Ana Botín: the world’s most powerful woman banker

The new head of Banco Santander has been welcomed by the global financial community

Ana Botín during an extraordinary meeting of shareholders on Monday.
Ana Botín during an extraordinary meeting of shareholders on Monday.ULY MARTÍN

Ana Botín began her first day at work as chairwoman of Banco Santander on Monday, overseeing a special board meeting that will begin to chart the future of the bank under her leadership after the death of her father Emilio Botín, the bank’s former chairman, on September 9.

In taking over at the euro zone’s biggest lender, Botín joins a tiny elite of women, not just in Spain, but in Europe: a recent survey by financial news agency Bloomberg shows that women occupy just five percent of management positions in the continent’s 10 leading banks.

In global terms, Botín belongs to an even more exclusive club, with just two other women leading larger companies: Virginia Rometty, who heads IBM, and Indra Nooyi at Pepsico.

In Spain, around 11 percent of the top jobs in the companies that make up the Ibex 35 share index are occupied by women, even though a third of their workforce is female. And there are just three women among the 100 best-paid CEOs: Botín (€4.8 million), Eva Castillo of Telefónica Europe (€3.2 million), and the president of Bankinter, María Dolores Dancausa (€1 million).

Just two other women lead larger companies than Botín: Virginia Rometty at IBM and Indra Nooyi at Pepsico

It would be no overstatement to put Botín among the top three most powerful women in finance in the world, along with Christine Lagarde at the IMF and Janet Yellen at the Federal Reserve. Along with those two, she will also now be included in Forbes magazine’s list of the most powerful women in the world, along with Angela Merkel, Queen Elizabeth II, Melinda Gates and Hillary Clinton.

Representing the fourth generation of the family to head Santander, Botín is widely considered the best person for the job. “She is one of the country’s most capable professionals, she has shown her worth as an executive, banker, and somebody who can form teams and open new markets. She deserves the presidency of the bank more than anybody,” says Ana María Llopis, president of supermarket chain Día, who has worked with Botín.

Llopis says she doesn’t believe that being the daughter of the former chairman will be an obstacle in taking over the running of the bank. “Her work as chairwoman of Santander UK, as well as her long background and experience in a range of financial sectors will help overcome any barriers,” says Llopis.

Her drive, leadership skills, and experience are far more important than her having the right surname”

Enrique Casanueva, president of JPMorgan in Spain and Portugal, worked under Botín at the division she set up in the early 1990s, Santander Investment. “She is the best person for the job, and shareholders and staff will benefit. Her drive, leadership skills, and experience are far more important than her having the right surname. Ford was run by a member of the family on the basis that this was best for shareholders.”

Her appointment has also been welcomed outside Spain. “Ana Botín is one of the most respected bankers in the world,” said Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs in a statement last week. Josef Ackermann, the former CEO of Deutsche Bank, told Bloomberg that he believed Botín was the right choice for the job: “Over the course of her career she has overcome all sorts of obstacles that have made her tougher and ready for this role.”

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