A go-to banker in community

M&T's Atwood `Woody' Collins III is immersed in civic life of Baltimore

May 16, 2007|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,Sun reporter

Atwood "Woody" Collins III has meetings to get to, lots of meetings. The mayor's tax reform task force. The city's economic development board. The Greater Baltimore Committee. The Babe Ruth museum.

A member of a dozen local boards and committees, the banker is omnipresent in Baltimore's civic life. Yet he's been in town only five years - transferred here when M&T Bank Corp. took over Allfirst Financial Inc.

Tomorrow, Collins is slated to move up the civic hierarchy to board chairman of the Greater Baltimore Committee, a key business leadership group that with few exceptions in its 52-year history has been led by people with deep ties to the region. It is a rapid ascent for the Connecticut-born 60-year-old, who approaches everything from tree-planting to port investment with energetic enthusiasm.

"He's gotten himself woven into the community as quickly as anybody I've ever seen from the outside," said Edwin F. Hale Sr., a Baltimore County native who heads First Mariner Bank and sits on two boards with Collins.

That Collins has become a go-to man for volunteer leadership says as much about Baltimore as about him and his employer.

The steady loss of locally headquartered businesses - often to out-of-state conglomerates - has forced civic groups to woo newcomer executives heading regional offices rather than CEOs who hold the purse strings.

"They're still the bosses of the local operations, but they don't have the financial resources to spread around the community," said Donald P. Hutchinson, former president of the GBC and current head of Atlanta-based SunTrust Banks Inc.'s Maryland operations.

But M&T moved quickly to become a local player after the Buffalo, N.Y., bank bought Allfirst in 2002 from its Irish parent in the wake of a scandal involving a rogue trader.

It signed a $75 million deal to put its name on the Ravens stadium for 15 years. It started making donations in the Baltimore area - $2.8 million in 2005, the most recent figure available. It encouraged employees to get involved, and they are on more than 300 boards across the Mid-Atlantic.

And it sent Collins, a role model for corporate engagement, said M&T President Mark J. Czarnecki. "We really focused our business model on being involved in communities," he said. "If we're committed, ... they grow and prosper, and we grow and prosper. That's our philosophy, and Woody's just executing it terrifically."

Collins, president and chief operating officer of M&T's Mid-Atlantic division, insists that he's nothing unusual in his company. But he can talk with ease about the varied challenges facing the city and region, from growth to transportation to taxes. He's convinced, for instance, that the metro area could use its waterways to move people to and from their jobs, easing congestion.

"But I'm not a transportation expert," he added with a self-deprecating grin. "I look at my role at the GBC as a catalyst, not an oracle."

An easygoing man with just a bit of gray dusting his brown hair, Collins joined M&T in 1988. He grew up in Hartford, Conn., and New York City and lived in that region for years while helping the bank integrate acquisitions. When he was tapped to come to Baltimore, he said, it was with a glass-half-full opinion of the area.

Now, he said, he has no intention of leaving. "This is my home."

Collins does have a connection by marriage: His wife, the former Cynthia Mallory Williams, grew up in Baltimore County with her mother and stepfather, Alexander Harvey II, who was a chief judge for the U.S. District Court in Maryland. The judge's brother, F. Barton Harvey Jr., ran Alex. Brown & Sons Inc. in the investment bank's heyday.

The couple opted to live downtown when they moved here, buying a $1.1 million Inner Harbor condo. It's close enough to his Charles Street office to walk, and he does. He thought he would have a better perspective on the city if he were a resident.

"More and more, Baltimore CEOs don't live in the city - they may be very concerned with wherever they are, but not as involved with the city as they were, say, 30 or 40 years ago," said Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the Abell Foundation, who praised Collins' activism. "We suffer from the fact that we don't have that level of involvement and leadership that the city once had."

Collins' level of involvement is notable even compared with other bankers, always a civically active lot. He co-chaired Mayor Sheila Dixon's transition team. He's on the Maryland Port Commission. His board commitments range from the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association to the Kennedy Krieger Institute. As a Baltimore Development Corp. director, he helps make decisions for the city's economic development arm that can change neighborhoods - ranging from eminent domain to redevelopment contracts.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.