Kim Crook of First Arkansas Bank & Trust (CFO Lifetime Achievement award)

When Kim Crook said that during her 23 years at First Arkansas Bank & Trust she’s never had a day where she didn’t want to come to work, a listener is inclined to believe her, particularly after she lists the reasons for that devotion to duty.

Those reasons can be distilled to three: expectations, family atmosphere, fair treatment.

The expectations that Larry T. Wilson, chairman and CEO of the Jacksonville-based bank, has of Crook give her the freedom “to think on my own, work through challenges and be someone who is respected and contributes to the organization.”

Among those challenges has been the bank’s acquisition in recent years of two other banks and a credit card company. The acquisitions provided Crook with her greatest professional achievement, the successful integration of the three companies into First Arkansas.

“I was able to contribute through my position as CFO with the implementation of complex accounting guidelines,” Crook said, adding, “But even more important than that was what I was able to contribute in the HR arena.”

“We had to evaluate all the personnel, determine what overlapping job duties we had, determine who the players were, and I think one of the smartest things we did was to interview and evaluate all the personnel, including our own,” said Crook, 48. The bank sought to “choose the best people going forward who could help make the company most successful,” she said, though that required tough decisions.

If First Arkansas Bank & Trust, with assets of almost $700 million, has performed ably during challenging times — and it has — it’s also earned the loyalty of employees like Crook, who cited the company’s understanding of the importance of family for her ability to achieve work-life balance.

When her daughter was born, Crook was working in public accounting and traveling extensively. And “even though I loved my job, loved having a career, I knew that being there for my child and any future children was very important.”

Crook, a Hendrix College graduate who was raised in Jacksonville, moved in 1989 to First Arkansas as its first internal auditor. The company gave her the flexibility to be present for her children, she said.

Although the bank and Crook herself expect their employees to be committed to their work and to get the job done, it also recognizes the importance of family, she said.

The bank, and Wilson in particular, also recognizes the importance of treating people fairly, Crook said. Part of fair treatment is the ability to listen patiently and respectfully, and Crook said she’d learned much from Wilson, her mentor, in this regard.

“I’m not known for a lot of patience,” she said. “I have grown over the years, and a large part of that is due to him.”

“I watch him not raise his voice, not get animated, but listen to what people are saying, whether he knows they’re wrong or not,” Crook said. And learning to listen, she said, “has been a huge part of my success.”

Crook serves on the bank’s executive committee, which makes every strategic and most day-to-day decisions for the bank. She manages the accounting department, which includes all reconciliation, bill pay and reporting functions; the internal audit, compliance, purchasing and human resource departments; and administrative functions.

Her biggest challenge to date, Crook said, is hiring competent, confident managers whom she can trust. To accomplish that, she looks for “someone who’s not afraid to talk to me, who’s not afraid to come to me if they’re not sure or they need some advice.” Crook said the ability to make decisions is pre-eminent among the qualities she seeks.

She tries, Crook said, to be the kind of mentor to her employees that Wilson has been to her, and she gives her employees credit for helping her succeed. Her “competitive nature” is also an asset. “While I may not like a challenge or problem that is thrown my way, I will not run from it,” she said.

“First and foremost,” however, Crook has been “blessed with a boss and mentor that lives each day as an example of what he expects. I have learned how to be a professional, to be fair, to listen (hard one), to think about the big picture, to think before you speak, to put yourself in the customer’s or employee’s place and to live by example. I hope that is how I am seen by my managers.”

Wilson, Crook said, is “proof you can have it all if you treat others fairly and work hard at what you love."

Buy your tickets to the CFO of the Year Awards Luncheon to show your support for Kim.