Citizens Bank Puts Phil Baldwin To Work On Growth

Citizens Bank of Batesville officially has declared itself a buyer in the grow-or-go banking sweepstakes. That pronouncement was given public voice with the hiring of Phil Baldwin as president of the $544 million-asset lender and CEO-to-be in 2015.

Baldwin is portrayed as something akin to the last ingredient in a corporate recipe to produce a hearty helping of expansion for Citizens Bank. Doubling the size of the franchise through acquisition and opening offices in new markets is part of the dish.

“Working toward $1 billion in asset size is a goal,” Baldwin said.

Citizens Bank has made limited forays outside its Independence County base of operations by branching into several neighboring counties. Its leadership aspires to transform Citizens into a regional bank. That’s regional as in southeastern United States.

Jeff Teague, chairman of the board at Citizens, said the bank has spent the past several years preparing itself for the change by broadening its talent, building its capital and improving its technological capabilities.

“We think we’re ready now to move into other markets,” Teague said. “We will grow deliberately and at a level that will provide a good return.”

Will the expansion of Citizens Bank be fueled by an initial public offering of stock?

“It’s not part of our business model,” Teague said.

John Dews will remain as CEO of the bank until the end of 2014, with plans to stay as a director after that.

He said the attributes are in place to support a bank four times the current size of Citizens.

“Phil rounds it out with his experience and talent,” said Dews, who relinquished his title as president to Baldwin as part of the transition.

Baldwin knows how to build a profitable billion-dollar banking concern.

He established a track record of expansion through organic growth and acquisition during his 2000-11 tenure at Southern Bancorp Inc. of Arkadelphia. Baldwin joined the rural development bank as its chief financial officer in 2000 and was promoted to president and CEO in 2002.

Under his leadership, Southern Bancorp assets grew from $250 million to $1.2 billion and net income from $412,000 to more than $9 million a year, one of the largest and most profitable rural development banks in the nation.

His banking resume includes a stint as the founding executive vice president and chief financial officer of Little Rock’s Pinnacle Bank when the de novo effort was launched in 1996. (The $21.2 million purchase of Pinnacle Bank in March 2002 provided the Little Rock market entry for BancorpSouth Inc. of Tupelo, Miss.)

Citizens Bank has maintained its historically profitable ways in the post-2008 financial world as well as its foundational identity as a community-oriented lender.

“You match that with an innovative vision, and you have an opportunity to do something really special,” Baldwin said. “That’s what intrigued me.”

The opportunity to take Citizens Bank to new fiscal territory and export its culture regionally is what attracted him back to Arkansas. Since leaving Southern Bancorp, Baldwin has served as president and CEO of CredAbility in Atlanta, touted as one of the nation’s leading nonprofit credit counseling and education agencies.

A certified public accountant by training, Baldwin has a bent for mixing his work with nonprofit missions.

He believes his experience in the for-profit and nonprofit realms will be of practical use as he works to build on Citizens Bank’s legacy of strong community ties.

“I intend to use some of the things I learned at Southern to help the community grow,” Baldwin said. “What we do we want to do in partnership with the community we serve.”

For now, the Citizens Bank crew is long on the big picture and short on the details, a situation they say will begin changing as developments start rolling out during the next 12 to 36 months.

“I’m not a banker,” said Teague, an El Dorado car dealer married to a granddaughter of the bank’s founder, J.K. Southerland.

“You put the vision out there and get out of the way and let them do their job.”

Phil Baldwin Bio

Phil Baldwin’s business career is undergirded by a strong base of civic-philanthropic endeavors.

Baldwin currently serves on the board of directors of United Way Worldwide and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation as well as the Emory University Board of Visitors.

He recently ended a term as national board chair for United Way of America, the largest nonprofit organization in the world.

Baldwin is a past board member of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Ouachita Baptist University at Arkadelphia, Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, Arkansas Capital Corp. and the Governor’s Roundtable on Health Care.

He was named in 2010 as one of the top five social entrepreneurs in the United States by Bloomberg Businessweek magazine. Baldwin is a recipient of the United States Small Business Entrepreneurial Leadership Award and has been honored as Economic Developer of the Year by the Society of Economic Development.

Along the way, he also worked in Little Rock as director of corporate finance and reporting at Dillard Department Stores Inc., vice president of finance at Fairfield Communities Inc. and senior manager at Ernst & Young Accounting.

Baldwin also served as vice president and chief financial officer at another Citizens Bank: Citizens First Bank of Little Rock.

From Entrepreneur to Banker

Before J.K. Southerland made a name for himself as a poultry pioneer, he was an aspiring Cleburne County entrepreneur. A negative banking experience provided the grist for later launching Citizens Bank of Batesville.

Southerland was turned down for a business loan during the Depression when he was striving to build his poultry enterprise.

Southerland vowed that if he ever achieved any measure of success, he would establish a bank for the working people.

He did, and his family’s foundational support has remained a constant during the 60-years-and-counting history of Citizens Bank.

His integrated poultry business had grown to 800 employees when it was sold to Banquet Foods in 1969. Southerland, who died in 1981, served as president and later chairman of the board at Citizens.

Looking to Grow

Citizens Bank isn’t the first Batesville bank to look afield for growth opportunities.

First Community Bank, a 1997 de novo effort, made a geographic leap to enter southwest Missouri with the purchase of Goodman State Bank, a $13.2 million-asset lender.

That 2008 move into the Show-Me State helped First Community grow from total assets of $481 million at the time to $812 million today.

Citizens Bank and First Community are the dominant financial institutions in Batesville. Their deposit market shares in Independence County are 45 percent for Citizens and 34.5 percent for First Community.