Simmons First retiring CEO honored at community event

story by Roby Brock, with Talk Business, a content partner with The City Wire

J. Thomas May came to Pine Bluff-based Simmons First National Corp. more than 25 years ago when the bank enterprise was a $500 million operation. $4.5 billion in assets and a quarter century later, May is set to pass the torch to the next generation.

On Tuesday (Dec. 10), Simmons First held a community celebration for May and invited the region to present well wishes to the retiring CEO who will be succeeded by CEO-elect George Makris.

“I’m awfully lucky to be able to work with him for one year under this transition period. A lot of people have to come in and immediately step in and make decisions. I sort of had an easy ride there for about six months. Then, he really put me to work,” Makris tells Talk Business.

Makris and the rest of Simmons First leadership have been hard at work with the $53.6 million acquisition of Little Rock-based Metropolitan National Bank. Makris said that many details of the bank merger will be forthcoming by Dec. 31 and by the end of the first quarter 2014.

May – who has been battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease – greeted guests for nearly two hours at the Pine Bluff Convention Center. He said he was excited for the new leadership changes coming to the bank and he was looking forward to his new endeavor: a charitable foundation.

May will be the first chairman of the Simmons First Foundation, a charitable giving extension of the bank. Makris said that a lot of the bank’s donations will move through the foundation, which will be seeded on Jan. 1, 2014 with a million dollars. Eventually, it will be a multi-million dollar organization once several current investments mature and become available.

Distributions from the foundation will come in the form of “Tommy May Make A Difference” grants, said Makris.

“We’ll go into communities we serve, find worthwhile organizations that have a specific project, and we will help fund that project. We’ll have our bankers across the state looking in their communities for those unique opportunities,” he added.

May has a storied history of community service during his bank tenure.

He has served on the University of Arkansas Foundation Board of Directors, the Dean’s Executive Advisory Board in the Sam M. Walton College of Business, the University of Arkansas Board of Advisors, the Steering Committee for the Campaign for the Twenty-First Century, and the Board of Trustees for the University of Arkansas System from 1993 to 2003.

May has also dedicated his time to organizations such as the Boys Club of America, Habitat for Humanity, United Way of Jefferson County and Southeast Arkansas, and the Pine Bluff Downtown Development. He also has served on the board of directors for Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield, Baptist Health and the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.


He will have an office on the Simmons First campus in Pine Bluff. Makris said he’s looking forward to the proximity.

“I told him to expect the carpet to be worn out between my office and his because it will be,” he said.

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