Gleason honored by Downtown Rotary Club

May 12-18, 2014

The Downtown Little Rock Rotary Club honored George Gleason, chairman and CEO of Bank of the Ozarks, its 2014 Business and Professional Leader of the Year last week at the club’s weekly luncheon. After Gleason spoke to the club in February of 2013 we ran the following article.

Gleason shares how to be a business champion

By Becca Bona

Sometimes it’s hard to spot the champion in the making. For instance, a 25 year-old male in a pick-up truck might not seem like much, but as George Gleason has proved, sometimes the recipe for success banks on having the drive to make a move. 

Originally from Dardanelle, Ark., Gleason says he received his first business experiences via his father. From a cattle farm to a hardware store Gleason’s father had many business interests. As a 12-year-old he was working with his dad; Gleason said, “He took me to his office and taught me how to keep his books. Fortunately my dad realized that it was more important that his son get experience than his books be correct.”

Gleason graduated from Hendrix College after two years of study before receiving a law degree from Fayetteville. Once out of school he began working with the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock. It wasn’t long afterwards that he found himself as the new owner of Bank of the Ozark thanks to a suggestion from a potential client. 

After closing the deal, he discovered that his new employees did not have the utmost confidence in him. Upon overhearing a conversation in the break room about an office pool he found out that everyone was taking bets on how long it would take him to sell the bank. “I was really upset when I found out that the longest possible date that you could get in the office pool was 365 days,” he said.

Gleason set the goal for his new company in 1997 when he became owner to become the best bank in Arkansas. Today Bank of the Ozark is headquartered in Little Rock and has grown from three offices to 117 offices across seven states, with more to come. The 28 original employees have grown to include 1080, with a customer base of over 190,000. 

In both 2011 and 2012 The American Bankers Association Banking Journal labeled Bank of the Ozarks the top performing publicly traded bank. 

Gleason says the key to being a champion is the ability to adapt, “That is another characteristic of a champion, whatever level of performance and level of accomplishment they achieve the goal is immediately recalibrated and reset to strive for higher levels of achievement, higher levels of performance, [and] higher levels of excellence for the future.”

Gleason credits the success to the ability to follow a good business plan. He detailed the bank’s four groups of constituents, which includes: customers, employees, stockholders, and regulators. He said, “Everyone who is building a championship team needs to understand what the standards are and who the judges are that are going to measure those standards.”

Like any good business, Gleason explains that the company must have high standards and qualities geared toward the customer. “It is always a great mission of mine to have our customers cease to think of us as the bank and start to think of us as their bank,” he said. 

Along with this facet, the company strives to provide a happy and satisfying work environment as well as opportunities for employees. This creates trust and loyalty as well as a drive for excellence. 

Thanks to the loyalty of its customers and the success of its employees, the company has managed to offer a great return to its shareholders, the third group of constituents.

The final group of constituents – the regulators – may seem counterintuitive. Gleason had an epiphany as a young man in relation to this group. “Somewhere around the age of 27 or 28 I figured out I was going to live the rest of my life, if successful in my career, with these guys. So instead of resisting regulatory oversight we need to figure out how to embrace this and maximize the benefits of this.” 

Since then the company works closely with the regulators in order to exchange helpful insight and knowledge in the field of banking, a field, which, is highly regulated. 

Learning the balancing act between these groups is a large part of Gleason’s success. “If you’re going to achieve that goal of being the top in the minds of all four of the competitive constituents then you’ve got a very delicate balancing act and you’ve also got to perform like champions in every respect.” 

But more than that, it’s about truly listening to the ideas of others. Gleason’s policy of taking the best possible solution only works if everyone is ready to contribute to solving the problem. 

He stands by this philosophy as best he can – as his employees know. “Every employee of mine, every single one of them knows that when they come into my office with a question […] that they better be prepared because I’m going to ask “What do you think we ought to do and tell me why you think that is the right solution.”   

Club 99 Businessman of the Year 1985—1989

1985 – Witt and Jack Stephens*

1986 – Sam Walton*

1987 – William Dillard*

1988 – Charles Murphy

1989 – Walter Smiley

Business and Professional Leader of the Year 1990 - 2014 

1990 – Dr. Harry Ward 

1991 – William H. Bowen 

1992 – Joe T. Ford 

1993 – George W. Tribou* 

1994 – C. Barnett Grace 

1995 – Warren A. Stephens 

1996 – Walter E. Hussman 

1997 – Robert Nabholz * 

1998 – Richard C. Butler* 

1999 – Townsend Wolfe 

2000 – Patricia P. Upton 

2001 – Doyle Rogers* 

2002 – William Clark*

2003 – Charles Morgan

2004 – Gus Vratsinas

2005 – Jerry Davis*

2006 – Don Munro

2007 – Claiborne Deming

2008 – Thomas May

2009 – Dr. Dodd Wilson

2010 – Janet Jones

2011 – Ross Whipple

2012 – Wayne Cranford

2013 – Tom Schueck

2014 – George Gleason