by Lance Turner
Posted 8/14/2012 03:53 pm
Updated 9 months ago
Simmons First National Corp. of Pine Bluff said Tuesday that company director George A. Makris Jr. will succeed J. Thomas May as chairman and CEO of the bank company after May retires on Dec. 31, 2013.
The company said Makris "will serve in a transition capacity in the newly created position of CEO-elect" effective Jan. 1.
The company also said David Bartlett, corporate president and COO, has been named to the new position of president and chief banking officer, also effective Jan. 1.
In January 2010, May told Arkansas Business that he hoped to work four more years and retire when he reached 67. He has stuck to that schedule.
"While it will be extremely difficult for me to say good-bye when I retire in December 2013, it will also be exciting to watch this new team, which has been a part of leading this company through one of the greatest recessions in history, take Simmons First to a new level in size, geographic footprint and creating shareholder value," May said in a news release.
"It is a really strong team, and the process exemplifies a 'best practice' when it comes to corporate governance and succession planning."
Makris, who has been on the Simmons board for 15 years, is president of M.K. Distributors Inc., a Pine Bluff beverage distributor. He is also a director of the National Beer Wholesalers Association and was a member of the Anheuser-Busch Wholesaler Advisory Panel.
Makris is also chairman of the Economic Development Corporation of Jefferson County and vice-chairman of the Jefferson Hospital Association Board of Directors. He serves on the Board of Visitors of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences College of Medicine.
Matt Olney, banking analyst for Stephens Inc. in Little Rock, said the naming of a successor was something that the Simmons management "has been working on for the past few years, and this is something I know they don't take lightly."
To name a board member as CEO, rather than promoting one of the longtime executives, was not particularly surprising to Olney.
"I've seen it all before with other banks …" he said. "I'd say anybody on the board or senior executive level were all possibilities. I didn't have any great guesses as to who it would be."
Also under the succession plan:
- Bob Fehlman, executive vice president and chief financial officer, will become senior executive vice president and chief financial officer and take on new duties as corporate treasurer, a newly created position that will report to the corporate chairman and CEO.
- Marty Casteel, executive vice president of both Simmons First National Corporation and Simmons First National Bank, will continue his administrative duties in the corporation reporting to the corporate CEO, but he will also take on the additional title of chairman and CEO of Simmons First National Bank, reporting to the president and chief banking officer of the corporation. He will also become a member of the Simmons First National Bank board of directors.
- Craig Hunt, executive vice president with Simmons First National Bank, has been promoted to president of Simmons First National Bank and will also assume new duties as the corporate chief credit officer. Hunt will report to the chairman and CEO of Simmons First National Bank and will become a member of the bank board of directors.
May became CEO of Simmons (Nasdaq: SFNC) in 1994, and during the next decade he executed 10 traditional acquisitions to expand the company's footprint throughout Arkansas. He is among the most admired chief executives in Arkansas.
In 2005, he was diagnosed with a disease similar to ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). Since then, he has continued to lead Simmons First National Corp. - the parent company of Simmons First National Bank of Pine Bluff and seven smaller bank charters - to growth over more than 30 percent.
The bank has also remained profitable despite sluggish loan demand during and after the Great Recession and the federal takeover of the student loan business in which Simmons had been particularly active.
Simmons First National Corp. earned $25.4 million in 2011, down from $37.12 million in 2010. But core earnings were down only slightly because $11 million of 2010's earnings represented the after-tax gain on FDIC-assisted acquisitions.
(Gwen Moritz contributed to this report.)