After nearly 50 years at M&T, regional president talks history, future of the bank and the millions of dollars she helps give away

Women Leading WNY

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The past year has been a big one for M&T Bank. Along with expanding into Buffalo’s tallest building, the bank gave away millions of dollars to organizations in need during a global pandemic.

And at the helm of the local success of the bank is WNY Regional President, Shelley Drake. Forty-nine years and 11 months ago, Drake walked into M&T’s headquarters on Main Street in Buffalo. The tower that’s become a significant piece of Buffalo’s landscape was built just five years prior. She had no resume in hand when she walked in and didn’t have an MBA. Instead, she had a psychology degree and a car… and was hired on the spot.

“(He said) Do you have a college degree?’ I said, ‘Yes,’ and then he said, ‘Do you have a car?’ and I said ‘Yes,’ and he said, ‘You’re hired.'”

In 1971, when Drake began, the bank only extended as far east as Batavia, and had about $2 billion in assets.

“I would say that I pretty much knew every single employee back then (in 1971) and I would say basically everyone who worked here was basically from Western New York.”

When M&T finished its acquisition of People’s United Financial, hopefully by the end of the year, it will have a foothold in 12 states and Washington D.C., and assets upwards of $200 billion. Drake said that will make it the 11th largest bank in the country.

In 2017, Drake was named regional president, overseeing the success of M&T Bank in all eight counties of WNY. As a woman, it’s a role she didn’t imagine having when she started there.

“Clearly there were many industries, banking being one, where there were really weren’t women in leadership roles,” she said. “There were women in the bank, but not in leadership roles. And it’s taken awhile; it’s taken a long time.”

Drake said a love for what she does, hardwork and mentorship has helped her get to where she is today. And the latter is incredibly important to her now. She said her door is always open to any employee who wants to talk about their future.

And the future of the bank is bright.

Last week, the media was allowed inside the bank’s newly renovated space inside Seneca One.

“I think it’s extraordinary.”

The bank will house its technology hub on 11 floors there and will take up two floors of space near the building’s ground level. There are no offices inside, instead it’s an open floor plan with all shared space. About 1,500 current employees of the bank will move in there and 1,000 more will get hired in the coming years.

“I thought that building would remain empty forever,” Drake said. “I’m thrilled that a developer, Douglas Jemal, came through and he saved the day with that building and for us. I would say it’s been a dream, a realization of what we can do for the bank and really for the community.”

The community, especially in a year with so much loss during this pandemic, is a major focus for M&T. Back in the Spring of 2020, the bank transitioned 2,000 employees to help small businesses secure much-needed Paycheck Protection (PPP) Loans.

And, they gave away millions of dollars.

Along with leading the regional success of M&T, Drake is the president of the bank’s charitable foundation, which gives away $32-$33 million a year to organizations across the Northeast.

“It is a wonderful job,” she said. “It is a wonderful, wonderful job.”

In the last year, the foundation gave just under $10 million to organizations here in WNY. Apart of that were unplanned grants that were specifically pandemic-related.

“Some were very basic, such as food,” Drake said. “We needed to support food. We needed to support our frontline workers and our hospitals. We needed underserved businesses… there were businesses on the verge of failing. We still have these needs in our community… they’re desperate needs.”

When Drake began at M&T, her job was driving and walking around WNY asking merchants to carry the bank’s Empire card. In her early years there, the met her husband at work and her son is currently employed there. She’s rose through many different roles, but says her biggest accomplishment has been helping others succeed around here.

“It’s been a wonderful run,” she said. “It’s terrific. It’s exciting.”

This summer, on June 28th, Drake will celebrate 50 years with M&T.

Kelsey Anderson is an award-winning anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2018. See more of her work here.

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