Tommy May has engendered the respect and admiration of the vast majority of those who have called him colleague or boss throughout his nearly 30 year career with Simmons First National Corporation.

Tommy May has engendered the respect and admiration of the vast majority of those who have called him colleague or boss throughout his nearly 30 year career with Simmons First National Corporation.

That viewpoint extends from members of the SFNC Board of Directors to senior executive staffers working alongside May at the bank’s Fifth Avenue and Main Street headquarters to employees at the various member banks of SFNC.

Harry L. Ryburn, DDS, is lead independent director of the Simmons Board and has been a director for 37 years. The following are Ryburn’s thoughts on his 27 years serving with May.

The first board meeting after Mr. May came to Simmons First was a memorable one for me; so much so that I even remember the chair in which I sat. Everyone had told us before Tommy came to Simmons that he was an excellent banker and on the way to becoming a very great banker. What I had not expected was his rather stern, structured, take-charge and directive management style. It seemed to me that it even had a slight lingering military ring to it. I thought perhaps the intense training of the United States Marine Corps years before, might still be in his blood. Not that that would be bad; it would be good, and it would explain my observation about his management style. It seemed to me that only three things might alter what I thought I had seen at that first board meeting. The first was time; the second was mentorship by W.E. Ayres; the third was mentorship under Mr. Louis Ramsay. Sure enough as the months went by, Tommy May became not only an admired leader but a truly beloved one.

Tommy is respected by bankers and investors across the country. They all know that Simmons First will never violate any of the three things that safeguard all stakeholders, including customers and employees. Asset quality, adequate capital and adequate liquidity in the company are the three things he has guarded with his heart and soul. His intellect and innate understanding of every area of banking, including risk tolerance, makes customers know they are safe with Simmons First.

Having talked about Mr. May’s greatness as a banker, his true greatness I believe, is really in Tommy May the man. The list is unending but certainly includes husband, father, stepfather, grandfather, caretaker and Christian witness. Tommy is a man that makes you feel better and prouder of yourself after having a conversation with him. He is a man that builds self-esteem even in those where there may be little. He improves the quality of work of some while making them feel the change was their idea in the first place. He is a man who hugs and encourages others affected with the same disease as he — ALS. It is not unusual to see him drive great distances even when it is physically difficult for him to make every meeting, wedding or funeral. He may also travel those distances to visit someone who just needs an encouraging word. He has given so much to so many everywhere, but you would never hear a single word about it.

I don’t think he would mind me saying that I have seen him at the depths of despair with tears pouring down his face. He had just informed the board that his diagnosis was ALS. Imagine the weight he and his family were now carrying. But what I saw over the years was the growth of a man in ways that I could not have imagined before. Tommy May defeated fear and the unknown with the help of his loving bride Kathryn and all of the family. His faith is truly a statement to all of us each day.

From the depths of despair in the beginning, to a statement he made in his retirement letter to the Board two weeks ago, it is a true testimony to faithfulness. He paraphrased Lou Gehrig at his last game for the New York Yankees, “Today is the happiest day of my life.”

Mr. May is making our world a better place. Our faith is truly lifted by Tommy May.

Johnny McGraw has been a member of the Board of Directors for just over one year.

Since I’ve only been on the board a little more than a year, I really can’t say much about working with Tommy May one on one, I can only relate my experience of being a customer since he has been at SFNB.

I directly attribute whatever success I’ve had as a farmer to the guidance of Tommy May and his well-qualified bank employees. He hired the right people, taught them “his” banking character and put them in the right place. I have, over the years, tried to emulate his successful business plan in my own operation.

It has been a lifetime dream to be under the guidance of such quality people who have helped me achieve more than I ever expected.

I will be forever indebted to Tommy for the life lessons I learned through his leadership.

Marty Casteel is chairman and CEO of Simmons First National Bank and has worked with May nearly as long as May has been with Simmons.

Mr. May is known for the quote, “if you get involved, get involved to make a difference.” In every aspect of his personal and professional life, he has followed this creed and his involvement has truly made a difference. In banking, community service, and service as a director of organizations such as the University Arkansas Board of Trustees, Blue Cross & Blue Shield, and Baptist Hospital, just to name a few, he has brought transformational leadership to every endeavor he undertakes. Along the way, he has earned the respect and admiration of the people he has worked with and forged deep and lasting friendships.

