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Building a Bigger and Better Centennial Bank Stadium
By Audrey Poff, photography by Kayla Broadway

As a young boy, Johnny Allison says his footprints were all over the campus of what is now Arkansas State University. Decades later, his success in business and banking has given him the opportunity to give back to A-State in away that will permanently leave his mark on both the university and his hometown.

The Jonesboro native is chairman of Home BancShares Inc. of Conway, the parent company of Centennial Bank, ranked #1 on the Forbes 2018 “Best Banks in America” list. Allison is the company’s biggest shareholder. His earliest success, however, was in manufactured housing. His parents, Robert A. and Marie Allison, sold manufactured homes in Jonesboro when he was growing up, and he helped with the family business. After graduating from Arkansas State University, Allison completed training in the Army National Guard and then took a job with a mobile home manufacturer in Conway called Barcraft. He soon learned it was a failing company, but would go on to find success in turning it and similar companies into profitable businesses.

With proceeds from the stock he sold as a manufacturing magnate, he invested in First National Bank of Conway, where he had recently been appointed to the board of directors. Months later, he was the bank’s largest shareholder and chairman of the board. With a group of investors, Allison would go on to form Home BancShares Inc. Following several acquisitions, Home BancShares combined its charters into one in 2009, commonly held as Centennial Bank. In 2013, Home Bancshares acquired Liberty Bancshares, parent company of Liberty Bank of Arkansas, from the Wallace Fowler family of Jonesboro.

In December, A-State’s Board of Trustees voted to name the univesity’s football field “Allison Field” and its future north end zone facility “Centennial Bank Athletics Operations Center” in recognition of a combined $10 million from the Johnny Allison family and Centennial Bank to the Red Wolves Foundation. The donation followed a $5 million contribution to the Red Wolves Foundation that matches his latest personal gift commitment as the largest in A-State history.

“I guess it’s part of me,” said Allison of the university. “I think it’s part of me, and I’m part of it. I grew up in Jonesboro, and Arkansas State was all around me. My footprints as a little boy were all over that campus.”

As a young child, Allison attended grade school on the A-State campus.

“A group of us went to grade school there,” he said, naming off siblings, cousins and fellow students who participated in the program with him. “Dr. Mildred Vance created an early childhood education program. I went to kindergarten, first and second grade there. It was fabulous. They did it for three years, and then we went to (Jonesboro’s) East School from there.”

When others began asking him if he would attend Arkansas State or the University of Arkansas after graduating from Jonesboro High School, Allison was quick on the reply. “Well, I’ve already been to Arkansas State,” he told them.

Allison’s life has been entwined with Arkansas State in many ways, making his financial commitment to the university and local community important to him.

“There have been four generations of Allisons graduate from Arkansas State University,” he said. “My sister still works for Arkansas State University. My dad was the first president of the Indian Club when they designed Jumpin’ Joe. There are multitudes of reasons why I wanted to contribute to Arkansas State. I never dreamed I would have the opportunity to be in the position to give back so much and help the university.”

Allison said both the impact that the university has on the local economy and his love for athletics played a part in the decision to help A-State. The former A-State letterman played football under former Head Football Coach Bennie Ellender.

“I played monster,” said Allison. “It’s a roving linebacker on defense called the monster man. It was the defensive style that we played back in the Ellender days when Benny Ellender was there and Coach (Bill) Bull Davidson. A strong side linebacker is really what it boils down to.”

Allison also served on the ASU Board of Trustees from 1979-1984 and was named an Arkansas State University Distinguished Alumni in 1998.

“When I think about the impact that the university makes on the local economy … you look on game weekend. How many dollars does that bring into that local community?” asked Allison. “And how exciting is it seeing it and feeling it? So, I’m one of those kind of guys; I enjoy it. I love to watch the Red Wolves play, and it’s pretty exciting seeing the football team (and) the basketball team under the direction of (A-State Director of Athletics) Terry Mohajir.”

Allison and his siblings literally grew up in the shadow of Arkansas State. His childhood home still stands on Johnson Avenue, just across from the A-State campus.

“I’m not sure I recognized the importance of a university town as a young child,” said Allison. “As I became more involved in business over the years, I recognized the importance of a university town. I have seen Arkansas State change in many, many ways, particularly in facilities … not only the athletic facilities but the educational facilities, as well. I’m just a big athletics guy, and I think that helps build the program, so that’s why I have continued to contribute to Arkansas State.”

