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Buffett's investment helped drive M&T's growth

It's not every day that the Oracle of Omaha invests in your company.

In the case of M&T Bank Corp., it was 1990, and the Buffalo-based bank had the opportunity of a lifetime: the two dominant financial institutions in Buffalo, Empire of America and Goldome, had been seized by federal regulators during the savings & loan crisis. Now the regulators were looking for someone to buy the failed banks.

M&T and KeyCorp, then based in Albany, decided to divide the spoils between them. But M&T "needed some capital in order to be able to be positioned to do the deal," bank spokesman C. Michael Zabel said.

So Buffalo News Publisher Stanford Lipsey introduced his friend M&T CEO Robert G. Wilmers, to his longtime patron: Warren Buffett.

Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway owns The Buffalo News and Buffett is the newspaper's chairman. Buffett had brought Lipsey from an Omaha paper to be publisher in Buffalo after he bought the newspaper in 1977.

Warren Buffett took a look at M&T and decided to invest in the bank, providing the infusion of capital that spurred the real start of the bank's transformative growth. Over the past 26 years, he has remained a major shareholder, buying and selling stock along the way but never getting out.

Today, Berkshire is M&T''s sixth-largest shareholder, with 3.56 percent of the bank's stock as of Sept. 30. That's 5.382 million shares, worth nearly $920 million.

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