BUFFALO, N.Y., March 19, 2013 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- First Niagara Financial Group (Nasdaq:FNFG) today announced that its Board of Directors, at its regularly scheduled March 19 th meeting, appointed Gary M. Crosby, 59, to serve as interim President and Chief Executive Officer. Mr. Crosby currently is Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative and Operations Officer of First Niagara. The appointment of Mr. Crosby follows the mutually agreed upon departure of John R. Koelmel, as First Niagara's President, Chief Executive Officer and Board member, effective immediately. A special committee of the Board's independent directors has been formed to initiate a search for a permanent President and CEO. The special committee will be chaired by board member Nathaniel Woodson, and will conduct a thorough and expeditious search, considering both internal and external candidates. An executive search firm will be retained to assist in the CEO selection process. "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."