M&T Bank Corp. named René F. Jones as its new chairman and CEO, succeeding Robert G. Wilmers, who died last Saturday.
The announcement puts Jones, who was a vice chairman, at the helm of a prominent regional bank headquartered in Buffalo with about 17,000 employees. Wilmers had served as the bank's CEO since 1983, save for an 18-month period in 2005 and 2006.
"I'm reminded of the team that Bob built," Jones said in an interview Wednesday after he was named chairman and CEO. "I'm reminded of how strong that team is and how collaborative that team is, and I'm honored to be part of it and part of leading it forward. I think we have a very bright future and Bob has set us up in a wonderful way."
Jones indicated that he planned to continue to follow the same strategies that Wilmers used to build M&T into a Top 20 U.S. bank.
"Bob was a giant," Jones said. "I don't know that it's possible to replicate what Bob did. But an ability to keep his themes, the things that were important to him — community, employees, having a strong financial institution and being a small bit of the glue that holds the community together — I think if we stick by those things, we'll continue to be successful and we'll continue to be a productive member of the community."
Jones said he felt prepared for the new role, and pointed to the bank's management committee that meets weekly to set the bank's direction of a sign of its leadership stability.
The bank also named Richard S. Gold, 57, another vice chairman, as president and chief operating officer. Those roles had been vacant since Mark J. Czarnecki died in February.
"I think we are all very well prepared," Jones said. "We often joke about Bob asking us that fifth or sixth question before we proceeded with anything. I think it's in our DNA, so I don't think we can change that.
"I think if we can do half the job Bob did going forward, it would be great success," Jones said.
Jones, Gold and a third vice chairman, Kevin J. Pearson, have been responsible for the bank's day-to-day operations. The bank increased their respective duties earlier this year after Czarnecki died.
Under Wilmers, M&T had a history of developing leaders from within. Each of its three vice chairmen has been with the bank for at least 25 years, leading to speculation that the next CEO would be one of them.
Jones, 53, is familiar to Wall Street. He served as chief financial officer for M&T for 11 years, before handing off those duties to Darren King last year. As CFO, Jones explained the bank's financial results to analysts on a quarterly basis and spoke at conferences on the bank's behalf.
Jones joined the bank in 1992 through its Executive Associate program, which recruits promising leaders with MBAs and some professional experience. He faces the task of following in the footsteps of Wilmers, who locally was synonymous with M&T and known beyond the bank's operations for his civic involvement.
Jones most recently managed the bank’s treasury division and had 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.
Robert T. Brady, who served as non-executive chairman following Wilmers' death, said Jones, Gold and the rest of the management committee "are well prepared to perpetuate M&T's long record of strength and success, and to carry on Bob's tradition of conservative, consistent community banking."
Colleen DiPirro, president and CEO of the Amherst Chamber of Commerce, called the appointments "wonderful news" for the region. "M&T empowered two individuals that will be great stewards for the bank and continue the good works for the community that were the hallmarks of Bob Wilmers' leadership."
Jones acknowledged the announcement came at a "difficult time for the organization," with M&T officials preparing for Wilmers' funeral in New York City on Thursday. "I think that is on our mind and at the forefront of our mind."