by Neeti ELLIS
His name is Erland E. Kailbourne, Erkie for short, and for the past several
months his name has repeatedly been in the local headlines. He retired from Fleet National
Bank as its Chairman and CEO in December and has been acknowledged for his great
accomplishments and leadership as a prominent banker. Kailbourne also made news as he
headed the highly successful Business Backs the Bills campaign that has been
credited with keeping the Bills in Buffalo.
A banker, a businessman, Vice Chair of the SUNY Board of Trustees, director of many
institutions, and a man known throughout Upstate New York... but who really is Erkie
Kailbourne, where did he come from and how did he become the man he is today?
He was raised in Wellsville, New Yorkthe same community in which Sabres owner
John Rigas grew up. His father was the Chief Financial Officer for an oil and gas
equipment manufacturer and his mother was a housewife. Erkie has a younger brother, Kevin,
who is now the Zone Sergeant of the New York State Police in the Southern Tier.
Proud mother Donna and father Erland show off their 1 year old Erkie.
As the story goes, his parents felt that the name Erland Kailbourne was a
little too formal. So they played around with the letters in both the first and last name
and ended up with Erkie even before the game of Scrabble was invented.
My parents were both hard workers who shared with my brother and me their
hardships living through the depression. They had a strong commitment to their
church, says Erkie. I remember my parents stressing that we should always
treat our neighbors the way that we would want to be treated.
Ready to defend his country at age 3.
Already eyeing the value of football at 7 years old.
I also remember our backyard being the center of activity. We always had a ball
game of some sort going on. We played baseball, football and stickball. Baseball was my
favorite. I made the Varsity baseball team my freshman year of high school. Those were
Erkie relates that growing up in a small town is what formed his way of life. In
a small town such as Wellsville, everyone knows everyone. With the limited amount of
resources available the whole town worked together to advance the community. There were
sound friendships made without hidden agendas. If there was a way that someone could help
another person or community group, they would. I carried this experience and philosophy
with me throughout my career.
At graduation from Wellsville High School in 1959.
His early employment
The first job he had was working for Reunings Bakery, washing pots and pans. He
began in the eighth grade and he worked there through high school. It was here that he met
Carl Reuning who was the President of First Trust Union Bank. He also met the Rigas family
who owned the local Texas Hot Restaurant to which the bakery delivered rolls.
In high school, while Erkie worked for Reunings Bakery, he also mopped floors at
a Greek soda fountain called Cretekos. And in the summer, he worked at the Wellsville
Country Club as a caddie. When he was a senior, he decided to stop playing sports in order
to find a job that would allow him to save up and work through college. Erkie went to
Alfred State College and graduated in 1961. Working at the Wellsville Country Club helped
him pay for his schooling.
Proudly serving his country in the U.S. Army in 1963.
Erkie remembers when he got his first break. The manager of the club asked
Erkie if he would like to tend bar. He was very happy as this meant that he would have
good, steady employment. He vividly remembers his very first night at the bar when a
patron arrived who had obviously been at several bars previously. The patron created a
significant challenge for Erkie as Erkie tried to get him to accept a ride home. The
patron would have none of it.
The next morning Erkie received a phone call from his manager who was obviously upset.
The club manager wanted to know how this patron ended up on the front lawn of the state
police station. Needless to say, Erkie thought that his job was in peril. However, by
refusing to serve the patron, he was exonerated. Good jobs like this were hard to come by,
especially when you are working your way through college. Erkie was pleased that things
had worked out.
I learned a great deal from tending bar at the country club. I believe that I got
my Ph.D. in Human Psychology from that experience. The country club was the
gathering place for local business people who stopped in after work for a friendly game of
cards. Erkie would listen to these people negotiate deals. He also learned a great deal
about human behavior as he watched the mingling of people as he tended bar at the
clubs social events. You really do see a great deal as a bar tender.
Starting his career
At the Wellsville Country Club Erkie met Walt Taber, who not only enjoyed golf, but was
the Executive Vice President for First Trust Union Bank. He convinced Erkie that one day
he should work for the bank. When Erkie finished college he took Walt Taber up on his
offer. The bank had a new management training program. Unfortunately, Erkie was spending
more time on the teller line than in the training program and knew that promotions were a
long way off.
With Ralph Wilsonhelping to update the Ralph Wilson Stadium.
One of my golfing buddies, Ron Anderson, was a National Bank Examiner and he
encouraged me to take the Treasury Department exam and join the Comptroller of the
Currency. After passing the exam, in 1962 Erkie worked in the Philadelphia and in
the New York City regions gaining experience in the major money center banks. Then, in
1966, Erkie was one of sixteen examiners selected to work internationally to examine
branches of American banks that had offices overseas. These banks included Citicorp,
Chase, First Chicago and Bank of America.