Like all great leaders, Tommy May is a visionary, a strategic thinker, and planner. In addition, as he will readily acknowledge, he is also a hands-on leader. He is extremely competitive, and driven to give his best, while demanding the best from others on his team. He is a man that will always take the right course of action, even if it means following a more difficult road — he does not take “shortcuts” in his personal or professional life. At the same time, he is compassionate and generous with his time and resources.

Glenn Rambin, retired President of SFNB, a long-time close friend and co-worker of Mr. May, often said Mr. May was a “carrier of stress.” Glenn was fondly referring to the intensity, focus and commitment Mr. May brings to every task and his expectation that others share this same degree of commitment. Tommy May does not get involved to maintain the status quo; when he sees a need for improvement, he organizes and takes action! People that have worked with Mr. May recognize that he is a “carrier of stress” for all the right reasons! This is a leadership formula that has propelled him to success as a banker and community leader.

Mr. May’s accomplishments in banking are well documented. He is respected and admired throughout the state and region for his success in guiding and growing Simmons First. During his service as chairman of the Arkansas Bankers Association, he revamped and energized the Arkansas Bankers Emerging Leaders Program which continues to develop the careers of many young bankers. The Emerging Leaders Program is of great interest to Mr. May and it has offered a venue for him to share his career experiences and serve as a mentor to young professionals at the beginning of their careers. By any measurement, few leaders have had more of a positive impact on their community and state than Tommy May. Many in our community remember a much younger Tommy May riding a bull for the Chamber of Commerce and taking a pie in the face to support the United Way. Through the years, his leadership has contributed to success in seeing the UAPB Golden Lions Stadium become a reality and the development of Saracen Landing. His tenure on the University Of Arkansas Board of Trustees brought improvements in facilities to the UAPB campus and guided UAMS to financial stability.

Tommy May’s contributions to his profession, to his community, and to his state, have touched many lives. Consequently, he is one of the most recognized and respected figures in Arkansas. Traveling with Tommy May, in this community or any location in the state, is like traveling with a rock star! Everyone knows Mr. May and takes time to greet him and wish him well. Mr. May, in turn, always makes time to pause and visit because he genuinely loves and cares about his legion of friends. Mr. May‘s desire to help others succeed is exemplified by the time and effort he gives visiting with young people and helping them with choices related to their academic or career pursuits. Countless young adults have benefited from his council and support. Mr. May is well known for his banking “uniform”: a dark suit and a red and black striped tie. Most people attribute this style of dress to the regimen and discipline he received while serving our country as a Marine. While this may be partly the case, there is another story related to his first day on the job as a young banker in August 1972. For those old enough to remember the ’70s, this was the era of polyester and bold colors. It seems Mr. May eagerly reported to his first day on the job at 1st NBC New Orleans wearing a burgundy polyester suit and matching tie! The other bankers at this downtown New Orleans bank were dressed in dark suits and conservative ties. Lesson learned!

I have had the privilege to know and work with Mr. May for 26 years. More impressive than the many well-deserved awards and accolades for his professional accomplishments, is the simple truth: Tommy May is of the same character in private as he is in public. And while he is a great banker and community leader, he is even a better man. Our bank, our community, and our state have, and will continue to be elevated by our association with Mr. May.

Lisa Hunter is a senior vice president at SFNC.

Leadership has been described as “a process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task.” Tommy May is the embodiment of this definition of leadership.

Mr. May was already a fixture in Pine Bluff when I joined the bank in 1996. In awe, I found myself in meetings with him very early in my Simmons First career. It was clear that he had high expectations for all who worked with him but expected nothing less from himself. He created an environment that makes a person want to perform to his highest potential.

He puts faith, family and work in the proper order and encourages each of the Simmons First associates to do the same. I owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. May for being a leader, a mentor and a friend.

Robert L. Robinson IV is the President and CEO of Simmons First Bank of El Dorado.

