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February 1999

Erkie Kailbourne
A Man with Small Town Roots

 

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?

Growing Up

He was raised in Wellsville, New York—the 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.

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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.”

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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 good times.”

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.”

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At graduation from Wellsville High School in 1959.

His early employment

The first job he had was working for Reuning’s 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 Reuning’s 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.

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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 club’s 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.

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With Ralph Wilson—helping 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.”

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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 meeting—Walking 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 Fleet’s 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.

Family Life

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.”

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Erkie’s 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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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Erkie has golfed with the best, Arnold Palmer,
Chi Chi Rodriguez and Ray Floyd. What a foursome!

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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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