October 24, 2012 - 12:22 PM
What can any of us hope to achieve in a career? Earn enough to take care of our families, help others along the way, perhaps attain some professional success, and maybe build something for the next generation, if we are so fortunate.
How about building a company that has become a pillar of an entire city, employing more than 14,000 people across several states, and earning a reputation for honesty and integrity?
In the 29 years since he came to Buffalo, Robert G. Wilmers
has done these things. It's hard to think of anyone who has done as much for his adopted city.
During a lunch meeting recently, Wilmers, 77, discussed the bank's success, giving credit to his employees, and offered some ideas about Buffalo's attributes for the future. The bank has a competitive hiring program that brings in a cadre of college graduates and MBA's each year. That force has grown to more than 800 employees throughout the company. That recruitment and retention of young talent has helped the bank and the community. M&T employees are known for their community involvement, something Wilmers cares about and stresses. He has said often that the bank can succeed only if the community succeeds. And the intimate local knowledge a bank and its people develop help it make good loans. Basic banking.
Many of the region's other banks are populated with former M&T people, spreading the gospel of conservative, community-based lending.
As for Buffalo's attributes, Wilmers points to the region's strong higher education infrastructure - colleges that can produce capable workers and leaders. And he sees the region's growing medical infrastructure as a bright sector that can be built upon.
Wilmers has ruffled more than a few feathers in town with his annual letters to stockholders, which he presents with the annual report. Local unions, schools, political leaders have all been called out. And he has called out the bank itself for ill-advised investments in collateralized debt obligations that sank with the mortgage crisis.
Wilmers reputation reaches far beyond Buffalo. American Banker magazine named him "Banker of the Year" last year, a nationwide honor, and in June he participated in the Clinton Global Initiative America 2012 Meeting in Chicago. And the bank now stretches into six states and the District of Columbia.
When Wilmers came to Buffalo, he was welcomed by the banking establishment, which recognized the value of having a viable M&T Bank as competition. He also found a welcoming, unpretentious city.
And the city found a modest leader who embraced it.
- Grove Potter