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Business Analysis & Features

Santander's patriarch does things his own sweet way

In the Spotlight: Emilio Botin

Emilio Botin, the patriarch of Banco Santander, has made a habit of defying gravity. Yesterday the company he heads was at it again, beating the market's profit forecasts and taking in billions in new deposits despite the concerns about Spain's sovereign debt.

Mr Botin is the third generation of a Cantabrian banking family who between them transformed a little local bank into not only Spain's top banking group but the biggest in the eurozone, and number two in Europe as a whole, where only HSBC is bigger.

While rivals have fallen by the wayside, Santander has sailed on. It was part of the disastrous Royal Bank of Scotland led takeover and break-up of ABN Amro. That deal all but destroyed RBS and Fortis, both of which have been in receipt of huge amounts of state cash just to keep the show on the road. Not Mr Botin's Santander, which managed to get out of the transaction strengthened, taking control of all of the good parts and none of the bad.

Now Mr Botin, who still nurses a burning ambition for his company, is becoming a figure of high influence in UK banking circles, although the ageing chief leaves the day-to-day work of running the business to his front men.

Santander has not been without critics. The preponderance of Botins on the board would not go down well in London were Santander listed in Britain, and there have been several court cases with disgruntled former executives and investors.

But for all the criticism Santander appears to be in rude health. That's not something that can be said for any number of rivals with more conventional corporate structures.