Little Rock, Arkansas, isn't traditionally thought of as a major financial center. But at the rate the city's leading bank is growing, that could change.

Over the past decade, Bank of the Ozarks (OZK -0.45%) has grown by a factor of six. It had $3 billion worth of assets on its balance sheet at the beginning of 2008. Today it has over $19 billion.

It's accomplished this by buying 15 other banks since the financial crisis, half of which were done with government assistance -- i.e., for pennies on the dollar and typically with some type of downside protection.

A line chart comparing the performance of Bank of the Ozarks' stock to the S&P 500.

Data source: Chart by author.

These deals have not only made Bank of the Ozarks' balance sheet bigger, but they've also expanded its geographic footprint. It now operates throughout the entire Southeastern U.S., as well as in Texas, California, and New York.

Shareholders in Bank of the Ozarks have benefited handsomely from its ascent. After factoring in dividends, its stock has returned more than 5,500% since the bank went public in the late 1990s. That compares to a 271% total return over the same time period for an exchange-traded fund that tracks the S&P 500.

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