Simmons First National, CEO Stay Put in Pine Bluff

George Makris Jr. is a product of Pine Bluff, leaving his hometown only for college (a bachelor’s in business administration from Rhodes College at Memphis in 1978 and an MBA from the University of Arkansas in 1980) and for a four-year stint in Little Rock so that the youngest of his three sons could play tennis for Little Rock Central High.

John had “an excellent academic experience” there. After he graduated, Makris and his wife, Deborah, a daughter of the late Quality Foods founder Don Kirkpatrick, returned to Pine Bluff.

“And that was our intent all along,” he said.

Their oldest son, George Makris III, is a lawyer with the Securities & Exchange Commission in Washington, D.C. The middle son, Nick, has returned to Pine Bluff to work at M.K. Distributors, and John will also be coming back to the family business after he graduates from the University of Arkansas’ Walton School of Business on Saturday.

When Dr. Harry Ryburn, a lifelong family friend and the lead director of Simmons First National Corp., first suggested that Makris consider succeeding Tommy May as CEO, Makris was dumbfounded. “I almost called Mrs. Ryburn because I thought he was losing his thought process,” Makris said.

Not only was he not a banker, Makris didn’t have a solid succession plan at the Anheuser-Busch distributorship his father founded in 1964. A few months later, Nick got engaged and decided to come back to M.K., where the general manager has agreed to stay for five years to help with the transition.

“But until Nick made that decision, I couldn’t make my decision,” Makris said.

Like most of the Makris family, Simmons First National Corp. will be sticking to Pine Bluff — and not just for sentimental reasons. All the “back office” transaction processing functions and the human resources functions are handled in Pine Bluff, and the employees who don’t live in Jefferson County are likely to live further south, Makris said.

“To move all that would be a major issue,” he said, and is not under consideration.