Robyn Breshears, executive vice president and sales manager at Arvest Bank, Benton County, defies some of the stereotypes about bankers. She has climbed the career ladder in a field where most executives still are traditionally male, and she is as comfortable riding her motorcycle as she is overseeing the retail side of the bank (deposits, consumer loans, marketing, branch services, property and security), which has 26 branches and about 400 associates.
While there are a lot more male than female banking executives, Breshears sees evidence the banking industry as a whole is making some advances in gender equity.
“From the Arvest perspective, hard work is really what helps you reach your career goals,” she said. “You have to work hard to advance. I think there are some qualities women bring including being better listeners, better collaborators and paying attention to details. Yet, sometimes women are challenged in a business discussion versus a feel-good discussion. That is where women may need to get out of their comfort zone and explore their ability to grow a business and have business-level conversations.”
Born and raised in Oklahoma City, Breshears earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from East Central University in Ada, Okla., and then became a CPA and worked in public accounting for almost five years. Ten years later, she obtained her MBA from the University of Arkansas.
It was working in public accounting that sparked her interest in banking. She had joined the audit department of Finley & Cook, which specialized in bank and governmental audits.
“I had the privilege of traveling the state to audit many banks and quickly learned about banks and the important role they serve in communities,” Breshears said. “Part of an audit requires that you review the loan portfolio for credit quality. After leaving the bank each evening, you could drive through the town and see businesses in operation because of a loan the bank had made. That was my first indication of the importance of banks and the financial industry to our economy.”
Breshears started at Arvest in 2001 as a trust officer and spent five years administering trust agreements. In 2006, she transitioned to managing the private banking team in the bank’s Springdale market. In 2012, she took a regional manager’s role and managed the private banking teams in Springdale and Benton County. In 2015, Breshears moved into her current role.
Arvest has supported Economics Arkansas (EA), a nonprofit that focuses on training teachers to incorporate financial education in their classrooms, for more than 30 years. Breshears became involved when a former Arvest executive retired as a board member.
“I raised my hand because I believe in the mission of EA,” Breshears said. “The ability to further educate about the importance of free markets, capitalism, financial literacy and economics comes to life in the classroom using EA’s curriculum. Students get so excited to play the stock market games, study real-world projects and take the ‘eek’ out of economics, as our director, Kathleen Lawson, would say. This country is strong because of our ability to experience free enterprise. It’s important that we keep it going, and what better way than to empower teachers to teach our students about these concepts?”
Breshears sees the program as the best way to help Arkansas from a foundational perspective. She believes if students can grasp these concepts early, the world is wide open to their ideas and ability to grow a business, create jobs and contribute to the economy of the state.
The EA programs bring economics to life by showing it is not anything to fear.
“It just sparks so much energy and curiosity for a student,” Breshears said. “And teachers involved learn new methods for teaching economics to kids. So they learn the value of enterprise, financial literacy, understanding how a business runs and what that means to a community. It is about creating opportunity in our communities.”
Breshears is spearheading a virtual Think Inside the Box fundraising pitch competition March 16 that will be judged by some of the state’s top business executives. Attendees will have a chance to pitch a product idea conceptualized and prototyped in 10 minutes using very limited supplies announced at the start of the event.
Lawson said, “It is a small event with big leadership. The event is largely organized by a small committee of Arvest market presidents led by Robyn, who is vice chair of EA. Her committee has helped raise money for this event. This marks the fourth year under her tenure as committee chair to raise money for EA. She and her committee have raised over $200,000 for us. Despite COVID-19 circumstances, we just finished a record-breaking year. We served 4,000 teachers in 2020, which is double what we were doing five years ago.”
Lawson sees Breshears as a mentor who has been very effective in growing the EA programs.
“I aspire to be like her in many ways,” Lawson said. “She really does believe in our mission. Robyn has been dedicated to Economics Arkansas since joining the board of directors in 2017. She always asks probing and forward-thinking questions and sincerely wants to advance the organization and support the staff. She is very generous with her time and resources and is a true advocate and champion for economic education.”
When Breshears raises her hand to volunteer, she is all in.
“Any community we choose to live in deserves volunteer help to continue to lift the quality of life,” she said. “Education is always so important. Education is key to equipping out students with the tools they need to be successful.”
Breshears and her husband, Hank, have been married for 33 years. The couple have two grown daughters, both married, and two grandchildren.
She grew up riding motorcycles with her father, and two years ago she bought her own motorcycle so she could stop being a passenger seeing the back of her husband’s helmet.
“I wanted to enjoy the ride from a different seat,” she said. “You see the road and surroundings in a different way than in a car. The ability to be in nature, not just observing nature, is just incredible. It is just such a free feeling. I love it! Of course, I’m a fair-weather rider, so I enjoy other activities like playing with my grandchildren, reading and working on jigsaw puzzles.”