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Mortarboards and bank boards.

Mortarboards And Bank Boards

On Jan. 1, Dr. Joe B. Hatcher, president of Hendrix College at Conway - a man of letters - will become Dr. Joe B. Hatcher, vice chairman of First Commercial Bank at Little Rock - a man of numbers.

The 55-year-old, who has a doctorate in English literature from the University of Kansas, still looks more like a professor than a banker, despite suspenders almost hidden by a navy pinstripe suit.

"It was the right time to leave Hendrix, and it was the right time to come here," says Hatcher, who is sitting in a small but comfortable room at First Commercial's downtown Little Rock headquarters.

Hatcher has something in common with Bill Bowen, First Commercial Corp.'s high-profile former chairman.

Bowen, who led the $2.2-billion holding company to new heights, also made a late-life career change, leaving the legal profession at age 49 to join First Commercial.

Hatcher has more than that in common with Bowen.

Bowen is a member of the board of trustees at Hendrix. And Hatcher is a 10-year member of the Little Rock bank's board of directors.

With Bowen's departure from the competitive Arkansas banking scene, and rival Worthen National Bank of Arkansas' recent appointment of Jack Fleischauer as president, financial observers wonder what role Hatcher will play?

Was he hired to match Worthen's positioning of Fleischauer, who is known for his community relations expertise?

"Not at all," says Barnett Grace, First Commercial Corp.'s chairman. "We started looking two years ago for someone from the outside. We even looked out of state. Everyone knows we're a growing organization, and from time to time, you need to bring someone in.

"We didn't approach Joe then because we didn't think he would be interested."

But Hatcher's self-imposed "running time" at Hendrix was nearing its conclusion.

"When I was hired at Hendrix, the search committee asked me how long I thought I would stay," Hatcher says. "I told them I had worked for a president once who stayed too long. I always felt it would be about 12 to 15 years. One of the worst things about staying too long is you don't know it."

Hatcher came to the respected, four-year liberal arts school in 1981.

Looking For A Change

Grace and Hatcher have similar accounts of how the subject of the vice chairmanship came up.

Hatcher, with just enough gray in his hair to look distinguished and a slow, easy smile that could only belong to a Texan, says there was a conversation following a recent First Commercial board meeting.

"I said to Barnett that in three to five years I might be looking for a change and if the bank ever had anything ... And he said, |As a matter of fact, we've been talking about you.'

"The result was it happened more quickly than I would have ever thought."

Hatcher is chairman of the bank board's strategic planning committee and sits on the board of First Commercial College, a new training program for key personnel.

The position of vice chairman has been vacant since Ron Strother was promoted to president of the Little Rock bank in January.

What does a vice chairman do?

First Commercial officials say Hatcher will have responsibility for the bank's strategic planning, marketing, sales and customer-service functions.

"He will re-examine everything we're doing with the fresh perspective of someone who is new to banking," Grace says. "It also will help him learn banking. It will serve as part of a training program. Later, he should be capable of running a line of business such as mortgage or trust."

It seems like a nice-paying training program.

Hatcher will only say the job pays about the same as the one at Hendrix. He claims money was not a factor in his decision.

Although Hendrix will not release faculty and staff salaries, American School and University says the average base salary for the president of a four-year school with a budget the size of that at Hendrix ($15 million) is $88,323 with perks averaging more than $30,000.

Hatcher and his wife, Irma Gail, do not live in a home provided by the school, though. Having recently built a home in Conway, Hatcher plans to commute each day to Little Rock.

Earning His Keep

Whatever Hatcher is paid at Hendrix, most say he earns it.

He came to Hendrix from Albion College in Albion, Mich., where he was vice president for development. He quickly went to work filling the Hendrix coffers.

The school's endowment has climbed from $19 million to $57 million in the past decade.

The fiscal year that ended in July was the best for raising funds in the 107-year history of the institution. About $5.4 million was raised. The highest previous total was $3.5 million during the 1975-76 fiscal year.

Faculty salaries have grown, and positions have been added to lower the faculty-student ratio. Also under Hatcher, a sabbatical program was developed for faculty members.

Last year, Hendrix was placed in the highest category for liberal arts colleges by the Carnegie Foundation. It consistenly ranks highly in other national listings.

Hatcher also is proud of capital improvements made during his administration. He says there is $45 billion of deferred maintenance on college campuses across the country but claims Hendrix has virtually none.

