AN INTERVIEW OF RENÈ JONES, CHAIRMAN AND CEO OF M&T BANK
Watch John Maxfield with one of the most insightful and successful bank CEO's and leaders.
John Maxfield 0:05
The thing about René was what I found so interesting is that like, you go in and he's like, so the first time we've ever met? Yeah, first time we'd ever met. And like, you go in, and Bob's office is like this, like, amazing. That's an amazing space. And he was like, so warm. He's like, kick that pillow. I was like, Oh. He's like, would you mind kicking that pillow. And it is a stone. And I was like, why see why he was being so nice. You set me up. So you have to tell one of my favorite stories I tell all the time. Is your parents meeting? And I love that story.
René Jones 0:42
Wow. Went right to it. So, my dad is African American 13 out of 13 kids and grew up on a farm in Wolfstown, Virginia, got his way into the army at 17. Went to the UK, staged there, went over on D Day, and then made his way, eventually to the Ardennes during during the war. And he ended up passing a small town called La Haute-Savoie, which is where my mother was, she she's two years younger than he was. So she was a teenager, when the troops were kind of walking back. And back and forth, she had a couple of instructions from the local priest, which was Do not talk to any of the American soldiers. And so she didn't she as the troops were walking by our house, she, she waved, and then sort of ran in the back of the house. And my dad sort of broke the ranks. And walked over and met my grandfather, and said, hey, when you when I get done with what I have to go do here, I'm gonna come back, I'd like to come and maybe talk to you about your meeting your daughter. So he did, and he made it back. And he came knocking on the door, they got married in Belgium. And so that's 1940, May of 1945. The end of the war ends just a month after that, in that space. And so 1948, the army was still segregated. And so they have all of these crazy experiences and all of these crazy stories that we hear at the kitchen table all the time, about, you know, the war or growing up in a mixed race family and the 50s and 60s and so forth. So I'm the youngest of, of six. And so I am one of the keepers of those stories.
John Maxfield 2:47
And so René has, he has two daughters, and one of his daughters. Is it the younger daughter who asked all the questions?
René Jones 2:57
What's the story?
John Maxfield 2:57
That video you showed me that one time of older, older, older? Yeah, yeah, that's the older one. Okay. She's at BC right? She's a sophomore at BC Yeah, Boston College. And so he has it René has this video of because I'm like I'm like obsessed with like, families, because I think that's where you learn about a person. And surnames like, Oh, do you have any videos of your mom like talking about, because they lived under Nazi occupation for like three years, didn't they? Yeah, for longer than that, actually. Because, you know, you don't think about the acute war, but before that, they were controlling things and so forth. And so she has these crazy stories and like, René has a video of one of his daughters asking the grandma, René’s mom about her and she's just like, she's asking question after question after question.
René Jones 3:40
Definitely my nine year old and this is nine years old and just drilling like my mom about about the war and was she have a dog and where did she go in the planes came and how did you how did you? How did you learn if you didn't get to go to high school during the war and all these different things?
John Maxfield 3:56
Yeah, and she wouldn't like give up. So I'm kind of like you. Yeah, not as annoying. René who gets the real dosage? M&T Bank, like what a special bank. You know, Bob Wilmers comes in starts buying, his father passes away. Charles Wilmers passes away in 1980. Bob starts accumulating his stake in M&T and 80. He then comes in with a couple other folks and they get large enough that they get into getting a 30% 40% by 39.
René Jones 4:35
It ranges but up as high as 30%.
John Maxfield 4:38
And so and he buys on behalf of himself and on behalf of his sister, and originally on behalf of his mom, and they get control of it. Bob comes in and joins the board then becomes Chairman CEO, then runs from 83 until he died in December 2017. And I mean, like, I mean, just an absolute legend of a banker. You know, like what did you. What could you tell the people here who didn't know about Wilmers who never met Bob Wilmers? Like what? What can you tell them that would help them be better bankers given that you've worked in such close proximity to him for so long?
René Jones 5:16
Bob. You know, he was a banker before he got to M&T he was he ran Morgan Guaranty in Belgium. But I think he had a really acute sense of a couple of things. One is, he didn't think of banking maybe in the way that we think of it when we're when we're sort of running running hot. He thought of it as it was a really admirable business, and it had a role in your particular community. And he sort of believed that about all businesses that they would come together and have a certain role, he would often counsel people who would come in and say, Hey, Bob, I think I'm gonna retire, I'm going to sell my business he'd be like don't do it. Don't do it. Like your role is in the way you run your company is particular particularly important to our individual community. And that's what he focused on. He also had a really great sense of risk, which I could tell you my story of. When Bob came on board, he actually had a partner, who was named George Pereira. And when Bob passed, you got to go through this whole thing I've been I've been at the bank for 31 years now. And so there are all these experiences that I went through. And John now knows this, when you go through these experiences, you don't really understand what's happening to you. You just know it's happening. And you know, Bob's an extraordinary person, and so forth. So Bob passes in December 17. And one of the first things I do the next summer is I decided that I need to go see his original partner, George Pereira. So I fly to Gustat. And I go into the mountains, and I go see George. And we have this incredible two days. And at the end, I just say before I leave, you know, could you just tell me one more time? How did you meet Bob Wilmers, and he tells the story, which I'm going to try to tell really fast.
John Maxfield 7:06
No no tell the story, I was going to ask you to tell the story. So is that great?