If you want to understand Bank of the Ozarks (NASDAQ: OZRK), or any bank for that matter, you should look at it from different angles, one of which is the quality of leadership.
Leadership is hard to quantify because it's subjective, but there are nevertheless metrics that measure it. My favorite is the CEO approval score on Glassdoor.com, a website where current and former employees review companies and their management.
The instinct in Bank of the Ozarks' case is to assume that its chairman and CEO, George Gleason, must have sky-high scores. How could he not given the bank's incredible performance over the past 20 years?
As you can see, no other bank comes close to Bank of the Ozarks in terms of total shareholder return. Since going public in 1997, the biggest bank in Arkansas has returned a total of more than 5,000%. Compared to other banks, it's like a giraffe among Shetland ponies.
Yet, Gleason's approval rating is lower than any major bank CEO that I've seen. Only 65% of employees who have submitted reviews on Glassdoor approve of the job he's doing.
The most popular bank CEOs -- those like U.S. Bancorp's Richard Davis, Capital One's Richard Fairbank, and JPMorgan Chase's Jamie Dimon -- get approval scores above 90%. Even CEOs that don't do as well -- those of smaller regional banks such as BB&T's Kelly King, PNC Financial's William Demchak, and SunTrust Banks' William Rogers -- come in comfortably above 70%.
Another thing that caught my eye on Glassdoor's page for Bank of the Ozarks is the trend in Gleason's approval rating over time. At one point last year, Gleason's rating dipped below 20%. It stayed around there for months before heading higher this year.
Indeed, the more you dig in, the worse Bank of the Ozarks looks when it comes to leadership. Only a third of reviewers would recommend the bank as an employer to a friend, while just 39% of them perceive the bank's business outlook to be positive.
Of the five ratings categories that Glassdoor covers -- culture and values, work/life balance, senior management, compensation and benefits, and career opportunities -- Bank of the Ozarks gets the lowest score for senior management, a mere 2.3 out of 5.0.
This finding is corroborated by the latest list of the best banks to work for by American Banker. There were 75 banks on this year's list, but Bank of the Ozarks was nowhere to be seen.
How should investors and analysts square this with the bank's stock performance and the legendary stature of Gleason? I have no idea, but I think there's more to this story than meets the eye.
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