When great leaders are discussed in the news or in documentaries you can always count on a video or audio clip of one of their speeches accompanying the segment. Whether it is FDR, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”, or JFK, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” over time the spoken word of all great leaders is what oftentimes defines the men or women who speak them.

What follows is a transcription of an email Mr. May sent to me in July of 2004. It was in response to a mea culpa, the details of which have long been forgotten. His response, however, is one that I did not want to forget and serves as that “audio clip” which defines the kind of leader Tommy May was to me, so I saved it:

“Thanks for the note. Life is made up of lessons that will give us the opportunity to be better at our job. You recognize where you fell short, and I am absolutely confident that you will be a better banker for the experience. As you already know, it is always better to deal with the most difficult issues as promptly as possible, then you can move on to your next opportunity. Again, I appreciate your email, but I want you to put it behind you and not let it be something that becomes a distraction. It is history. On many occasions in my career, I have done or said things that I have regretted, and I hopefully have learned from the process. You’ve done all you need to do, now move on and keep doing the good job you have been doing since you joined Simmons First. Have a great day.” Tommy May email sent Friday 7/9/2004

Having worked with him the past nine years at Simmons, I consider myself to be one of the lucky “many” who is fortunate to have gotten to know Mr. May. First and foremost he is a true gentleman; he is also a friend who genuinely cares for all of those around him. He most certainly will be considered among the greatest leaders our banking industry has known. He already is in my book.

Larry L. Bates is Missouri Region Chairman for Simmons First National Bank and offered the following comments as well as a poem.

Luck Favors The Prepared Man

He worked by day

and toiled by night

He gave up play

and some delight

Dry books he read

new things to learn

and forged ahead

success to earn

He plodded on

with faith and pluck

and when he won

they called it luck

It was never luck with Tommy May. Those of us fortunate to work with Mr. May will always remember “Perfect Planning Prevents Poor Results.” He didn’t author this quote but he believed in it and lived by it.

You may have heard the phrase “Fortune brings in some boats that are not steered.” Simmons First’s boat has been masterfully steered since Tommy May was elected Chairman and CEO.

Simmons First employees, customers and communities have benefited from Mr. May’s leadership.

Mr. May, I am forever grateful you asked me to join your team in 1996.•

Sharon K. Burdine is human resources director and a senior vice president with SFNC.

I have worked for Simmons First for the last 16 years, and they have been wonderful. When I first came to work at Simmons and was introduced to Mr. May, he told me he was glad to have me here and that, if he could ever help me to let him know. I thought those were just kind words that someone would say in an introduction. I had no idea that he really meant them, but he did. Because Mr. May is always able to recognize what the right thing is, and always does the right thing, he has helped me on many occasions.

I have learned so much from him, and still I know he has so much more to teach. I have never seen another CEO, or anyone else for that matter, so willing to help anyone, at any time, in any way that he can. He is an amazing man, and I am very thankful for having had the opportunity to work for him.

Craig Attwood is a consumer loan manager with SNFC.

I have had the pleasure of working with Mr. May for his entire career here at Simmons First. Mr. May is the type of leader that any individual would absolutely love to work for. His leadership style, devotion, care, and encouragement make associates want to come to work every day and make a difference in their customer’s lives as well as a difference in the communities they serve.

Mr. May has been a “difference maker” in my personal career and in my life. I feel so blessed to have had the honor of working for him. He is leader that is quick to step up and shoulder any issues during troubled times and never takes any credit when things are good!! He gives all the credit to the associates. He is a great family man, has unbelievable passion for all associates, and is such a caring human being whose faith in his Lord and Savior is tremendous. His motto has been and still is to this day — “just remember the do right rule - and everything else will be fine!!”


Kevin Archer is senior vice president for credit policy and risk assessment.

I have had the privilege of working with Mr. May for almost 17 years. From the simplest of tasks to the most complex projects, his attention to detail and focus on the “Do Right Rule” has set the tone for the company and exemplified a leadership style based on team effort. You never came away from a discussion or project with Mr. May with a feeling that your thoughts weren’t considered or your concerns weren’t valued. The final decision may or may not have gone your way, but you knew your opinion mattered in the process. This connection to you at a personal level — with all the moving pieces of a multi-layered corporate structure — is what defines Mr. May at the core.