Then & Now: New job a full circle moment for Preston

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 1,001 views 

Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the July 18 issue of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “Then & Now” is a profile of a past member of the Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class.

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Earlier this year, Erica Preston started a new job that marked a full circle moment in a long banking career in Northwest Arkansas.

She went to work in May as a senior vice president for Simmons Bank, where she began to grow as a leader two decades ago.

Preston began her banking career while attending the University of Arkansas, working as a part-time teller for First Financial Bank (FFB) in July 1997. She started full-time at the bank even before graduating in 2000.

Simmons Bank, which maintains its charter in Pine Bluff, acquired FFB’s six NWA branches that same year. Preston advanced within the organization, becoming a branch manager in 2001, senior vice president in 2008 and regional operations manager in 2014.

In 2015, Chambers Bank hired her as a senior vice president. Within a month, the company promoted her to chief operating officer, overseeing branch operations at the Danville-based company’s 18 lending locations in the state.

The Northwest Arkansas Business Journal honored Preston as a Forty Under 40 honoree that same year.

Preston’s office is inside Simmons Bank’s 19,000-square-foot banking center on New Hope Road in Rogers.

“I helped open this building in 2007,” she recalled during a recent interview. She joked about being offered a building tour during the traditional “new-hire” orientation.

“I said, ‘I can give you a tour of the building,’” Preston said.

Preston is working as part of a business development team in Simmons’ newly created metro market division. The work focuses on developing the business customer segment of the company’s larger metro markets of Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas; Memphis, Tenn.; St. Louis; and Northwest Arkansas.

Simmons Bank operates nearly 250 branches in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas and has assets of $24.4 billion. The company has seven branches in Benton and Washington counties.

“In Northwest Arkansas, we do so much [loan business] with commercial real estate, but we want to have a renewed focus on business customers,” she said. “We’re finishing up getting our back-end processes in place, and we’ll put together a strong team of business lenders in Northwest Arkansas to go out and take care of our customers.”

Preston said she is excited to work with several colleagues and friends from her first stint with Simmons Bank who still work for the company. That includes executive vice president Chris White, who spearheads the metro market division.

“He is an energetic and motivated person, and I was excited to get the opportunity to work with him again,” Preston said.

Having spent her entire career in Northwest Arkansas, Preston has watched the region mature. Despite the growth and untapped potential, she thinks of Northwest Arkansas as a small town.

“I know we’re not, but we have that feel,” she said. “We are a metro market but still have so much of that small-town feel when it comes to being in the community. People still want to bank with people they know and are involved in the community. And we still behave like a community bank. But we have all the products and services that someone can get from larger or online banks.”

Throughout her career, Preston said it is remained important to her to advocate for women in banking. Her advice to young professionals is to seek out additional knowledge and actively develop new skills.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for a seat at the table,” she said. “And when you get there, do not assume that your input and feedback are less valuable than someone else’s. Diversity of thought is diversity. Whether it’s gender, race or anything else, the financial industry needs all those perspectives.”

Preston lives in Bentonville with her husband and their 12-year-old son.

“On the day of the Forty Under 40 luncheon [in 2015], I took him to his first day of kindergarten,” she recalled. “He starts junior high this August.”

Preston is a Northwest Arkansas board member for Little Rock-based nonprofit Junior Achievement of Arkansas and co-chairs the group’s annual Bowl-A-Thon fundraiser. She also chairs the annual Sunshine Gala fundraiser for the Sunshine School and Development Center in Rogers.