“Have you had enough? Are you ready to sell?” Johnny Allison’s friendly annual query of his friend and business mentor Wallace Fowler finally found a warm reception this year.
“I just felt that the conditions had maxed out,” Fowler said. “I did know that I was maxed out. I’m 78. I’m tired and ready to let some younger people come in and do it.”
The proposed $280 million sale to Home BancShares Inc. of Conway, where Allison is chairman and co-founder, represents the largest in-state bank transaction in Arkansas history.
Fowler is no stranger to making history on the Arkansas bank scene.
Twenty-three years ago, he led the $36.1 million sale of Jonesboro’s North Arkansas Bancshares Inc. to Union Planters Corp. of Memphis.
The June 1990 transaction marked the first deal to close under the Arkansas Interstate Banking Law, which opened the door to such deals in 1989.
Fowler was the leading shareholder and CEO of the $422 million-asset NABI. He went on to make several more fortunes in banking and along the way served as CEO of two more banking concerns based in Jonesboro: Southwest Bancshares and Liberty Bancshares.
“I’m not a banker,” Fowler said in a recent interview. “But I think I know how to run a business and make a profit and satisfy a customer’s wants and needs and hopefully make it to where they love doing business with you.”
Toward that end, Fowler championed 7-to-7 banking and introduced extended weekday business hours in November 2003. The concept was novel to Arkansas banking at the time and reflected a retailing bent formed from his years selling furniture as a shopkeeper and later fast food through Taco Bell and KFC franchises.
“When we put the 7-to-7 in, we got ‘thank you, thank you’ from customers,” Fowler said. “I came with that from the furniture business. But it is different. To some people, it’s not as profitable. And that’s absolutely true. But if you get the volume, you can accept a little less profit.”
With his successful resume of buying, building and selling banks, attracting shareholders to fund Liberty’s growth was easy. Ownership spread across more than 400 investors as the company raised capital and brought in new stakeholders through acquisitions in Russellville, Paragould and Mountain Home.
Some Liberty shareholders bought stock with a vision of gaining enough appreciation to pay for their kids’ college education, Fowler said. That seven-year investment vision turned into 12 years.
“That was weighing heavy on me,” he said. “There are some who would like to sell some or all of their stock. We had hit potential in terms of what I could spearhead the company to do. It was time for us to put a deal together. It’s been a wonderful ride.”
Leading Liberty Bancshares Stockholders
Home BancShares Inc. of Conway is paying Liberty shareholders a blend of $250 million in stock and $30 million cash to acquire their $2.8 billion-asset banking franchise.
|Wallace Fowler Sr. family, Jonesboro||239,936||$51.5 million||$6.1 million|
|McClain Family Trust & Hugh McClain Ltd., Mountain Home||53,100||$11.3 million||$1.3 million|
|Roy A. Reaves Revocable Trust & Reaves Self-Directed IRA, Russellville||47,326||$10.1 million||$1.2 million|
|Charles F. Luter Revocable Trust, Paragould||31,640||$6.7 million||$809,000|
|Zippo Investments LLC, Blake Barber, Trumann||30,000||$6.4 million||$767,000|
|Don and Ellen Edmondson, Forrest City||21,135||$4.5 million||$540,000|
|Mickey Harold Seeman, Jonesboro||20,800||$4.4 million||$532,000|
|Benny R. Harris Self-Directed IRA & Benny Harris Living Trust, Russellville||20,267||$4.3 million||$518,000|