Although he and his wife had recently given A-State $5 million in 2014, he said they decided to step up again when Mohajir approached him about the need for the stadium expansion project. The $29 million “North End Zone Expansion” project includes construction of a new A-State athletics facility spanning approximately 66,533 square feet, as well as premium seating areas and aesthetic enhancements in the north end zone of Centennial Bank Stadium. Construction is expected to be near completion by the Red Wolves season opener on Sept. 1.

In total, the Allison family and Centennial Bank have made a contribution of approximately $20 million to the Red Wolves Foundation.

“I thought we needed a little something to put us over,” said Allison. “So, we’ve hopefully been the adrenalin that’s moved the ball down the field, because the better Arkansas State gets, the better the economy of Jonesboro gets.”

In addition to the leadership at A-State, Allison also commended Jonesboro Mayor Harold Perrin for moving the city forward.
“You’ve got a great mayor of Jonesboro,” he said. “What a great leader he’s been.”

In the end, Allison said it’s the partnerships that are built with others that make a difference.

“Life is a partnership, and when you find those partners, you help those partners and they help you,” he said. “We back the university; we support the university. The university has been good to us, and we’ve been good to the university. They’ve done things for us that were very kind, and we’ve done things for them that were very kind, and we will continue that relationship. We’re not part-timers. We’re in it for the long haul. We won’t be a flash in the pan. We don’t get mad and run off; we don’t get aggravated at somebody and take off. We’re in it for the long term for the university.”

Leading the Team

Regional President Davy Carter and Northeast Arkansas Division President Deana Osment have been a vital part of Centennial Bank’s success in Jonesboro and the surrounding area.

Osment started with the bank in 2001 when The Bank of Jonesboro was created. Carter has been with Centennial Bank since 2003. Both have worked under the leadership of Jonesboro native Johnny Allison, founder and chairman of HomeBanc Shares, the parent company of Centennial Bank. In 2017, the Allison family and Centennial Bank committed $10 million to the Red Wolves Foundation to help fund the university’s North End Zone Expansion Project, now nearing completion at Centennial Bank Stadium.
 
How would you describe Johnny Allison’s commitment to Arkansas State University?
Carter: Genuine, solid, deep-rooted and long lasting. Johnny grew up in Jonesboro. He was a Jonesboro Hurricane and Arkansas State Indian. He understands and appreciates the impact that Jonesboro and ASU have had on his life, and he cherishes his ability to give back. He has backed up his passion with action. He is here for the long run.  

What do you believe motivates him to give back to his hometown and to Arkansas State?
Osment: I know Johnny Allison to be an extremely loyal person, and I believe he gives back to Jonesboro and Arkansas State because he is grateful for the town and college that gave him his start. I believe he wants to help others be successful, and for him, that means giving back to those that helped him along the way.

What is your personal connection to A-State, and why do you believe it is important for Centennial Bank to give back to the university?
Carter: I graduated from Arkansas State University in 1997 with a bachelor’s degree in corporate finance. I met my wife, Cara, here, who also obtained her undergraduate and master’s degree from the university. Arkansas State is the heartbeat of Northeast Arkansas, and its economic impact across the region is immeasurable. Further, our next generation of leaders is being educated here. The next Johnny Allison or the next Mike Beebe might be on campus right now. Centennial Bank understands the important role Arkansas State plays and values our partnership. For those reasons and many more, we will continue to support A-State.  

What is something Johnny Allison instills in the bank’s leadership?
Osment: He has a saying, “Never go HOMB.” HOMB is our ticker symbol. It’s a play on words, but a reminder that everything we do as leaders of the bank is with the stockholder in mind. Johnny works tirelesly to maximize each shareholder’s investment and he expects the same from his leadership team. At the same time, he’s all about the customer and giving them the best possible service and experience. At the end of the day, he knows the key ingredient to our success is the customer.

What is an important lesson that you’ve learned from Johnny Allison during your banking career?
Carter: Johnny is the best businessman I have ever met, and I am blessed to have the opportunity to learn so many things from him. One thing he says that has always stood out to me: “Nothing happens until something is sold.” Translation: Most every job in every department in every industry is dependent on a product or service being sold by someone in the field. Somebody has to make something happen.

As the Northeast Arkansas Division President for Centennial Bank, describe the impact that you see A-State have on Jonesboro and the surrounding area on a daily basis.
Osment: Arkansas State is the crown jewel for Jonesboro and NEA. The impact the university has on our local economy is vital to our success as a city and region. We have to work together. When A-State is successful, we all see the benefits from that success.