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Running the branches for regional banking titan

Salvatore Guerrieri Sr. came to the United States from Italy at age 14, by which time he had worked as a barber, a tailor and a farmer. His career path here led him to be an auto mechanic.
 
"It’s just that work ethic," says his son, Salvatore Guerrieri Jr. "It’s something you can’t teach at school. It’s something you learn at home."
 
The younger Guerrieri, known as Sam, is a senior vice president and head of retail branch banking at M&T Bank Corp., whose network of 735 branches extends from the company headquarters in Buffalo to northern Virginia. The Rochester market comprises 38 branches and 318 retail banking employees.
 
"What makes him successful at his job is, not only is he personally engaging, he’s smart and a natural leader in the field," M&T’s Rochester-based Executive Vice President Brian Hickey says.
 
Guerrieri, 47, who lives in Brighton, oversees seven market managers, who supervise 50 regional managers, who lead the branch managers.
 
Buffalo-based Timothy McMorrow is the market manager for the Buffalo and Rochester regions. Daniel Burns is the regional manager in Rochester.
 
Guerrieri has an office at M&T’s regional headquarters on East Avenue, but Buffalo is his home base. He reports to Darren King, the head of M&T’s retail banking division.
 
"On Mondays, Tuesdays and most Wednesdays, I’m in Buffalo. On a lot of Wednesdays and Thursdays, I’m somewhere else in the footprint," he says.
 
Guerrieri is in the Rochester area most Fridays. The commute to Buffalo three days a week is beneficial, he says.
 
"It gives me an opportunity to wind up in the morning and wind down at night," Guerrieri says. "And you can get a lot of phone calls done on the way in and on the way home.
 
"I don’t know what my wife would do if I were 10 minutes from home now, all wound up from work. Usually I’m wound down by the time I pull into the driveway. But Fridays feel really good being in Rochester."
 
Guerrieri and wife, Nancy, went to the University of Rochester, where he was an honorable mention running back on the 1986 Associated Press Division III All-America football team. The Chili native is a member of the college’s athletic Hall of Fame.
 
Guerrieri was chosen in 2006 to lead retail banking after two years as president and CEO of brokerage unit M&T Securities Inc.
 
"The travel isn’t that much different," he says. "It’s still the entire footprint. What has changed, though, is the number of people that are managed. In M&T Securities, with 300 or 400 people, you pretty much know people’s names and faces. With the retail bank and over 5,000 people, you can’t manage the same way."
 
In his current post, Guerrieri counts on effective and efficient communication with regional and branch managers for day-to-day control of the branches.
 
"You need to make sure your leadership team is the strongest because that’s where your leverage is, because they run the branches," he says.
 
"The other major difference is, at M&T Securities, if you came out with a communication and said something, you could quickly retract it if you needed to. In retail, once that pebble hits the water, the word is out and it’s hard to retract. You have to be extremely careful."
 
Michael Pavia, president of Sydor Instruments LLC, came to be a close friend with Guerrieri as a fraternity brother at the University of Rochester and is now a brother-in-law.
 
"The thing that stands out the most with him is his ability to connect with people and really be interested in people, and developing the best in the people around him," Pavia says. "He’s very good at motivating people and inspiring them to be the best they can be, and leading by example in that regard."

Growing up
Guerrieri grew up in North Chili and decided after eighth grade to enroll at Aquinas Institute.
 
"At the time it was an all-boys Catholic school," he says. "My senior year at Aquinas was the first year they went co-ed, so it was kind of an interesting transition."
 
He was a standout running back and a member of the track and field team. College football coaches began to court him during his junior year, Syracuse University, the University of Kansas and Temple University among them.
 
Closer to home, Cornell University and UR were interested.
 
"If you were going to play football, or going to play sports, you have to be mindful of a lot of different things, like your family," Guerrieri says. "Are they going to be able to participate and see you play? Are you going to play as a freshman or sophomore?
 
"And, most importantly, as a junior or senior in high school, you’re not always thinking about academics. So my parents were really focused on that. Even coming back from some of those visits, it was pretty evident that academics had to be No. 1."
 
Guerrieri worked at his father’s gas station throughout high school and college.
 
"He didn’t want me to learn anything more than pumping gas and maybe an oil change, because he didn’t want me to be there. He wanted me to go to college. So when it came down to looking at schools, it was, ‘Who’s talking to you about academics?’"
 
