Santander's powerful patriarch Botin dies, daughter named successor

Wed Sep 10, 2014 2:41pm EDT
 
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By Sonya Dowsett and Sarah White

MADRID (Reuters) - Banco Santander (SAN.MC: Quote) named Ana Botin as its new head on Wednesday after her father Emilio's sudden death, making her one of the top women in banking and continuing her family's century-old management of what is now the euro zone's biggest lender.

Botin, who recently restructured Santander's UK division ahead of a probably stock market listing, had long been tipped to take over from Emilio, who turned the bank during his 28 years at the helm from the small domestic lender run by his father into a global financial institution.

The succession by the fourth generation of the family happened sooner than expected, after Santander announced earlier on Wednesday that Emilio had died at the age of 79 from a heart attack.

Now, his daughter, aged 53 and a longtime investment and retail banker who speaks five languages, will be under pressure to do at least as well. She will navigate the bank through an upcoming industry health check by the European Central Bank which experts say it should pass. Longer term, investors expect her to boost the profitability of the bank to sustain its hefty dividend, in addition to seeking new markets.

"The appointments and remuneration committee considered Ana Botin is the most appropriate person, given her personal and professional qualities, experience, track record in the group and her unanimous recognition both in Spain and internationally," the bank said following a board meeting.

Botin's appointment is viewed as controversial by some who contest the family's longtime management of the bank, even though they now own only 2 percent of its shares. The implosion of Portugal's Banco Espirito Santo bank, whose founding family's holdings are being investigated for financial irregularities, has also cast a pall over corporate dynasties.

"Succession shouldn't just be saying 'my daughter's going to take over'," said a corporate governance expert at a global asset manager which owns Santander shares, speaking on condition of anonymity before Ana Botin's appointment.

But many said Botin, who has spent most of the last 25 years at Santander, would provide welcome continuity at a bank whose low-risk profile and international expansion helped protect it from southern Europe's recent crippling economic downturn.   Continued...

 
Executive Chairman of Spain's Santander Emilio Botin takes part in the Annual General Meeting of Shareholders in Santander in this March 28, 2014 file photo.  REUTERS/Vincent West/Files