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M&T's next CEO could come from within

The death of M&T Bank chairman and CEO Robert G. Wilmers on Saturday leaves a leadership gap at a bank that was already coping with the loss of a prominent executive earlier this year.

In February, M&T president and chief operating officer Mark J. Czarnecki died after a battle with cancer. Rather than name a new president to succeed him, the bank divided Czarnecki's duties among the bank's three vice chairmen: Rene F. Jones, Richard S. Gold and Kevin J. Pearson.

M&T has not yet announced who will succeed Wilmers in the long-term. In the interim, the bank named Robert Brady, the former chairman and CEO of Moog Inc., as the bank's non-executive chairman. M&T also affirmed that Jones, Gold and Pearson would maintain responsibility for the bank's day-to-day operations.

M&T under Wilmers' direction showed a strong preference for developing its top leaders from within. All three of its vice chairmen fit that model, having built long careers at the bank.

“You have the best and the brightest right here," Wilmers said earlier this year, explaining why the president's duties were divided among the vice chairmen. "It makes no sense to go out and recruit outside. But when we need to recruit outside, we do.”

Some observers viewed the sharing of the duties as creating a sort of internal competition for the selection of the next CEO. M&T has never publicly designated one of them as a clear successor to Wilmers.

If one of the three does emerge as the next CEO, the bank would be choosing someone who is well-versed in the M&T way of doing business. All three have been with M&T for at least 25 years. They are all in their 50s and have seats on M&T's management committee, which meets weekly to set the bank's direction.

M&T Bank Vice Chairman Rene Jones at a bank meeting in April. (Derek Gee/ News file photo)

Rene F. Jones

Jones joined the bank in 1992, arriving via M&T's Executive Associate program, which recruits promising leaders with MBAs and some professional experience.

For 11 years, he served in a highly visible role, as M&T’s chief financial officer. Every three months, he would explain the bank’s financial results to financial analysts and answer their questions about M&T’s strategy. He handed off the CFO's duties in 2016 to Darren King.

Jones manages the bank’s treasury division and has overall responsibility for Wilmington Trust, the bank’s wealth and institutional trust management subsidiary, an assignment that expanded his breadth of experience.

Under the additional leadership assignments issued earlier this year, Jones picked up responsibility for human resources and the Buffalo Promise Neighborhood initiative. Jones is also a trustee of M&T Real Estate and a director of the M&T Insurance Agency.

Richard S. Gold, M&T Bank vice chairman. (Derek Gee/News file photo)

Richard S. Gold

Gold started at M&T in 1989 and picked up significant duties when they were split among the vice chairmen. He had served as chief risk officer since 2014, but gave up that role this year to oversee retail banking, business banking, and mortgage and consumer lending and marketing. He also kept responsibility for the bank’s legal division.

As chief risk officer, Gold had a critical assignment, continuing his predecessor's efforts to upgrade M&T’s efforts to upgrade its anti-money laundering and Bank Secrecy Act systems, to satisfy federal regulators’ concerns. Completing that task ensured M&T could wrap up its deal for Hudson City Bancorp.

M&T Bank Vice Chairman Kevin Pearson. (Derek Gee/ News file photo)

Kevin J. Pearson

Pearson is based in Baltimore, a region where M&T has built a significant presence. He joined M&T in 1989 through its private banking division in New York City.

Pearson has focused on building the bank's commercial banking and credit divisions. Earlier this year, he added responsibility for M&T’s technology and banking operations division.

His resume includes other roles outside of M&T's home base, including Philadelphia and Tarrytown. Pearson took responsibility for M&T’s entire commercial banking line of business when Mike Pinto, another longtime M&T executive, scaled back his work due to illness in 2014.

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