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First Niagara finds board director with global marketing experience ; New appointment breaks tradition

First Niagara Financial Group said Monday that it had named a new director to its board, adding a former Burger King Corp. and General Mills executive with experience in global marketing and strategy.

The Buffalo-based parent of First Niagara Bank appointed Peter B. Robinson to the boards of the company and the bank subsidiary.

Robinson's appointment appears to be unusual for First Niagara. Unlike all of the bank's nine current directors and its past directors -- who are either from First Niagara's two-state market area or were executives or directors of banks it acquired -- he has no prior connection to the bank.

"He is unique in that regard," First Niagara Chairman G. Thomas Bowers said. "Over the years, our directors have most often come from acquisitions or the marketplace, but Peter does not have those connections. We're obviously very excited about his willingness to join our board."

Instead, the British native joins with over three decades of "extensive global experience" in marketing, strategy development and implementation, and corporate governance, especially at consumer products companies, according to a news release from the bank. And while that experience is just what a fast-growing company needs, the appointment is also a reflection of its success and newfound national visibility.

"Peter's experience in both domestic and global marketing, strategic planning and operations will be extremely beneficial to First Niagara and its shareholders," Bowers said. "His wide range of consumer product experience and leadership positions at major global consumer products companies will be invaluable as First Niagara continues to execute its growth and expansion strategy."

Bowers explained that Robinson's appointment followed a deliberate decision by the board's governance committee that the board needed someone with new skills, specifically someone with a consumer goods or retail-oriented background, "because it's a big part of our operation at the bank."

Directors also wanted someone with strong marketing experience, since the board lacked that, and someone with "demonstrated leadership skills."

And the board wanted someone with experience at a larger company than First Niagara, particularly a publicly traded one, not only as an executive but as a director. "We wanted someone who had been at a level above ours, not from where we had come," Bowers said.

So directors hired recruiting firm Korn Ferry to find candidates and engaged in an interview process before selecting Robinson.

"What we were really doing is focusing on skill sets and leadership ability. It was a different process than we had engaged in before, a very healthy one," Bowers said. "We've got all the connections we need in the marketplace. What we need is an active, involved, experienced, bright group of directors who help manage the company for shareholder value."

Last year, First Niagara directors received $15,000 for being on the corporate board and $11,000 for being on the bank's board, plus another $1,000 to $1,200 per committee meeting, depending on which committee they were on. They also receive stock grants and must own $250,000 worth of stock within five years of joining the board.

Robinson is a former executive vice president with Miami-based Burger King, where he was responsible for leading global marketing and strategy for the fast-food giant's Europe, Middle East and Africa businesses. He was based in Zug, Switzerland, and was part of the corporate executive leadership team.

Previously, he worked as a senior vice president for General Mills and was president of its Pillsbury USA unit after General Mills bought it in 2001. Before that, he held rising positions at Pillsbury Co., PepsiCo's Frito-Lay International, Kraft General Foods and Procter and Gamble Ltd. UK.

Robinson is a graduate of Newcastle University, in northeast England, and has served on the university's Business School Advisory Board since 2001. He is currently a director of Lumber Liquidators, a fast-growing hardwood flooring supplier and retailer in Toana, Va.

Three directors of NewAlliance Bancshares will also join First Niagara's board after it completes its pending acquisition of the New Haven, Conn.-based bank in April.

e-mail: jepstein@buffnews.com

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