Seasoned Banker Settles into New Role at Arvest

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 223 views 

Kent Williamson’s career as a community banker began 24 years ago in Springdale as a commercial lender working for Walton family-owned Arvest Bank Group Inc.

During a recent interview at his office on Emma Avenue, Williamson, 51, said he has been content to climb the company ladder while remaining in Springdale.

Now, as an entrenched business and civic leader, it’s hard to imagine Williamson leaving the city anytime soon.

In May, Williamson was promoted to president and CEO of Arvest Bank’s Springdale market. The appointment followed Lisa Ray’s move to a regional executive role with Arvest Bank Group.

“I’ve never been one that’s wanted to move,” he said. “I could have [pursued] market president jobs at other Arvest locations, but I didn’t want to do that. If I was going to be a president, it was going to be here. I want to be in this community.”

Although all Arvest branches are technically part of the same Fayetteville charter, the company currently maintains 16 separate community bank markets in Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma, each with its own executive team and advisory board.

The Arvest Springdale market has about 180 employees working in nine locations. A 10th branch is under construction on Elm Springs Road in Springdale, which should be complete no later than early 2017.

With $742.5 million in assets, it ranks eighth among Arvest’s 16 markets.

Williamson — a native of Paragould in northeast Arkansas — said the appointment to market head was very gratifying, particularly because he’s been able to establish strong roots in the area.

“I’ve spent more time here than I have anywhere else; even my hometown,” Williamson said. “We’ve been here a long time, our [two] kids were born here. It’s just home now.”

Williamson, a University of Arkansas graduate in 1988, worked as an examiner for the state bank department in Little Rock from 1989 to 1992 before moving to Springdale. His new wife, Kelley, had just accepted a teaching job in the Springdale School District.

“I was still going to work for the bank department, but I was going to do it from Northwest Arkansas,” he recalled.

Those plans changed when Williamson received a telephone call “out of the blue” from Buddy Philpot, president of Arvest-owned Springdale Bank & Trust, which opened in 1989.

Philpot thought Williamson was still living in Little Rock when he called to offer a job. As it turned out, Kent and Kelley Williamson had just rented a duplex less than five minutes away from SBT’s downtown branch.

“That was in August 1992, and I’ve been here ever since,” he said.

By the time he was recognized as a Forty Under 40 honoree by the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal in 1999, Williamson had been promoted to executive vice president and loan manager, managing the bank’s largest portfolio.

In 2001, 14 separate charters owned by Arvest Bank Group — including Springdale Bank & Trust — were consolidated into the former McIlroy Bank & Trust charter at Fayetteville and renamed Arvest Bank.

The move transformed the company into the largest banking organization in the state in terms of total deposits. As for the Springdale market, Williamson remained a constant, overseeing the loan staff and portfolio growth.

“When I first started here, we had a loan portfolio of about $40 million, and now we’re probably over $500 million,” he said.

Williamson’s history of civic involvement is extensive. He’s a current board member for the United Way of Northwest Arkansas, and he’s a past board member of several organizations including Springdale Public Schools Foundation, Springdale Chamber of Commerce and Washington County Library Board.

Philpot, now executive director of the Walton Family Foundation in Bentonville, said it has been rewarding to see Williamson’s career unfold the way it has, now as the top executive for the Arvest Springdale market.

“He works hard to not only run an outstanding bank, but to also better his community,” Philpot said. “He is very loyal to Arvest and Springdale. He and Kelley consider it home. He works hard to not only run an outstanding bank, but to also better his community. That, in turn, makes the bank even more successful and is truly the definition of a community banker.”