Dormitories, the chapel and the auditorium have been renovated. The school added a new administration building in 1983. Hatcher remembers it as one of his best moments at Hendrix.

Elbert Fausett, a Little Rock real estate developer, donated $1 million for an administration building after the old one burned in 1982.

"This is one of the most rewarding things I've ever done," Hatcher remembers Fausett, now deceased, saying at the dedication ceremony.

Hatcher says raising funds can be rewarding.

Hatcher has sold more than endowment funds. The Fort Worth native once sold for IBM Corp. and also sold X-ray equipment.

That sales experience will be put to use in the Little Rock banking wars.

Moving On

George Mitchell, president of Blue Cross & Blue Shields of Arkansas and chairman of the Hendrix board, describes Hatcher's impending exit as "a great loss."

Many people were surprised by Hatcher's July announcement.

"Well, nobody cheered," Hatcher says. "I suppose they understand."

Ann Turney, director of college relations at Hendrix, says, "We're over the shock. Change always makes you a little uncertain, but we have confidence in the board of trustees [to find a quality replacement]

"He said to me, |Somebody good will come and exciting things will happen.'"

The day the announcement was made, Hatcher mailed a brief memo to faculty and staff members, most of whom were not on campus since Hendrix has no summer school.

"My years at Hendrix have been extemely rewarding and a great pleasure for me," Hatcher wrote. "I regret that it is time for them to come to an end."

No one can accuse him of being verbose.

Students, as well as staff, say Hatcher will be missed.

Freshmen students will no doubt miss Irma Gail's brownies, which she baked each fall.

Other students say they'll miss seeing Hatcher in the school cafeteria, where he often ate with them.

"He has a distinguished style, but he wasn't uppity," says one recent graduate.

"He didn't act |buddy-buddy,' but he was approachable," says another.

Streets Of New York

One person Hatcher worked closely with a Hendrix was John Churchill, vice of president of academic affairs.

The two men reportedly have different opinions on whether Hendrix should convert from a trimester system to a semester system.

Churchill admits, "We've had different approaches to issues," and then adds, "We've never had a knock-down-drag-out."

Chruchill says the academic calendar is the purview of the faculty, which has been exploring the change.

Many Hendrix watchers believe Churchill will be Hatcher's successor.

"I'm thinking it over," he admits when asked about throwing his cap and gown into the ring.

The Hendrix board is setting up a search committee.

Despite their differences, Churchill obviously respects Hatcher and his style.

"His style is to lay out his position and ask for argument," Churchill says. "Honest disagreement is respected in his office. The style pre-supposes that others' ideas hold value."

Churchill remembers a trip with Hatcher to New York, where they were calling on foundation officers.

In going from one appointment to the next, Churchill says he realized why he was growing so tired.

"His pace on the streets of New York was amazing," Churchill says of Hatcher. "He was passing New Yorkers as if they were standing still. He goes about all his work with that same enthusiasm and intensity."

Hatcher's doctoral dissertation was on the Irish-born dramatist George Bernard Shaw, known for works such as "Pygmalion."

"Shaw turns up in Joe Hatcher," Churchill says. "He's an ironist and has firm views on many subjects. But he blends these with a fair amount of humor."

One wonders just how much Barnett Grace knows about George Bernard Shaw.

Shaw, after all, was a founding member of the Fabian Society, a group named after the Roman general Fabius, who avoided direct engagements with his foe, the Carthaginian general Hannibal, but wore him down with marches, countermarches and skirmishes from a distance.

Part of Hatcher's new job, of course, will be wearing down Worthen.

PHOTO : HOLD ON HENDRIX: "I'm growing as fast as I can" says the sweatshirt worn by Joe Hatcher's granddaughter, Kelsey. The photograph was taken at a chili supper preceding a Hendrix College basketball game in January. Hatcher looks the part of an intellectual college president in his turtleneck sweater and blazer.

PHOTO : HARD-HATTED HATCHER: The Little Rock real estate developer Elbert Fausett gave Hendrix College $1 million for a new administration building in 1983. Hendrix President Joe Hatcher counts it among his proudest moments.
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Title Annotation:includes related article; Hendrix College president Joe B. Hatcher moves to First Commercial Bank at Little Rock
Author:Ford, Kelly
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Sep 8, 1991
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