. Seated at the head of the company's boardroom table in west Little Rock, Gleason enumerates the highlights of the $3.8 billion-asset concern under three headings: continued excellent performance, the growing importance of Texas markets and the rapid emergence of franchise building through FDIC-assisted acquisitions.
"We've had record earnings in 14 of the last 15 years, including the last 11 years," the 58-year-old banker said.
This week, Arkansas Business published profiles of the state's 17 public company CEOs, featuring new interviews with top executives including Gleason, who is especially proud the company has maintained a string of profits during the last five years, a time of challenges for the banking industry.
Bank of the Ozarks (Nasdaq: OZRK) recorded net income of $101.3 million in 2011 while generating a 27.04 percent return on equity ratio. That holding company performance likely will lead to more national recognition.
BOZ ranked No. 1 among banks and thrifts with total assets of $3 billion or more with an ROE of 21.37 percent in 2010. In recognition of that achievement, ABA Banking Journal named Bank of the Ozarks the top performing lender in the nation, and American Banker named Gleason Community Bank of the Year.
Booming in Texas
A big contributor to the company's continued strong earnings was its Texas operation, which expanded to 10 locations during 2011 with the addition of branches in Keller, Carrollton and Plano.
A loan production office in Austin and a branch in The Colony boosted the Texas total to a dozen during the first quarter of 2012. The Colony office increased the company's presence in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, while the Austin facility marked new territory in the Lone Star State.
"Texas is the fastest-growing part of our franchise," Gleason said. "41.8 percent of our loan portfolio is generated there and 14.2 percent of our deposits. The Texas economy is robust and doing well."
During the past two years, Bank of the Ozarks expanded its footprint through seven FDIC-assisted acquisitions representing $2.2 billion in assets. The deals yielded ongoing offices in Georgia, 27; Florida, four; and one each in North Carolina, South Carolina and Alabama.
The company built a reputation as an aggressive bidder on failed lenders, and Gleason continues to prowl for new opportunities.
"That's a big part of what we're doing," he said.
Lessons from the Savings & Loan Crisis
The company's FDIC-assisted deals produced non-interest income gains of $65.7 million in 2011 and $35 million in 2010. Bank of the Ozarks also received $365 million in cash in connection with its three FDIC-assisted acquisitions in 2011 and $201 million in connection with its four FDIC-assisted acquisitions in 2010.
Gleason said opportunities to bid on loan pools during the savings and loan crisis in the 1980s helped his organization be better prepared for today's FDIC-assisted deals.
"That was great experience for us, going in and buying pools of distressed assets with FDIC-assisted acquisitions," he said. "We bought A-grade pools for C-grade prices."
The company's status as an expansive-minded, high-performance bank inspired one financial sector blogger to crown Bank of the Ozarks the "King of the Regional Banks."
"The bank's challenge in 2011 will be to demonstrate its ability to efficiently manage its greatly expanded operations," an ABA Banking Journal article last year opined.
Raising the Bar
Gleason embraces the ongoing challenge of maintaining, refining, building and expanding the earnings machine known as Bank of the Ozarks.
"The bars are going to move higher tomorrow," he said of his expectations. "That has really served us well."
Gleason recently marked his 33rd year leading the company. His enthusiasm doesn't appear to have diminished since he took the plunge as a strong-minded 25-year-old back in 1979.
Gleason was rewarded for the company's strong performance in 2011 with a 20 percent increase in total compensation, which topped $2.6 million. His 13 percent stake in Bank of the Ozarks is worth about $137 million.
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