Guerrieri narrowed his final choices to Cornell and UR, which, as an NCAA Division III school, did not provide athletic scholarships. UR was not a serious consideration, Guerrieri said, until football coach Pat Stark convinced him to visit the campus.
 
"I fell in love with the school," Guerrieri says. "It was one of those things where you just feel the chemistry. Being able to play in my hometown, with my parents there every step of the way, was fascinating.
 
"One of the proudest things in my career playing football was my father came to every single practice. He worked down the street, in downtown Rochester, so he’d swing by on the way home and he’d be standing by the fence."
 
Guerrieri set a school record with 2,319 yards rushing during his four years there. He was named to All-America teams as a junior and senior.
 
"He was a star the minute he stepped on the football field at the U of R," says Stark, who coached Guerrieri as a freshman and sophomore and then resigned in 1985 to become the school’s athletic director. "He was an outstanding athlete from day one. He was a quiet leader. He exemplified everything you would want in an athlete and as a leader.
 
"We talk about Sam’s high integrity, his high character, and all of that is true. He carried that over into the business world. He derived those characteristics from his father. His dad is a hardworking, honest, conscientious guy who has made many friends over the years because of his integrity and strong character that Sam has duplicated."

Career path
Guerrieri graduated in 1987 with a bachelor of science degree in psychology but decided on a career in financial services because of his dad’s influence.
 
"My father basically depleted his entire savings to send my sister and me to college," Guerrieri says. "There was, like, $300 left in the savings account. He was able to replenish that over time and create a nice retirement nest egg for him and my mother.
 
"It’s something that others can aspire to. Especially in these dire times for individuals and families, there’s a light for them. It led me to this kind of business."
 
Guerrieri’s first job was with the local office of securities broker/dealer A.G Edwards & Sons Inc.
 
"People always asked me what I was going to do with a psychology degree, and it’s something I probably use every single day," he says. "When you’re dealing with people, whether it’s people you’re managing or it’s customers, there are so many pieces of what you learn in psychology on how to deal with people."
 
Three years later, Guerrieri left A.G. Edwards for Citibank N.A., which was starting a brokerage program within its Upstate New York bank branches.
 
"They would typically pilot programs up here, so they didn’t launch into something in Manhattan," Guerrieri says. "I started with them and started their program. I was one of the first financial consultants they hired."
 
He became a brokerage manager, running the programs in Rochester and Buffalo, and eventually had opportunities to move away from Rochester.
 
"Now, I’m home-grown here," he says. "I went to high school and college here, lived here all my life. We weren’t ready to up and just move away. Working with Citibank, if I were to go out to San Francisco, the next stop wasn’t back to Rochester. It was Brussels or New York City or something else."
 
Guerrieri had an exploratory interview with M&T. Three months and 21 interviews after that he started work in January 1996 as a regional sales manager at M&T Securities Inc.
 
"My territory was a pretty large territory," he says. "I took, more or less, a lateral move, still working in the investment business. Buffalo had about 75 branches at the time. They had 45 financial consultants."
 
The territory east of Buffalo was made up of Rochester, Ithaca, Binghamton, the Hudson Valley and New York City. M&T had not yet entered the Syracuse market.
 
"I saw this opportunity to help grow the program," Guerrieri says. "We were fortunate-I was fortunate-that the bank was doing acquisitions east of Buffalo at the time, so it fell into my footprint, which allowed me to continue to grow it."
 
He was named national sales director in 1998 and president and CEO of the securities unit in 2004. Two years after that, he was chosen to manage the retail branches but retained the title of CEO at M&T Securities.
 
"I could have done a number of different things," Guerrieri said. "But if I wanted to stay at M&T, and if I wanted to get in the mainstream line of the bank, I had to go learn it. Retail was a great place for me to do that, and they gave me the opportunity to do it."
 
Guerrieri surrendered the CEO title at M&T Securities in 2010 but remains chairman.
 
"He’s got a big job with us," Hickey says. "He is the inspirational leader for the branch network. He’s great out in the field, speaking to groups of branch people about taking care of customers and bringing in more customers."

Market changes
M&T is in the midst of an initiative designed to draw customers away from First Niagara Bank N.A. and from HSBC Bank USA N.A. branches, whose acquisition by First Niagara was completed last month.
 
"Sam has been particularly focused on the opportunities that these disruptions have presented to us, and getting our folks in the branches to be focused on the opportunities that are coming about," Hickey says.
 
