Gary Crosby, who handled financial matters for Buffalo Public Schools for five years, will serve as interim CEO. First Niagara says the decision for Koelmel to resign was mutually agreed upon.
"John Koelmel has guided the company's transformation from a local thrift to a leading northeast banking franchise, and led First Niagara during a period of difficult economic conditions and financial industry turmoil," Chairman of the Board, G. Thomas Bowers, said. "The Board and I are grateful to John for his leadership through this critical period in our history and for positioning us so that we can focus on enhancing shareholder value through continuing organic growth and the efficient operation of the business we have today. We are committed to maintaining our position as a leading independent banking organization with a deep-seated focus on service to our customers and communities and to building value for our shareholders."
Mr. Koelmel said, "I highly value the opportunity to have driven First Niagara's rapid growth over the last six years and to position it as one of the top regional banking franchises in the Northeast. And I thank all 6,000 of my teammates for their tremendous support. I agree with the Board that it's in the best interests of the organization under present circumstances to move forward with new leadership."
Tony Ogorek of Ogorek Wealth Management says the decision likely came about as the bank's performance has been lagging. "If you just look at stock performance over the last five years, First Niagara stock has been down 30 percent, while M&T stock is up 30 percent," explains Ogorek. "The stock market has been up 20 percent." Ogorek adds earnings have been declining and Koelmel's vision of expanding First Niagara footprint has not looked kindly upon that vision.
Ogorek says the growth came from shareholders. "I just think the patience with the acquisition strategy, which diluted shareholder value, became rather thin," notes Ogorek. "It probably got to a point where the bank was saying 'We're not necessarily comfortable with the direction we're going,' and the CEO says 'If you're not comfortable about that direction, maybe it's time for a parting of the ways.'"
"Gary Crosby is a highly respected executive with decades of leadership experience in banking, technology, finance and the public sector," said Bowers. "He has significant and diverse operational, business, and leadership experience and, for the past four years, has been a valued advisor to the Board and his colleagues on the Management Committee. We are fortunate to have someone of Gary's caliber to lead First Niagara, and we anticipate a smooth and seamless transition. In his role as Chief Banking Officer, Dan Cantara will continue to oversee all customer-facing businesses. He and his team have a proven track record of executing on strategies aimed at growing and further deepening customer relationships, driving revenue and generating positive operating leverage."
Crosby joined First Niagara in 2009, and has served as its Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative and Operating Officer. In this role, Crosby has overseen the successful build-out of the infrastructure to support the company's growth, with particular focus on enterprise risk management, technology, and operations.