Robert Wilmers runs a bank. He has since 1983. And he’ll have you know it’s a real bank, called M&T Bank, which does things real banks do, like take deposits and make loans—and nothing else. You hear that, Wall Street?
Mr. Wilmers also gives voice to the resentment felt by regional banks that detest being lumped together with too-big-to-fail institutions. “Trading brings out the worst in humanity,” he says.
As you can imagine, such a person has quirks. Like driving a beat-up ’90 Corolla until it died and riding around town—and by town, we mean Manhattan; M&T may be based in Buffalo but that doesn’t mean Wilmers has to be—on an ancient bike with mismatched tires. The Journal dubs him “an 83-year-old cheapskate with an air of grandeur.”
In fairness, there’s probably more than just the air, what with the two Bourdeaux vineyards, Left Bank pied-a-terre and taste for the food at the Four Seasons.
“What can I say?” says Mr. Wilmers, who became CEO in 1983, after waging an activist campaign to get on the board. Today he directly or indirectly controls almost 6% of M&T, whose market value is around $23 billion. “I can’t spend all my time worrying what other people think.”
And he doesn’t. “He’s a contrarian,” said Martin Heckscher, who graduated from Harvard with Mr. Wilmers. “He does everything opposite.”
Well, I mean, a man’s got to keep himself entertained when he’s got to spend so much time with pedestrian bores.
During meetings, it can seem like he is not paying attention—until he pipes up with a sharp observation, according to people who know him.
“Sometimes people think he’s sleepy,” said David Walentas, a Brooklyn real-estate developer. “He’s the smartest guy in the room.”