The Last Laugh (Editorial)


On Feb. 5, 2009, New York Magazine got some big yucks from a New York Times article that day referring to the fact that Bank of the Ozarks of Little Rock had received $75 million in taxpayer money.

The funds were part of the Capital Purchase Program, authorized by the Troubled Asset Relief Program approved by Congress in October 2008 during the height of the financial meltdown. In exchange, BOZ, as did many other banks, issued preferred stock that paid the U.S. Treasury - you and me - a 5 percent annual dividend.

This was NY Magazine's take on the bank and on the Ozarks: "The Bank of the Ozarks. Fascinating. We didn't even know that people had bank accounts there - we thought they just traded in bottle caps and arrowheads and pieces of bone, or whatever." The "Daily Intel" item was accompanied by a photo of a toothless, grizzled old man.

Hilarious. The snarky observation drew the usual cousin-marrying comments from the magazine's readers. The last comment, however, on Feb. 9, was right on the money - literally:

"Very funny New guys are so smart and clever.
"Bank of the Ozarks only made around $35,000,000 last year (a record by the way). I know that is not much by New York standards, but wait a minute, that's more than Lehman, Bear and CitiBank...combined!"

By the way, in November 2009, BOZ announced that it had repurchased from the federal government the $75 million in stock.

We were reminded of this dig at all things Arkansas last week, when we listened to George Gleason, chairman and CEO of Bank of the Ozarks, speak at a luncheon honoring this year's crop of Arkansas Business' "40 Under 40" picks.

Gleason pulled no punches, saying, "The next 30 years will be a very challenging economic environment." He also predicted a return to more conservative - and traditional - financial values.

Gleason moderated a discussion panel consisting of Bill Jones, president of Sissy's Log Cabin Jewelry; Charles Welch, president of Henderson State University; and Hank Kelley, CEO of Flake & Kelley Commercial. The general theme: There's opportunity to be found in tough economic times. The general consensus: Most other states would love to have weathered the Great Recession as well as Arkansas has.

Gleason asked the panelists what was the best advice - business or otherwise - they'd received.

From Jones: Yes, the customer is always right; know that customer and have what that customer wants. Welch: It's all about people. Treat your co-workers and others right, help them achieve but never forget there's much more to your life and theirs than work - find balance between job and family. Kelley: Don't spend everything you make, make capital work for you, and remember that it's service above self.

As for Gleason, the very rich, very successful, very Arkansas banker quoted his father: "Who you are is more important than what you are and what you have." Integrity and character are more than words.

And New York Magazine - and all other Arkansas bashers out there: The ABA Banking Journal last year recognized Bank of the Ozarks as the second-best performing bank in the United States.