Robert Wilmers, the longtime chairman and CEO at M&T Bank, has died, the Buffalo company announced Sunday.

Wilmers, who led M&T for nearly 35 years and built it into a regional powerhouse, died “suddenly and unexpectedly at home” on Saturday night, the $120 billion-asset M&T said in news release. He was 83.

In accordance with its succession plan, M&T has named its lead independent director, former Moog CEO Robert Brady, as nonexecutive chairman. Three M&T vice chairmen, Richard Gold, René Jones and Kevin Pearson, will retain oversight of daily operations. Another top executive at M&T died earlier this year. Mark Czarnecki, president and chief operating officer died at age 61 after an extended illness.

Robert Wilmers was known for his long letters to shareholders. In his most recent one, he said small banks should not be subject to the same oversight as larger institutions.

Wilmers was known for the long shareholder letters he wrote every spring, around the time of M&T’s annual meeting, in which he gave his thoughts on the state of the banking industry, the overall economy and other timely issues. In this year’s letter, Wilmers argued that regional banks such as M&T should not be subject to the same extensive regulations as large banks.

He did not always take positions that were favorable to his fellow bankers. In his 2012 letter, Wilmers wrote that too-big-to-fail banks “tarnished the reputation of banking as a whole” with their business activities, which he believed caused the financial crisis.

“He was a remarkable banker, an even more remarkable citizen and a wonderful friend,” said Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, a longtime M&T shareholder, in the release.

Wilmers grew up in New York City and in Belgium, where his father worked for a utility company. He graduated from Harvard University in 1956 and joined Bankers Trust Co. in 1962. He worked for New York City Mayor John Lindsay as a financial official in the 1960s.

M&T hired Wilmers in 1983 as chairman and CEO. Under his leadership, M&T grew from a local bank with $2 billion of assets and 2,000 employees into a top regional with operations in 11 states and the District of Columbia. He led the bank through 24 acquisitions, including Allfirst Bank in Baltimore, Wilmington Trust in Delaware and, most recently Hudson City Bancorp in New Jersey. That deal, completed in 2015, took more than three years to close as the company was required to beef up its anti-money-laundering compliance to gain regulatory approval.

Wilmers retired as CEO in 2005 but returned 18 months later when his successor, Robert Sadler, stepped down. American Banker named Wilmers its lifetime achievement winner in 2005 and named him Banker of the Year in 2011.

Andy Peters

Andy Peters

Andy Peters writes about regional banks, consumer finance and debt collections for American Banker.