During most of 1966 he worked in every major capital from London through the European
continent to Beirut. Beirut, at that time, was a significant center of finance because all
of the petro dollars were cycled through that capital. I got my Ph.D. in Banking
from this international experience.
At the controls of his plane Erkie checks on the safety of his passengers.
Back to Western New York
During his examining years Erkie met his wife, Pauline, on a weekend visit back to
Wellsville. Like many young couples today, they met at a local gin mill. She had recently
come to Wellsville from Pennsylvania and had taken a job with Air Preheater, which was a
part of Combustion Engineering, Inc. They married in 1965.
In 1967 he was asked to go to South America for a nine month tour. After discussions
with his bride, they decided that he would not accept the offer. It was time to stay
closer to home.
So in 1967 he returned to First Trust Union Bank. At this time the bank had acquired a
couple of small banks in the Southern Tier. Walt Taber, who was spearheading the
acquisition project, recruited him to develop a credit department and to help him and Carl
Reuning continue on the acquisition trail. Additional banks in Cuba, Franklinville,
Salamanca and Randolph were acquired as well as de novo operations opened in Olean,
Yorkshire and Jamestown.
In 1973 First Trust Union Bank joined Security New York State Corp which was
headquartered in Rochester and had banks in Corning, Ithaca, Auburn, Seneca Falls, Watkins
Glen and LeRoy. For a thirty-one year old this was a pretty heady experience as Erkie was
named a Director of the holding company. I remember my first board
meetingWalking into the boardroom there were Archie McCardel, CEO of Xerox, Roy
Park, who was listed on the Forbes 400, Dr. McEvoy, who was the President of Corning
Glass, the Chairman of Ritter Pfauder Companies and the Presidents of the University of
Rochester, Rochester Gas & Electric and Bausch & Lomb.
By 1981 Erkie was named President of the lead institution Security Trust Company and
had relocated to Rochester, NY and the merger game was on.
Second half of his career I am very lucky to have survived the corporate banking
world of mergers. Norstar Bancorp acquired Security New York State in 1984 in one of
the first unfriendly takeovers in the industry. However, Erkie survived and
was named Chairman & CEO of Security Norstar and was named Chairman & CEO of
Norstar Bank, N.A. when Norstar merged its Buffalo and Rochester banks in 1987. In 1993 he
was named Chairman and CEO of Fleet Bank, a $16 billion banking subsidiary of Fleet
Financial Group headquartered in Albany, which included all of Fleets statewide
operations from Long Island to Western New York.
Erkie was also active in a number of professional and community organizations during
his time with Fleet. He served as a national director of Robert Morris Associates (an
organization of commercial loan officers) and as Chairman of its Empire Chapter. He was a
director of the New York Business Development Corp., the Trooper Foundation State of New
York, the Business Council of New York State and past director of both the Buffalo and
Rochester Chambers of Commerce, as well as Past Chairman of the New York Bankers
Association. He served on the board of the University of Buffalo Foundation as well as the
University of Albany Foundation. He is also Vice Chairman of the State University of New
York and served 16 years as a Director of Chatauqua Airlines, a US Air commuter line.
It is easy to tell that Erkie draws strength from his family. My family has been
extremely supportive through it all. I have been blessed with a supportive and loving
bride of 33 years and three wonderful children. My daughter Heather is 28 years old and a
graduate of the University of Buffalo. She works for EDS out of Dallas, Texas. She is my
right seat co-pilot as she shares my passion for flying.
Erkies 40 year old favorite Corvette.
My son David is 27 years old and a graduate of Bowling Green. David lives and
works in Chicago and is a securities trader for a Dallas investment firm in Chicago. David
is my golfing buddy as he shares my passion for golf.
Erkie and Pauline with David, Heather and Troy.
Troy is my 26 year old son who received his M.S. in Education from Canisius
College. Troy loves the outdoors and I look forward to doing some hunting and fishing with
him in my retirement years.
A successful hunt with son Troy and good friend Tom Wilmot.
What he has learned through life
I have been blessed with remarkable opportunities and adventures. People
often ask Erkie his philosophy on how to live life. It is easy. Treat others as you want
to be treated. I often used this philosophy in my business dealings. If I were
negotiating a transaction I would always put myself in their shoes when dealing with them.
I would do my best to be understanding and find ways to work together for the common goal.
I also focus on the importance of teamwork. From the various positions I have held and the
numerous colleagues that I have worked with, I know that you are only as good as the
people who work for you. I have been blessed to work with some of the most talented and
committed people. The third lesson is that you always have something to learn. And as I
tell my kids, do what you want to do, but do it well.
Erkie has golfed with the best, Arnold
Fishing for a favorite golf ball.
As I retire, I look forward to more time to spend with my wife and children.
However, I will miss all of the great employees and colleagues that I had a chance to work
with. I will not forget the people that I have met along the way and I will not stop
learning all that life has to teach me.
Neeti Ellis is the Community Relations Representative for Fleet Financial Group.
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