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One's faith, family and job can work in concert with one another if we are disciplined enough to realize that each are important to the success of the whole.

In 1987, when J. Thomas "Tommy" May joined Simmons First National Bank and Simmons First National Corp., it had assets of $527 million. Since that time, the corporation has grown to approximately $3 billion in assets with eight Arkansas community banks, operating 86 offices in 48 communities. Under May's leadership, the bank gained national recognition as a major provider of credit card services. Along the way, he has employed his extraordinary compassion and talents to improve his community and the State of Arkansas.

May was born Dec. 7, 1946, in Prescott, Ark. His parents, Vena Lee and E. T. "Buck" May, moved to Billings, Mont., where his father was a land man for Murphy Oil. The family, including siblings John and Nancy, returned to El Dorado, Ark., where May spent most of his youth. Recalling some of his greatest memories playing sports, he said, "It's funny how athletics teaches - or prepares us for the rest of our life ... like teamwork."

Defining Moments

Following his father to the University of Arkansas where Buck May received a law degree, May enjoyed his first two years of college. While he learned from his mother to never be a quitter, his father was unimpressed with his grades and insisted he get a job. May said," ... it was ... a defining moment in my life and certainly had a lot to do with where I am today ... I realized I had to be accountable."

Instead, May joined the U.S. Marines Corp in 1967. He was sent to Vietnam where he was assigned to psychological operations. The experience transformed him. May returned to the University on the GI Bill and finished a BSBA in 1971 and an MBA in 1972. The First National Bank of Commerce of New Orleans, whose CEO was originally from Alpena Pass, Ark., visited the campus to hire an Arkansan. May took the job and moved to New Orleans. By this time, he had a family. After five years, he decided to return to Arkansas where he wanted to raise his family.

He joined Exchange Bank of El Dorado as vice president in 1976. He graduated from the Stonier Graduate School of Banking in 1979. Upon the formation of Exchange Bancshares Inc., a holding company, in 1981, May was elected president and CEO. The bank's primary owner mentored May, introducing an important principle in banking: the "Do-right Rule"--a principle named by former Razorback coach Lou Holtz. May said, "Under the leadership of Mr. Hurley and his son, Ed Hurley, I began to ... appreciate the commitment that you needed to make in getting involved in the community." He joined the Rotary Club, United Way, Chamber of Commerce and Boys Club.

Success at a Higher Level

In 1976, Louis Ramsay, then CEO of Simmons First National Bank in Pine Bluff began taking May under his wings. In 1987, Ramsay recruited May to join W. E. Ayres, chairman and CEO, as president of the corporation and president and CEO. May said, "I've always loved banking ... I've only been with three organizations in my life ... and Simmons was special ... I had the opportunity to be with a company that was well-known and with people that had the highest integrity ... I wanted to prove that I could be successful at a higher level, so it was an easy transition for me." May transformed Simmons into a highly successful statewide network of community-oriented banks and a respected, publicly traded institution. In 1996, May assumed the role of corporate chairman and lead bank chairman and CEO. Today, the bank holding company continues to thrive. Net earnings have grown from $3 million in 1987 to approximately $27 million last year. In addition, the market capitalization of Simmons stock increased from $30 million to $417 million during the same period. In the fourth quarter of 2009, Simmons completed a capital equity offering to fund future expansion.

Serving the State

Being a fan that lives and dies with the Razorbacks, May saw a great opportunity when Governor Jim Guy Tucker appointed him to the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees in 1983. May said," ... It was probably one of the more significant things I've done ... I've always been a believer that a good athletic program will complement a good academic program." May served for 10 years and as chair in 2002-03. He also served on the Campaign for the 21st Century Steering Committee, 2010 Commission, Foundation Board, and Board of Advisors. In 2007, May received the University of Arkansas Chancellor's medal. He serves on the Walton College Dean's Executive Advisory Board and received the college's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007.

May and his wife, Kathryn, have four children: Chris May and his wife Amy of Fayetteville, Chad May and his wife Joye of Little Rock, Mary Kate Chambliss of Fayetteville, and John Daniel Chambliss, a University of Arkansas student, and four grandchildren, Jackson, Thomas, Ross and Mary Alice. In 2003, he established the Tommy and Kathryn May Endowed Library Fund for the University Libraries. That same year, he partnered with former Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield CEO Bob Shoptaw to have their respective companies donate $250,000 to the Walton College to honor Louis and Joy Ramsay.

May shared his business talents on the boards of Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield, Baptist Health and the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. He was past chairman of the Arkansas Bankers Association and board member of Southwest School of Banking. He chaired the Pine Bluff Chamber of Commerce and Partners for Progress II to raise nearly $1.5 million to fund a four-year economic development program.

He received an honorary doctorate of law from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. In 2006, his close friends Bill and Margaret Clark endowed the J. Thomas May Chair in Oncology at UAMS. May received the Arkansas Sheriffs' Youth Ranch Children's Award in 2007. May has also championed Habitat for Humanity and Special Olympics.

May has been described as a businessman's businessman. Shoptaw said, "Tommy is a high achiever by his very nature. He is one of those rare individuals who has the demonstrated discipline and tenacity to achieve his full potential as a long-tenured, successful, community responsible business leader."

J. Thomas "Tommy" May

Chairman and CEO, Simmons First National Bank and Simmons First National Corporation Pine Bluff, Arkansas
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Author:May, J. Thomas "Tommy"
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Jan 25, 2010
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