Then & Now: Blake Miller seeks ‘win-win’ relationships at EF Group

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 561 views 

Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the Oct. 23 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.

Blake Miller transitioned from banking in 2014 after more than two decades in the industry but maintains close relationships with community banks as the president and CEO of EF Group in Little Rock.

“I’m very passionate about community banks,” he said. “They are an integral part of the fabric of the economy … Anything that we can do to keep the community bank alive, we want to be a part of because it fosters entrepreneurism.”

In 2004, Miller moved from Northwest Arkansas to Little Rock to become chief lending officer and equity partner of a team that structured the purchase of Pine State Bank. The team moved the bank charter to Little Rock from Kingsland and renamed it Centennial Bank.

In about two years, Miller helped it grow to more than $200 million in assets from $18 million. In 2007, the bank was sold to Home Bancshares, and when the ownership transition was completed by the end of 2008, the bank had total assets of almost $230 million.

Miller, 52, was the vice president of commercial lending for United Bank in Fayetteville when the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal named him to the Forty Under 40 class in 2003. He joined United Bank to help open its Fayetteville branch.

The Hot Springs native lived in Northwest Arkansas for about 14 years, including his time at the University of Arkansas. In college, he met Debra, and they married. They’ve been married for 30 years, have two sons and reside in Little Rock.

After the 2008 ownership transition of Centennial Bank, Miller left banking to work in heavy equipment purchasing and sales for a year. He returned to banking and remained in the industry until March 2014, when he joined Enterprise Financial Solutions. In 2017, Miller became president and CEO after purchasing the company’s remaining shares from its founder and his partner, Jack Harvey.

The equipment finance company, which has since rebranded to EF Group, works with commercial clients across multiple industries. The company has about 500 clients across the state and throughout the South within a day’s drive. Some of its clients include Alabama-based Bluewater Exteriors, North Little Rock-based Car-Son Construction and Little Rock-based Splash Car Wash.

“What’s unique about what we do and what I was drawn to as part of the model was that we place our deals, our clients and our paper with community banks,” he said. “It’s something we’re very proud of … We keep up with banks in Arkansas and outside of Arkansas and watch their income statements and balance sheets. We know the banks that need good commercial clients, and we place our deals with those community banks and are aligned with them while we straddle and take care of our clients that are borrowing and become a profit center for the bank.”

Miller said revenue rose to about $30 million in 2022, and it’s expected to exceed that this year. Net interest income attributed to the banks with whom it works has risen by 73.7% to $4.62 million in 2022 from $2.66 million in 2019. Over the same period, its outstanding portfolio has increased by 60.6% to $106.98 million from $66.62 million. The portfolio numbers include client loans, equipment finance agreements and leases.

“We are incredibly proud of our relationships with our vendors, our commercial business owners/clients and our banking partners,” Miller said. “We strive to play an important role in helping them attain their respective goals.”

He noted that his firm’s marketing is primarily comprised of word-of-mouth and referrals. The company has five full-time employees.

Miller said he’s most proud of “the relationships that are the win-wins. We’ve helped companies grow from $8 million annually to above $50 million. And there are banks that we contribute more than $1 million of net income to their bottom line each year.”

Over the next three to five years, some of his goals include exceeding $100 million in revenue annually and growing into other markets, including opening a Dallas office.

Miller enjoys spending time on the lake in Hot Springs and at his home there and playing golf.