At age twenty-five, George Gleason left his new legal career with a prestigious Little Rock (Pulaski County) law firm and purchased control of a bank in Ozark (Franklin County). After forty years of his leadership as chairman and chief executive officer, what is now Bank OZK grew to be the largest bank in Arkansas. Publicly owned, it has been nationally recognized as one of the best-performing banks in the nation. The bank expanded to other states and became a major commercial construction lender in large metropolitan centers. Gleason was inducted into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame in 2021.
George G. Gleason II was born on November 30, 1953, in Dardanelle (Yell County), the youngest of four children of George G. Gleason and Mildred Stewart Boyce Gleason. He has three sisters, Marcia, Lynne, and Diane.
The Gleason family owned several businesses in Yell County, including rental properties, a retail store, and a feed mill, in addition to farming and raising cattle and poultry. At an early age, Gleason was involved in the businesses, doing a variety of jobs while working most days of the week. By age twelve, he was involved in keeping books for the various businesses, and at age fourteen was preparing tax returns. As a teenager, he started trading cattle to help pay for his education.
Gleason graduated as valedictorian of his 1972 high school class in Dardanelle and then attended Hendrix College in Conway (Faulkner County), graduating in two years with a degree in economics and accounting. As an undergraduate, he won the Mosley Award for economics. Attending the University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville (Washington County), he graduated first in his class in 1977 and received the senior scholar key. He subsequently scored first on the Arkansas bar exam.
Gleason joined the Rose Law Firm, one of the largest firms in the state. One of the partners was Hillary Rodham Clinton, who had been an instructor when he was in law school. While there, he specialized in banking and securities law. A banker suggested that he was too entrepreneurial to be a lawyer and should be a banker. Heeding this advice, Gleason bought controlling interest in the small Bank of Ozark in Franklin County in 1979. He made the purchase with $10,000 in cash and a $3.6 million loan, using as collateral the family farm and a trust established for the Gleason children.
Resigning his position with the law firm, he moved to Ozark and took over management of the bank. He began aggressive competition against banks in the area. The bank grew, and after establishing five branches, he changed the name to Bank of the Ozarks and moved the headquarters to Little Rock in 1995. By 1997, Gleason had grown the bank from $28 million to $300 million in assets and had sold stock to the public to provide capital for growth.
Gleason married Carol Ann Ross, and they had two sons, Peter and George III. After they divorced, he married Linda Diane Watson in 1986 and became stepfather to Amy and Eric. Watson had been an employee of the bank and subsequently served on the board of directors until 2019.
Bank of the Ozarks opened offices in North Carolina and Texas in 2001 and 2003. During the recession of the late 2000s, the bank continued to grow while many banks were failing. Taking advantage of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation program to encourage sound banks to take over failing banks, Gleason led acquisition of seven banks by 2011. Over the next five years, the bank bought or merged with six more banks. In 2018, the bank’s name was changed to Bank OZK to move away from the provincial name and project a more modern image. Gleason was named 2010 Community Banker of the Year by the American Banker magazine.
Even though the bank was doing business in major metropolitan centers throughout the nation, Gleason chose to keep the headquarters in Little Rock. Needing more space for its headquarters, the bank started construction of a new 225,000-square-foot office building in west Little Rock to be completed in 2020. Also, he and his wife built a 27,000-square-foot French chateau–style home to house their extensive collection of antiques, including nineteenth-century European paintings and sculpture, French and Italian furniture, rugs, chandeliers, and leather-bound books. In 2011, Hendrix College awarded him the Odyssey Medal as a distinguished alumnus.
Gleason maintains a challenging work schedule—sixty to eighty hours per week—and knows the details of the bank’s operations. He said in an interview, “I tell the people who work closely with me every day, if you want to work for the Bank of the Ozarks, you need to be willing to come to the office and run up Mount Everest every day. However well we did something yesterday, we want to try to do it better today and even better tomorrow. It is a constant quest for improvement.”
For additional information:
Davidson, Kate. “Community Banker of the Year: The Niche Player.” American Banker, December 2, 2010.
Robison, Peter. “How a Tiny Bank from the Ozarks Got Big and Outpaced Wall Street’s Real Estate Machine.” Bloomberg Business News, July 10, 2018.
Waldon, George. “Ozarks? Try Bank of the Nation.” Arkansas Business, July 24–30, 2017, p. 10.
W. W. Satterfield
Little Rock, Arkansas
Last Updated: 11/03/2021