Robert G. Wilmers, longtime M&T Bank chief executive, dies at 83

The Buffalo News

Robert G. Wilmers, the longtime chairman and chief executive officer who drove M&T Bank Corp.'s growth from a small local bank into one of the nation's biggest financial institutions, died Saturday night.

Mr. Wilmers, 83, died at his home in New York City, said M&T spokesman C. Michael Zabel. The cause of death was not immediately available.

In keeping with the Buffalo-based bank's succession plan, its board named lead outside director Robert T. Brady as non-executive chairman of M&T. Brady is the retired former chairman and CEO of East Aurora-based Moog Inc.

"Bob Wilmers' accomplishments as Chairman and CEO of M&T Bank are surpassed only by his commitment to our community, and every day he worked to fulfill his belief that the bank can only do well if the communities it serves do well," said Mr. Brady.

M&T Bank is among the largest banks in the Baltimore region and has owned the naming rights to M&T Bank Stadium since 2003.

Augie Chiasera, president of M&T Bank’s Greater Baltimore region, called Mr. Wilmers “a great leader who inspired all of us and was a constant reminder of the dignity of the banking profession.”

“He was deeply committed to helping the Baltimore community and was often here to get together with our clients, colleagues and community leaders,” said Mr. Chiasera in a statement. “The best way to honor his legacy is for all of us at M&T Bank to strive to be the best bank we can for our employees, our customers and our Baltimore community.”

Mr. Wilmers was known for guiding M&T with a steady hand and traditional banking principles. He became chairman and CEO in May 1983, and held the roles almost continuously since then. At the time, the bank had $2 billion in assets, 2,000 employees and 51 branches in New York, and had faced struggles.

Fueled by a series of 24 acquisitions, he oversaw its remarkable growth into an institution that today has more than $120 billion in assets, with about 17,000 employees and 783 branches in eight states and the District of Columbia.

M&T began expanding into the Baltimore-area in the early 2000s, through a series of acquisitions. M&T bought Allfirst Financial in Maryland in 2003 for $3.1 billion in cash and stock.

During the financial crisis, the bank took over Bradford Bank and K Bank and helped pay out the deposits of Ideal Federal Savings Bank, gaining some of its customers. M&T Bank acquired Delaware’s Wilmington Trust in 2011.

In a 2011 interview with the Baltimore Sun, Mr. Wilmers said the region was a “very attractive market.”

“We love being in Maryland,” he said. “We consider it our community. And at this point, we’re a multicommunity bank. There’s no community more important to us than Baltimore.”

The bank reaffirmed that commitment in September, when it announced plans to move its mid-Atlantic regional headquarters from 25 S. Charles St. to anchor a new 28-story tower being built at One Light Street. The new office, expected to open by the end of 2018, will house 500 employees from its Charles Street headquarters and a smaller office at 111 S. Calvert St. M&T also will relocate its full-service branch at 25 S. Charles St. to the ground floor of One Light.

The bank notified senior management of Mr. Wilmer’s death by phone late Sunday morning, and also sent out word to all employees. M&T said that its three vice chairmen — Richard S. Gold, Rene F. Jones and Kevin J. Pearson — will retain their roles and maintain responsibility for day-to-day operations.

The news caught the bank and broader community largely by surprise, as Zabel said there had been no indication of any health issues.

Mr. Wilmers graduated from Harvard and attended the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, according to a summary of his career provided by M&T Bank. He worked in banking in New York, then in New York City government, then worked at Morgan Guaranty Trust Company. He previously was chairman of the Empire State Development Corp. from 2008 to 2009.

He was also chairman of the New York State Bankers Association in 2002 and from 1193 to 1998 was a director of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, according to the M&T summary.

Mr. Wilmers is survived by his wife, Elisabeth; his son, Christopher; four step-children, Camille de Wouters, Guillaume de Wouters, Juliette Chevalier and Charlotte de Coupigny; two grandsons and eleven step-grandchildren. His oldest son, Robert Jr., died in 1993.

Baltimore Sun reporter Sarah Gantz contributed to this story. Read the full obituary from The Buffalo News.

sarah.gantz@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sarahgantz

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