"Any merger, even if it’s a good one, creates some level of disruption. I think Sam is doing everything he can to make sure our folks are talking to people in the marketplace and trying to bring customers to M&T."
 
M&T had total deposits of $3.2 billion in the Rochester metropolitan statistical area at the end of May, representatives say, up from $2.9 billion as of June 30, 2011. The MSA includes Monroe, Livingston, Ontario, Orleans and Wayne counties.
 
Including Genesee County, the Rochester market’s deposit total as of June 30, 2011, was more than $3.4 billion, data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. shows.
 
M&T representatives would not say how much of the deposit growth was from former customers of HSBC or First Niagara.
 
The bank has increased its media marketing and extended its Saturday hours at branches to accommodate potential interest.
 
Guerrieri and other M&T executives downplay the significance of the initiative.
 
"We’ve had a lot of success with our past marketing campaigns," Guerrieri says. "It wasn’t really that much different. It was just, maybe, a little bit more of it.
 
"I don’t think it was anything that was really directed at anybody. It was just that we’re having some success. Let’s take advantage of it, keep going and let people know we’re here for them."
 
M&T has plenty of experience in acquisitions, with several of its own in recent years.
 
"One of the reasons why I think we’ve been pretty successful with our acquisitions is the first thing we do is mobilize a team of people immediately to go to the new bank and let all the people in the branches know they have a job," Guerrieri says.
 
"As soon as they know they’re OK, there’s a sigh of relief, and the customers are then relieved."
 
M&T acquired three Baltimore-area banks closed on a Friday by the FDIC because of financial problems and reopened the following Monday as M&T.
 
"I’m the guy that goes in and tells the bank-after the FDIC goes in and tells them the bank has been seized-that M&T Bank is going to take it over," Guerrieri says.
 
"I’m standing in front of all these people in a boardroom. They’re crying. It’s an unbelievable experience. Then it’s trying to get those people through the weekend and get them up and running, because essentially the bank is now M&T."
 
Guerrieri points to M&T’s 1,800 licensed employees, including 500 business specialists and 200 business bankers, as evidence of the bank’s strength.
 
"We just keep pouring more and more into educating people so we have the best and brightest facing off with customers to help them achieve their financial goals," he says.

Off the job
Guerrieri keeps himself in shape by working out daily and occasionally running. He plays seven to 10 rounds of golf each summer.
 
He spends much of his free time with his three daughters. Samantha, 19, is a student at Loyola University Maryland and a member of the school’s dance team. Tylar, 17, plans to attend UR this fall. Jordan, 16, attends Our Lady of Mercy High School and is a member of its lacrosse team.
 
"One of my hobbies is going to my daughters’ lacrosse games and basketball games, Guerrieri says. "It’s such a joy to be able to do."
 
He is a New York Yankees fan and a fan of the Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens. M&T has sponsorships with both National Football League teams.
 
"When you’re working at M&T Bank, you have to be a Bills and a Ravens fan," he says. "I like the Bills a lot, and I follow the Bills. But when the Bills lose, it’s not a good day in Buffalo."
 
He and his wife like to travel.
 
"We love the beach," Guerrieri says. "We love the pool. We like to just relax and hang out. We like to go to Florida. We like to go out to Arizona. We’ve got family in both places."
 
Two years ago, Guerrieri accompanied his family, his parents and his sister to Italy to see his father’s homeland.
 
"It was spectacular, just seeing where my father grew up," Guerrieri says. "It’s at the arch of the boot, right on the water. I don’t speak the language, but when you go there and see family there-you don’t know them and they don’t know you-there’s no language barrier. It’s really interesting."
 
Guerrieri is on the board of directors at the Memorial Art Gallery and, as of March, president for two years of the Bank Insurance Securities Association, a trade group supporting the insurance and securities departments of banks nationwide.
 
"I love what I’m doing," he says. "I like the people in my business. It’s a great challenge. There’s something new every single day."

6/29/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

Sam Guerrieri
Title: Senior vice president and head of retail branch banking, M&T Bank Corp.
Age: 47
Home: Brighton
Education: B.S. in psychology, University of Rochester, 1987
Family: Wife Nancy; daughters Samantha, 19; Tylar, 17; and Jordan, 16
Hobbies: Exercise, running, golf, traveling
Quote: "Nothing is better than sitting down with a consumer or a small-business owner and helping them achieve their goals in a collaborative way. That’s the meaning of community banking for us."

6/29/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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