There are very few people whom I envy, but Bank of the Ozarks (NASDAQ:OZRK) founder and CEO George Gleason might just be one of them. I thought I was hot stuff for having a hedge-fund gig at age 25, but this guy bought a controlling interest in the bank that started this company at that same age. While I was fiddling with spreadsheets, he was launching a corporation.

Since then, Bank of the Ozarks has succeeded by taking a maverick stand against many industry conventions. The net result: a fast-growing bank with superior margins and returns. Had you purchased these shares near their late 2000 nadir, you'd be looking at an 11-fold gain. See what I mean about that whole envy thing?

With second-quarter results in, it looks like Bank of the Ozarks hasn't peaked yet. Net income climbed 23% from the year-ago level, and both loan and deposit growth were quite healthy. What's more, asset quality has stayed consistent and strong.

On the downside, the bank's return on assets and return on shareholder's equity dipped from year-ago levels (though the drop in return on assets was tiny). Even so, these levels remain exceptional compared with the bank's peers, including the similar-sized Simmons First National Corp (NASDAQ:SFNC) and the much larger Regions Financial Corp (NYSE:RF).

Elsewhere, net interest margin declined by 21 basis points from last year to 4.22%. That decline is not surprising given the flattish yield curve we've seen, but Bank of the Ozarks still has a strong interest margin relative to many other banks. Additionally, the efficiency ratio improved from 46.9% to 43.9% -- yet another area where this bank leads the pack.

Further expansion will likely be crucial to Bank of the Ozarks' future. The bank remains largely confined to Arkansas, but has a toehold in Texas and North Carolina. To maintain growth, it probably needs to branch out beyond its home state.

This stock's most obvious downside is its valuation. At around 21 times trailing earnings, this is one of the most expensive southern regional banks. Of course, with above-average growth and margins, it deserves at least some of that premium.

In retrospect, I can't believe I wasted my time in late 2000 on stocks such as Atmel, Terayon, and Informix when I could have been buying up Bank of the Ozarks shares. Then again, I'm not sure that many people outside Arkansas could foresee this little bank's robust future returns.

For now, I'll continue to admire this bank and its CEO from afar. I firmly believe this is a top-notch small growth opportunity, but I'd feel a lot better about buying the stock at a mid-teens P/E valuation.

Longing for a piece of the Ozarks? Discuss the company with fellow Fools on our Bank of the Ozarks discussion board.

Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).