George Gleason Receives LR Rotary Club Award

George Gleason Receives LR Rotary Club Award
George Gleason (Jason Burt)

George Gleason, chairman, CEO and largest shareholder of Bank of the Ozarks Inc., was honored Tuesday afternoon by the Rotary Club of Little Rock as the 2014 honoree of the Business & Professional Leader of the Year Award.

Gleason, who purchased control of Bank of Ozark in 1979, has seen the bank grow from 35 employees and $28 million in assets, to a 141-office, nine-state operation with 1,306 employees and more than $5 billion in total assets.

"I'm very thankful, that over the years, our company has been able to attract an immense number of very smart, very hardworking individuals," Gleason said at the Rotary Club luncheon Tuesday.

In the past year, Gleason and his bank have seen strong third- and fourth-quarter numbers, in addition to multiple acquisitions, including Texas Bank, for $23 million, and the pending $216 million deal to purchase Summit Bancorp Inc.

When the bank went public in 1997, Gleason said he faced skepticism while traveling coast-to-coast in an attempt to appeal to potential investors and was told by more than one person that Arkansas was an "economic backwater."

Gleason joked Tuesday, "when you go to New York, you get [the answer] straight."

Those ill feelings toward Arkansas banks are now gone, Gleason said, who referenced a recent regional bank ranking from SNL Financial that listed Bank of the Ozarks Inc., First Security Bancorp., and Home BancShares Inc. as some of the top performing regional banks in 2013.

"Imagine that," Gleason said. "Arkansas, a state that 20 years ago was considered an economic backwater by bank investors, now three of the top 10 performing regional banks are headquartered in Arkansas."

Gleason's recognition came in the 25th anniversary of the Leader of the Year Award. Past winners include W.R "Witt" Stephens, Jack T. Stephens, Sam Walton, William H. Bowen, Walter E. Hussman, Charles D. Morgan, Ross M. Whipple and Wayne Cranford.