First National Tops $1 Billion in Total Assets

Hendrix Bank Investments
Click here for a chart detailing investments made by John Hendrix's banks. (Charts require Adobe Acrobat viewer. Click here for a free copy.)

John Hendrix is busy attending a bevy of bank board meetings in southwest Arkansas during mid-October. The full schedule comes with his duties as chairman of the board.

In his case, the title goes with four banks and one bank holding company, which in turn owns a big stake in a second bank holding company.

The 69-year-old businessman is a leading candidate for the biggest and perhaps least-known Arkansas bank investor. Hendrix and his family own 91.6 percent of De Queen's First National Security Co.

The $1 billion-asset holding company controls First National Banks in De Queen, Ashdown, Waldron and Hot Springs, with 30 locations in nine counties. Its non-Arkansas holdings include First National Bank in Idabel, Okla., with three locations.

The $92.6 million acquisition of First Community Banking Corp. of Hot Springs in April 2005 made First National Security the ninth-largest Arkansas-based banking concern, trailing Doyle Rogers' Rogers Bancshares and ahead of more recognizable bank names like John Chambers' Chambers Bancshares of Danville and Ross Whipple's Summit Bancorp of Arkadelphia.

So what's an oil maven in Midland, Texas, doing amassing bank holdings in Arkansas?

"I'm a born and raised hillbilly, and I love the state," said Hendrix, who grew up near Gillham in Sevier County.

His route from Arkansas to Midland began with stints at Eastern Oklahoma A&M, (now Eastern Oklahoma State College) in Wilburton and Oklahoma State University in Stillwater.

While earning his bachelor's and master's in mechanical engineering, Hendrix spent summers in the oils fields as a pulling unit hand, roustabout and geophysical computer analyst.

During the early 1960s, he landed in Midland as a district petroleum engineer working for Texas Pacific Oil Co. During the mid-1960s, Hendrix went out on his own, working as an independent oil and gas developer and a consulting petroleum engineer.

He formed John H. Hendrix Corp. in 1976 and did OK for himself. In fact, Hendrix did so well that he made the inaugural Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans in 1982.

"Woke up one day and just felt it was time to leave," Hendrix told Forbes of his decision to go into business for himself when he was 30.

In 2004, his namesake firm ranked as the 28th-largest producer of natural gas (6.8 billion cubic feet) and 33rd-largest producer of crude oil (322,957 barrels) in New Mexico.

Back in '82, his wealth was estimated at more than $150 million, based largely on oil and gas holdings in Texas and New Mexico. Also listed among his assets 23 years ago were Arkansas banks and timber.

Banking Tradition

Hendrix doesn't recall what sparked his interest in banking. But he points out that his family's banking roots date back 100 years when his grandfather and a great-uncle helped organize the Bank of Gillham.

Today, the lender is known as Horatio State Bank, and his kin dot the bank's organizational chart.

Hendrix said his first bank investment was First National Bank in De Queen around 1970 or so. The lender became the flagship for his First National Security Co.

Over the years, his ownership in the De Queen bank grew along with the number of his bank investments.

At one time, he was the second-largest shareholder in First National Bank of Midland. His 6 percent stake was blown away like west Texas tumbleweed when federal regulators closed the bank in Oct. 13, 1983.

The near $2 billion-asset bank was one of the first big casualties of the nose-diving oil-based economy. Once-secure loans went south as the value of the collateral backing the loans followed the plunging petroleum market.

Back in the early 1980s, Hendrix also owned more than 20 percent of Worthen Banking Corp., then the largest bank holding company in Arkansas. He ended up selling his stake in the Little Rock bank holding company to Witt and Jackson T. "Jack" Stephens and the Riady family.

"Jack and Witt overwhelmed me, and we struck a deal," Hendrix said last week. "Two of the finest guys I ever met. A man of vision is that man, Jackson."

The timing was propitious. Worthen later encountered serious financial troubles, and a one-two punch from First National Bank in Midland and Worthen combined with the oil slump could have proven disastrous for Hendrix.

"I don't know if I could've stood that," he said.

Hendrix proved to be a survivor, and his interest in banking remained despite setbacks. His business interests go beyond oil and banking, too.

"It's been a lot of things," Hendrix said. "I stay active. I enjoy timberland and have a good timber operation. I love livestock and have a good cattle operation. I love the oil business because it's an extreme challenge."

His timber, cattle and banking investments are a big reason Hendrix is often found in Arkansas rather than Texas.

His interest in timber dates back to his youth. During high school, he helped cut pulpwood and logs. His interest in ranching began as he cut and baled hay while growing up in Ark-ansas, and it blossomed during his years in Midland.

His business life in Texas has been exciting and rewarding, but he's always had an eye for his home state. Hendrix points out that west Texas is a place of extremes, from the weather to business.

He recalls long, hot, dry spells mixed with gully washers on the mesquite-laden high plains and harsh, blustery winters. The opportunity to lose or make lots of money pervaded the landscape.

"In those days, I was primarily a money-grubber, so I tolerated it," Hendrix said. "I got to love it. But I love the hills and rivers better."

The topography of his boyhood helped keep him coming back to Arkansas and expanding his business interests here.

Hendrix doesn't profess to any grand plans for his growing collection of banks. The bank investments could indicate he merely is shifting his wealth into a more conservative arena as he heads into the latter years of his career.

That would jibe with his comment when Forbes revisited him in 2001: "Ego drives lots of people to do strange things. Control your investments."

Hendrix was one of eight Midland businessmen who made the Forbes list in 1982. But by 2001, they all were absent from the magazine's roster.