Simmons First bolsters executive team with appointment of new COO

by Wesley Brown (wesbrocomm@gmail.com) 535 views 

Simmons First National Corp. continued to bulk up its executive bench with the appointment of Robert A. “Bob” Fehlman as chief operating officer of the fast-growing Pine Bluff-based regional banking group, effective Sept. 16. According to a form 8K filing on Friday (Sept. 20) with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Fehlman will serve in that role which has been vacant for several years until a successor is appointed, or his earlier resignation or removal.

In addition to serving as COO, Fehlman will continue to serve as the CFO and treasurer of the publicly-traded bank, roles he has held since 2005. The 55-year Arkansas native has also assumed the role of CFO and COO of the company’s wholly-owned bank subsidiary, Simmons Bank. Fehlman, a certified public accountant who holds a bachelor’s degree from Henderson State University, has worked for Simmons First or its affiliates since 1988.

In connection with Fehlman’ s expanded role, his base salary has been boosted from $430,000 to $550,000. Company officials also said the target equity incentive award he is eligible for in 2020 will decrease from 100% of base salary to 75% of base salary – with an opportunity of up to 150% of target, subject to customary approvals by the compensation committee of the company’s board of directors.

Fehlman will also continue to be eligible for a cash incentive bonus targeted at 75% of base salary – with an opportunity of up to 200% of target – and other benefits, SEC filings show.

The promotion to COO will put Fehlman second-in-command to company Chairman and CEO George Makris, who has led the Pine Bluff bank’s growth from a small Arkansas community bank to a mid-sized regional banking group with operations across eight states.

Since former Simmons First President David Bartlett stepped down in early 2016, no COO or president has served in that role under Makris. He was appointed chairman and CEO of the Pine Bluff bank in 2014, replacing J. Thomas May.

Earlier this week, Simmons First’s operating subsidiary, led by company executive vice president and Simmons Bank Chairman and CEO Marty Casteel, announced several other promotions and key executive hires in central Arkansas and across the state. Those moves come after the Pine Bluff banking group moved its regional headquarters for central Arkansas to the former Acxiom building in Little Rock, located in the city’s River Market district.

In late July, Simmons announced the acquisition of a Columbia, Mo.-based privately-held Landmark Bank in an all-stock deal valued at nearly $435 million. During the second quarter, Simmons First also completed its acquisition of St. Louis-based Reliance Bancshares Inc. in a $214 million cash-and-stock deal first announced in November. Together with Landmark Bank, Simmons is now expected to have dozens of new branch locations sprinkled across key rural and urban markets in Missouri and Oklahoma.

Following the expected close of the Landmark deal in late 2019 or early 2020, Simmons will have completed 10 acquisitions since early 2014 and compiled assets nearing $21 billion, along with total loans and deposits surpassing $15 billion and $17 billion, respectively. Simmons will also close the gap between it and Arkansas’ two largest banks by assets in Bentonville-based Arvest Bank and Bank OZK of Little Rock respectively at $18 billion and $23 billion.

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