Then & Now: Luke Colley brings banking expertise to alma mater

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 800 views 

Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the Sept. 11 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.


Luke Colley is a Clarksville native who lived in Northwest Arkansas since 2004, working as an upwardly mobile bank executive. However, he returned “home” to Walnut Ridge a few months ago to start a new career chapter.

On July 20, Williams Baptist University announced Colley as its new vice president for advancement and business development. Colley is an alumnus of WBU, a private Christian university in Walnut Ridge with a little over 500 students. He earned a Christian ministries degree there in 2002.

“A lot of thought went into it, and we decided this is where God wanted us,” Colley said. His wife is also a WBU graduate. They have a 14-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter. “So we made the move to come back home, so to speak.”

In December 2019, the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, which owns and operates the university, appointed Colley to the WBU board of trustees. Since then, he developed a good relationship with university president Stan Norman, who occasionally mentioned, tongue-in-cheek, that he’d like to get Colley back to campus in some capacity.

Although a banker, Colley, 44, was once a full-time minister. Earlier this year, Colley updated his ministry resume while exploring becoming a bi-vocational minister. He reached out to Norman to provide a reference.

Norman continued to see Colley’s potential in a university setting.

“He agreed to provide the reference, but he hit me again about coming to work at Williams Baptist,” Colley explained. “I really hadn’t entertained that idea, but over time, as we spoke about what it might look like, he offered me the job I have now.”

Before moving to Walnut Ridge, Colley worked for multiple banks in Northwest Arkansas. He started at age 25 when he answered a newspaper ad for an open teller position.

Colley didn’t have banking experience. But he said several of his family members did, and he needed a job. “I figured I’d give it a shot,” he said.

It was a shot worth taking. Over the years, Colley climbed the ranks working for Arvest Bank and Chambers Bank. He joined Springdale-based United Bank in 2013. He became market president a year later and chief lending officer in May 2016. The Northwest Arkansas Business Journal recognized him as a Forty Under 40 honoree that year.

Colley left United Bank in 2019 for Rogers-based Generations Bank, where he was Rogers market president and later the bank’s chief lending officer. In January 2022, Helena-based Partners Bank hired him as executive vice president and Northwest regional president.

“All those [jobs] have been hugely beneficial to me,” Colley said.

At WBU, Colley will leverage his banking and community engagement experience to build strategic partnerships, cultivate philanthropic support and drive the university’s growth initiatives.

“Luke’s extensive banking industry experience and commitment to community service align with the values and beliefs we hold close at Williams,” Norman said. “His demonstrated leadership, dedication and passion for education make him an invaluable asset to our team as we continue to elevate WBU’s prominence and impact.”

Colley also works with the university’s workforce education dean to expand community partnerships that support students enrolled in the Williams Works program. Launched in 2020, Williams Works allows participating students to put in 16 hours of work per week all through the fall and spring semesters. In exchange, their full tuition and student service fees are covered. They can also apply to work full-time in the summer to cover the following year’s room and board.

Colley explained that Walnut Ridge (pop. 5,543) is rural, and WBU incorporates the large acreage surrounding the main campus as the program’s centerpiece, Eagle Farms. Williams Works has expanded in three years to include a free-range egg operation, a store, a boutique hotel (Hotel Rhea) in downtown Walnut Ridge and a meat processing plant.

Williams Works is one of many changes Colley encountered in his return to campus.

“There are a lot more buildings on campus, of course,” he joked. “But we love being here. It’s the same quality, Christ-centered education. It’s a great, close-knit community. It really is like coming home.”