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One of a kind.

Layton Stuart Takes A Unique Approach In Running Little Rock's One National Bank

Layton Stuart isn't your average, everyday banker.

Not many bankers start out at the top, as president and chief executive officer of their first bank.

Even fewer answer their telephones, "This is Scooter, how can I help you?"

Stuart, the top executive at Little Rock's One National Bank since August, got into banking in a round-about way. That's not to say he isn't qualified.

Only 42, the Little Rock native has been involved in the financial world in one capacity or another since the late 1970s.

How he rose to become head of a bank with $95 million in assets is an interesting story. Slightly more interesting, in his mind, than how he got the nickname "Scooter."

"It's a nickname I've had for as long as I can remember," says Stuart as he leans back in his office chair at the bank's downtown headquarters.

Most OneBank employees know the boss by his childhood moniker, casually addressing "Scooter" as they walk past his always-open door.

His accessibility and the ease with which he assumed a demanding leadership role are examples of how different Stuart is from the public's image of a modern banker. It's a role he took on when he entered into a partnership with J.B. Hunt and Hunt's son, Bryan.

Hunt, chairman of J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc., and his son, vice-chairman of the board for the Lowell-based trucking firm, headed One National Bancshares until this summer.

The Little Rock bank-holding company at one time included First National Bank of Fayetteville, One National Bank of Hot Springs and Little Rock's OneBank.

When the Hunts decided in 1989 to re-evaluate their banking interests, they turned to Stuart, whom the father-son team had known since Stuart's tenure at Stephens Inc. in the early 1980s.

"I think the Hunts wanted to concentrate on the trucking business," admits Stuart.

He and the Hunts devised plans to sell off the family's bank holdings.

The first to go was the Hot Springs bank, which was sold in June 1991 to Central Arkansas Bancshares Inc. of Arkadelphia.

A month later, 80 percent of OneBank's assets, including its North Little Rock operations, was sold to Worthen Banking Corp. of Little Rock. That left OneBank with only two Little Rock branches.

OneBank acquired four branches of the former Savers Federal Savings & Loan in September 1991, three months before selling the Fayetteville bank to Worthen.

The sale netted the Hunts 1.2 million shares of Worthen stock and $16 million in cash. One National Bancshares eventually sold the Worthen stock for $23.4 million.

In July, the holding company sold all of OneBank's stock to the Hunts and Stuart, who in turn dissolved the holding company. With Stuart purchasing 172,000 shares (50 percent) and the Hunts evenly dividing the remaining half, full ownership fell upon the threesome.

With it came major responsibility for Stuart.

"What we saw was an opportunity that was well-capitalized," says Stuart, whose office door still bears the nameplate of Bryan Hunt, his predecessor at OneBank. Removing the name would harm the wall adjacent to the door, he explains.

"We could either sell the remaining entity or we could manage it and run it," he adds. "We chose the latter."

All of the trades may have left some OneBank customers with doubts as to the stability of the bank and its administration.

Stuart wants to lay those doubts to rest.

"What we're trying |to show~ is that the sale is over," says Stuart. "It was an internal restructuring. My part of the equation was to represent a full-time operator. I plan to be involved with this bank for a long time to come."

Building For The Future

Stuart officially assumed his new role as president and CEO at the Aug. 14 board of directors meeting. One of his first steps was to assemble a staff he believed could capably serve the kind of customers he hoped to draw to OneBank.

Some of his newest recruits include Carl Roberts, a former vice president and credit department manager at Union National Bank of Arkansas; Gary Griffin, a 12-year veteran of Union's commercial loan department; and Janet Fisher, Griffin's administrative assistant at Union.

Lynda Galey, OneBank's newest vice president, was a bank examiner with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency for more than eight years.

"I'm just putting the package together," says Stuart.

He doesn't want to see his bank expand too much beyond its $75 million in deposits.

"We plan for a slow, steady growth, one customer at a time," says Stuart as he points to the individual offices of the bank's officers on the first-floor level.

A $500,000 data processing system was installed recently on the second floor to allow the bank to independently manage its computer transactions.

"A bank doesn't make a capital expenditure like that if it doesn't have a long-term plan," Stuart says. "What we're trying to show people is, 'What you see is what you get.'"

The fact that Stuart has little experience in the banking trade may work in his favor, says Jerry Walton, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Hunt Transport Services.

Walton met Stuart when he was managing partner of KPMG Peat Marwick's Little Rock office.

"Because he's got very little experience is one of the positives he brings to that area," Walton says. "He's been on the other side of the table. He knows what's important and he's not going to get caught up in intangibles that are not important to the bank."

"He has uncommon common sense. He'll make a good banker," Jackson T. Stephens Jr. says of Stuart, who was Stephens' assistant in the fixed income division of Stephens Inc.

Stuart left Stephens Inc. with Stephens in 1983 to join Stephens Enterprises Inc. There, Stuart traded on the futures market until 1990.

It was Stephens who introduced Stuart to his eventual banking partners, the Hunts.

"I thought Scooter had good sense about people, about values ..." Stephens says. "That kind of knowledge is very valuable in a banking operation and I thought it would be a great fit. And that's how it started."

Layton "Scooter" Stuart seems a modest soul, unfettered by some of the trappings of his trade. Though he doesn't have a long pedigree in banking, he appears to be on his way toward making a name for himself in the business.

Even if the name on his door belongs to someone else.
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Title Annotation:Layton Stuart, president of One National Bank in Little Rock, Arkansas
Author:Taylor, Tim
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Oct 5, 1992
Previous Article:The next generation: children of accomplished Arkansans take leadership roles of their own.
Next Article:Still feeling the August heat.

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