May and Ryburn draw surprise salutes

Dollar amounts into the millions were repeatedly referenced during Simmons First National Corporation’s annual shareholders meeting Tuesday night at the Pine Bluff Convention Center, but the biggest numbers of the evening were the mere double-digit figures of 26 and 37.

J. Thomas May — attending his final shareholders gathering as Simmons’ chairman and chief executive officer after 26 years at the helm — and 37-year board member Dr. Harry Ryburn were surprised with salutes that capped the event.

George Makris Jr., who will succeed May on Jan. 1, 2014, announced the establishment of the Simmons First Foundation, which will supplement charitable endeavors within the 55 Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri communities served by the corporation. May, who had been unaware of the foundation’s creation, was informed that he had been selected to serve as its first chairman.

Makris then announced that the foundation would be awarding annual “Tommy May Make a Difference” grants to community groups as a tribute to May for his longtime generosity toward others.

Minutes earlier, May had called Ryburn to the stage and helped in acknowledging Ryburn’s contributions to Simmons’ success during his board tenure. Ryburn is a retired orthodontist who has served the board in a variety of positions.

“I’m blessed,” Ryburn said after he learned that the community room at Simmons’ main branch is to be named in his honor. A framed resolution signed by his fellow directors will be placed in the room. The bank will also note his contributions by posting a plaque bearing his name inside its main entrance, and a portrait of Ryburn was unveiled and will be displayed at the bank as well.

May called Ryburn an “outstanding gentleman and exceptional leader,” and praised him for providing guidance during the formulation of a “succession plan” in which Makris was selected to replace May.

“The greatest legacy a person can leave after retiring is not to be missed,” May said. “I can’t tell you how happy I am about George and his team.”

May added that Makris is “the right person at the right time” and “the perfect choice” to follow him.

Makris deemed himself “lucky” in having had “the opportunity” to “work with” and know May “as a friend.” Makris is shadowing May this year in preparation for the upcoming change of command. May predicted Makris will “take the company to a new level.”

May disclosed that Executive Vice President and Marketing Director Robert Dill also will be retiring on Dec. 31 after a 47-year career.

In highlighting Simmons’ achievements in the past year, May noted that earnings topped $27.7 million, up from $25.3 million in 2011. Boasting of Simmons’ 57-percent market share in Pine Bluff, May said the corporation’s “real growth potential” is “outside of our hometown.”