By: Ezra N. Rich
Leadership. Dedication. Community. These are some of the many words that come to mind when one thinks of Shelley C. Drake, the president of both the Western New York Region of M&T Bank and the M&T Charitable Foundation. Next week, on Monday, June 28th, Ms. Drake will celebrate her 50th anniversary at the bank, a major milestone for a woman who has been a trusted mentor to countless colleagues and a dear friend to many individuals across the community.
The Gold Dome
In a business climate that sees fewer people spend their entire career at one company and as many firms brace for the “Great Resignation” post-COVID, Ms. Drake’s milestone is even more remarkable. When asked about her career commitment to M&T Bank, she offers a wide smile.
“I love what I do,” Ms. Drake replies. “I so believe in the bank, its morals and culture.”
During this season of graduations, when many are beginning internships and post-college careers, she has timely advice for all members of the workforce.
“It’s important to find a position where you have a passion for the work,” she notes. “We spend so much time on work that you need to like what you’re doing. You need to enjoy it. Further, one should seek out a mentor. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Also, get involved with the organization more broadly. Get to know the business, the people, and the culture.”
The Best of Buffalo
Born and raised in Buffalo, Ms. Drake is a lifelong member of Temple Beth Zion. Her family has been affiliated with TBZ for generations. She fondly recalls the iconic Byzantine-style Temple Beth Zion building that tragically burned down in 1961 as well as the now-landmarked Brutalist sanctuary on Delaware Avenue which opened in 1967. Growing up, she attended Buffalo Seminary and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University at Buffalo.
On a fateful Monday, a half century ago, at the suggestion of her uncle who banked with M&T Bank, she went to their corporate headquarters and asked to speak with personnel. Ms. Drake was hired on the spot, perhaps one of the greatest recruiting moves in the bank’s 165-year history. According to her, she was hired on account of her having a college degree and a car. Others may counter it was the instinct of a talented scout.
Ms. Drake’s life further transformed the following year when she met her future husband, the late Kenneth C. Drake, at the bank. They married in 1976. Tragically, Mr. Drake passed away in August 2019 from cancer discovered the previous year. Ms. Drake is the proud mother of twins, Robert, who works in M&T Bank’s Business Banking Division, and Allison, who is currently completing her Ph.D. in psychology at UB. She is a proud mother, with both of her children, and her four grandchildren living locally.
As president of its Western New York middle market banking operations, Ms. Drake oversees 77 offices across all eight counties in the region. Today, M&T Bank is Buffalo’s only Fortune 500 company and the market share leader in Western New York. Upon its acquisition of People’s United Financial, M&T Bank will be America’s 11th largest bank with roughly $200 billion in assets and a network spanning 12 states.
While M&T Bank has been in Buffalo since 1856, it wasn’t always a superregional bank with broad market share. When Ms. Drake joined in 1971, the bank had around $2 billion in assets and the Buffalo-based firm only extended out to Batavia.
When Ms. Drake joined M&T Bank, a woman in banking was a rarity. Thanks to trailblazers like her, that is no longer the case. As of 2020, 60 percent of M&T Bank’s 18,000-person workforce are women, including 48 percent of their managers. Reflecting on her career, Ms. Drake is most proud of how she has helped other succeed at the bank.
According to M&T Bank’s inaugural Environmental, Social & Governance Report, the M&T Charitable Foundation contributed $34.9 million to nonprofit organizations in 2020, including nearly $10 million in Western New York. Over the past decade, M&T Bank and the M&T Charitable Foundation have donated a combined $264.3 million to 7,500 organizations across its banking footprint.
“M&T has been a leader in charitable giving for decades,” she proudly notes. “As one can see from our recent ESG Report, we have a whole department dedicated to this important work. It is a group with all our company spokes connected on that hub.”
In addition to direct philanthropic support, M&T Bank is the fifth largest Small Business Administration (SBA) lender. During COVID-19, the bank secured nearly $10 billion in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funding for its business and nonprofit clients, including the Buffalo Jewish Federation, local Jewish agencies, and synagogues. The loans were a major financial lifeline for many organizations amidst the rapid economic shock inflicted by the global pandemic.
Leading by Example
Leading the M&T Charitable Foundation is a tremendous role that extends beyond traditional business hours. Pre-COVID, Ms. Drake would attend charity galas and other events on behalf of M&T most nights of the week.
In addition to being one of M&T Bank’s most visible ambassadors in the community, she is personally active with some notable organizations. Ms. Drake is currently board chair of the Burchfield Penney Art Center and recently completed her term on the board of Great Lakes Health System of WNY. Over the decades, Ms. Drake has been active on the boards of many notable organization in Western New York, including chairing the Board of Trustees at Buffalo Seminary, the Board of Regents at Canisius College, and the Sister’s Hospital Foundation Board. She is also a past board member of Maria M. Love Convalescent Fund, Bornhava, Ronald McDonald House, Catholic Health, and the Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies.
In recognition of her exemplary leadership and service to the Buffalo community, Ms. Drake was recently awarded an honorary degree from Canisius College at their commencement exercises last month. In 2018, she was highlighted by the Buffalo Jewish Federation as a Difference Maker for her community impact. Ms. Drake was lauded with Buffalo Business First’s Women of Influence Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017.
A role model in banking and philanthropy, she also has been recognized by Business First on its annual Power 150 Women, a group whose talent and influence fuel economic, social, and cultural growth and their Who’s Who in Banking and Finance on the men and women who manage banks and financial institutions in Western New York.
An inspiration to many Buffalonians, Ms. Drake has been recognized by The National Federation for Just Communities with the Community Leaders Award for Service and Volunteerism, by Trocaire College with the Presidents Distinguished Service Award, and Buffalo Seminary with the Semper Fidelis Award and the Outstanding Service Award.
From all of us at the Buffalo Jewish Federation, we wish you a major Mazel Tov on your 50 years at M&T Bank! May you go from strength to strength.
Ezra N. Rich is marketing communications manager at Uniland Development Company and proudly serves on the boards of the Buffalo Jewish Federation, Temple Beth Tzedek, and the Hebrew Benevolent Loan Association of WNY.