Darrin Williams, CEO of Southern Bancorp, may have been a little surprised when a world-class business school professor came knocking at his door.  He wasn’t used to that kind of attention deep in the heart of Arkansas. Yet, he could no longer fly under the radar.

Professor Rebecca Henderson, an esteemed professor of management at Harvard Business School and a world-leading expert in reimagining capitalism, was interested in the Bank’s trajectory and purpose.  She wanted to know more about Darrin’s story and this relatively small, regional, Arkansas bank. After they met, she became so interested that she asked Darrin for permission to write a full-blown Harvard case study on Southern Bancorp. 

Darrin had spent the last decade reinventing this sleepy bank—revamping the bank’s finances, providing liquidity to investors, raining new capital, and doubling down on operational efficiencies—and turning the organization into a regional bank that people truly admired. Because of its success and mission, the bank had recently accepted a minority investment from global powerhouse, Bank of America. Indeed Brian Moynihan, Bank of America’s CEO, and Darrin appeared side by side on “Mad Money” on CNBC touting their new partnership.  On the show, Moynihan was effusive in his praise of Williams, citing his ability to make a profit while helping the communities the bank served. It was a model for the future.

And it caught Professor Henderson’s eye. For two decades she focused on organizations that were doing nothing short of reinventing capitalism by introducing innovative new business models. In her case study, she focused on the inflection point currently faced by the company.  Should Southern Bancorp consider a public offering in the red-hot IPO NYSE market? Or should the bank continue to seek private investments, like the one Brian Moynihan recently provided?

One thing was certain in Darrin’s mind.  The mission must continue. “Our people are values-driven and we make a real impact in underserved communities.” Regardless of the bank’s future capital structure, the mission would live on. In this interview, we talk to Darrin about the bank’s mission, his personal values, and much more.

*This interview is presented by CEO Fellows in partnership with N2Growth- Request to join our exclusive leadership forum and have conversations with our Culture Champions here. We invite you to share your story and get feedback from iconic leaders like Darrin Williams, executive advisors, top leadership professors, and gifted students from around the world.