Robert G. Wilmers

M&T Bank CEO Robert G. Wilmers is pictured in a conference room at the bank's Baltimore headquarters. (Baltimore Sun photo by Algerina Perna / June 6, 2011)

Robert G. Wilmers, M&T Bank Corp.'s chairman and chief executive officer, has been leading the Buffalo, N.Y., bank's shopping spree in Maryland.

After gaining a foothold in the state with the purchase of Allfirst Financial Inc. in 2003 (the same year it bought the naming rights to the Ravens' stadium), M&T solidified its position by buying Baltimore-based Provident Bankshares Corp. five years later.

Then M&T took over two failed banks in Maryland amid the financial crisis, buying Bradford Bank and K Bank in the last two years. M&T also helped pay out insured deposits of a third failed bank, Ideal Federal Savings Bank in Baltimore, and gained some of Ideal Federal's customers.

Today, M&T's bank operations in Maryland include 207 branches and 2,900 employees, mostly in the greater Baltimore region. The bank has Maryland's second-largest deposit market share behind Bank of America.

Wilmers, 77, shows no signs of slowing down. In May, M&T completed its acquisition of Delaware's Wilmington Trust, the bank's second-largest partnership after the Allfirst deal.

When Wilmers took over M&T in 1983, it had $2 billion in assets; now it has more than $67 billion.

New York Times columnist Joe Nocera recently praised Wilmers for being a good banker and an executive "willing to tell harsh truths about banking" — including comments about larger banks' reliance on the trading of derivatives and on other complicated financial instruments that contributed to the crisis.

Last week, Wilmers spoke with The Baltimore Sun about the bank's business in Maryland, its latest acquisitions and how M&T fared during the financial crisis.

Given M&T's acquisition of local banks in recent years, what makes Maryland so attractive?

We acquired five banks in the last two years, and four of them I believe are Baltimore-centric. And the fifth one has a branch in Baltimore.

We find it a very attractive market. As a matter of fact, we have strong members of the management team here: Woody Collins [president and chief operating officer of M&T's Mid-Atlantic Division] and Mike Pinto [chief executive officer and chairman of M&T's Mid-Atlantic Division and vice chairman of M&T Bank Corp.'s board of directors]. …

Mike is the vice chairman of the bank, and the two of them run this part of the world for us. It was 26 percent of our earnings last year, 20 percent of our net profit, 18 percent of loans and 28 percent of our deposits. That's from Maryland, and Baltimore is the hub.

I read in your annual report that M&T is also the No. 1 Small Business Administration lender in Baltimore.

Not only in Baltimore, but also in Wilmington, Washington, D.C., [and] in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse [and] Philadelphia also.

We're the sixth-largest SBA lender in the country.

With the acquisitions here, were you looking to expand in Maryland, or did opportunities present themselves?

Opportunities present themselves. Three of the four, the FDIC presented them to us.

You could strategize all you want. The FDIC offers us several banks a week to buy and, obviously, we have no interest in banks that are in Arizona, Montana or Illinois. But when they're in our turf, we look at them seriously.

We love being in Maryland.