Chris Wewers, Incoming CEO, Gets 46 Percent Pay Boost at First Federal

The CEO in-waiting at Harrison's First Federal Bancshares of Arkansas Inc. recorded the biggest gain in total compensation among the company's four top executives.

Total compensation for Christopher Wewers, First Federal's president, chief operating officer and a director, grew by 46.4 percent to $248,000 during 2012. Wewers, who will succeed Dabbs Cavin as chief executive officer on June 30, collected a salary of $220,000.

The information was reported in First Federal's annual proxy statement, released Friday.

Total compensation for Tom Fritsche, 52, executive vice president and chief operating officer, increased 44.8 percent to $215,000. His 2012 salary was $200,000.

Cavin's total compensation grew by 34.8 percent, which included a salary of $235,000. He will remain on the board of directors and serve as executive vice chairman.

Total compensation for Sherri Billings, 56, executive vice president and chief financial officer, declined by 38.5 percent. The drop reflects the absence of a cash bonus and stock option awards that boosted her 2011 compensation.

Billings collected a salary of $194,513. She also is the beneficial owner of First Federal stock worth more than $451,000.

Bear State Financial Holdings LLC of Little Rock holds an 80.3 percent stake in the company valued at more than $161 million. The total includes a warrant to buy 1,095,000 shares.

Bear State is an investment group led central Arkansas investors that include Little Rock businessmen Rick Massey, chairman of the board; former Alltel executives Joe and Scott Ford; Witt Stephens Jr., co-chairman and CEO of the Stephens Group LLC; Gus Blass III, general partner with Capital Properties LLC and principal with Falcon Securities Inc.; and Ron Cameron, chairman and CEO of Mountaire Corp.. 

The group acquired controlling interest and recapitalized the company in a 2011 transaction that included a 1-for-5 reverse stock split, retiring TARP debt and investing $40.3 million cash.

Among directors and top executives, John Paul Hammerschmidt holds the second largest block of First Federal shares. The director and former Congressman is deemed to be the beneficial owner of stock worth more than $705,000.

First Federal recorded total assets of nearly $530.4 million and a profit of almost $1.3 million at year-end 2012.

The company's annual shareholders meeting will be held at 11 a.m. on Wednesday May 29 at the First Federal branch at 2000 Promenade Blvd. in Rogers. The proxy details four items that shareholders will be considering:

  • To elect nine directors.
  • To vote on an advisory resolution to approve the compensation of the company's executive officers.
  • To hold an advisory vote on the frequency of future advisory votes on executive compensation.
  • To ratify the appointment of BKD LLP of Springfield, Mo., as the company's independent registered public accounting firm for 2013.

In addition to Massey, 57, Cavin, 48, Hammerschmidt, 90, Scott Ford, 50, and Wewers, 41, the First Federal board of directors includes:

  • Aaron Clark, 31, vice president of The Stephens Group.
  • Frank Conner, 63, former vice president and chief financial officer of FedEx Freight East.
  • Brock Gearhart, 31, president of Greenwood Gearhart Inc. a Fayetteville investment adviser.
  • Fitz Hill, 49, president of Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock.

First Federal operates 15 full-service locations in Harrison, Mountain Home, Fayetteville, Rogers, Bentonville, Springdale, Berryville and Yellville.