M&T Bank Chairman Robert Wilmers was remembered during a memorial service Monday, but one of the bank's top officials says his way of running the bank and the way he treated people both inside and outside the bank will continue.
Shelley Drake was an M&T employee before Wilmers and allies bought control of what was then a troubled financial institution nearly four decades ago and built it into a regional powerhouse of a community bank. Drake is now Western New York regional president of the bank and president of the bank's Charitable Foundation.
She is also someone who worked her way up from a bank sales job, when women were not always allowed to do that. She said Wilmers changed all that by expanding the hiring and promotion pool to all.
Drake said Wilmers also was behind the bank's push for its workers and executives to take major roles in community organizations.
"Bob believed in our giving back, so we were encouraged to volunteer," Drake said. "We were encouraged to be on boards and not just to be on a board, but to take an officer position on a board and help those organizations to grow and thrive and that's part of our DNA. That was expected. It was recommended. It became something we love to do."
Drake said Wilmers hired the cadre of executives who are now running the bank and many have been with M&T for more than a quarter of a century. She said they all will remember the former boss's views on many things and how they shaped the bank and its regions - and will remember those views and attitudes.
Drake said the Wilmers methods will stay because the executives were trained and mentored by him.
"He had such trust in them, in their capabilities, that I know that the legacy will be that we move on in his footsteps and they will do that. There's no question," Drake said. "This is a big place. Bob was not the only one running it. He had a great depth of management in place to run this place and that's what will continue."
Drake said Wilmers spent years making sure hirings and promotions were diverse because he saw that as valuable to the bank and to the community. She said the upper structure is not likely to change.