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Business of the Year Profiles – Southern Bancorp
Category: Category III
Phillip Baldwin is sympathetic to the people whose “eyes glaze over” when he tries to explain the mission of Southern Bancorp of Arkadelphia.
“I was driving my car one day, thinking, ‘What is it I do? What really is this job?’” the CEO said. “And I thought of that Christmas movie with Jimmy Stewart. We’re like the Bailey Building & Loan.”
In “I’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey, proprietor of a small savings and loan, faces down the embodiment of evil, commercial banker Mr. Potter.
“We build those small houses that Mr. Martini bought, and we support small businesses like Mr. Martini’s. We help that blonde girl that wanted to go to college,” Baldwin said.
Rather than an S&L, Southern is a half-billion-dollar bank holding company that owns three charters: Elkhorn Bank & Trust of Arkadelphia, First National Bank of Phillips County at West Helena and Delta Southern Bank at Ruleville, Miss. It also operates, through common directors and management, four nonprofit organizations: Southern Property Corp., Southern Community Development Corp. and last year’s Nonprofit Organization of the Year, Southern Good Faith Fund of Pine Bluff.
“We take the fiscal responsibility of a commercial banking organization and we attach that to the mission work that nonprofits have and we marry that together,” Baldwin said.
Southern has the luxury of being owned by shareholders – like the Walton Family Foundation, Ford Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Stephens Inc., Arkansas Best Corp., International Paper Co. and Weyerhauser – who aren’t in it for a financial return. Still, the holding company’s net income was over $3 million last year, half again its 2003 net, with healthy returns on both assets and equity
“If we were operating this to maximize earnings, we’d consolidate those bank charters in a heartbeat, just like everyone else does,” he said. “We think that a local board of directors is important in small-town development.”