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Business of the Year Profiles – Phillip Baldwin
Phil Baldwin sees himself as Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life” – using lending institutions to improve the lives of ordinary residents of Arkadelphia, West Helena and Ruleville, Miss. But unlike the Bailey Building & Loan, Southern Bancorp is not the kind of place where cash is mislaid and incompetent relatives are kept on staff.
“Not only do I believe that you’ve got to stay in the black, but I think you’ve got to be high performing,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin has brought fiscal discipline to an organization that previously seemed unable to reconcile its two halves, the commercial banking enterprise and the nonprofit organizations it supports and directs. The holding company’s annual revenue has increased by an average of 244 percent a year for the past three years.
Last year, net income exceeded $3 million and achieved one of Baldwin’s goals: “to make more in one month than the company used to make in a year.”
Its shareholders are mainly nonprofit foundations and philanthropic corporations that see Southern as a “social investment,” but the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. that insures its deposits requires sound banking practices.
“We compete strongly and aggressively with the banks in our market,” said Baldwin, who has doubled Southern’s assets to $500 million during his four years as CEO.
Baldwin spent 20 years in traditional businesses – Ernst & Young, Dillard’s Inc., FDH Bancshares and Pinnacle Bank – before taking on the challenge of running a bank and promoting community development in Arkansas and Mississippi.
Rather than the scattershot approach to philanthropy that Southern used in the past, Baldwin focused the company’s efforts on one town in the form of the Delta Bridge Project, a partnership with the Walton Family Foundation.
It is, Baldwin said, “the most aggressive community development project ever attempted. The success of this project will reverse the negative trends of Helena, Ark.”