Still a champion: Santander’s Ana Botin
Beware a banking boss whose golf handicap is lower than their shirt size, they say. However, Ana Botin might just be the exception to the rule.
Santander’s £9m-a-year executive chairman knows her way around a balance sheet almost as well as she does the golf links.
Twice a junior champion and a member of America’s hallowed Augusta National, home of the US Masters, to this day she maintains an impressive eight handicap.
But then what would you expect from someone who received one-to-one coaching from her late brother-in-law, Spanish golfing genius Severiano Ballesteros?
Fragrant Ana, or Ana Patricia Botín-Sanz de Sautuola if we’re being precise, is, in footballing terms, what we call Primera Liga.
She is the fourth generation to head up Spain’s largest bank and an habitué of those ‘world’s most powerful…’ lists. She has crow-black hair, ‘come-hither’ eyes and more style than Jackie O.
Educated at St Mary’s School in Ascot, she speaks in cut-glass English vowels, albeit with a beguiling Iberian twang, and possesses that unique ability to make people believe they’re the only person in the room. Greying City commentators simply melt in her presence.
Her chatty, outgoing nature is in direct odds with her deceased father Emilio, whom she succeeded in 2014. While ‘El Presidente’ was an enigmatic, inward figure, whose social life was confined to Spanish royals and fading aristocrats, Botin is a more international creature.
Close friends include former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, David Cameron and Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim. Born the eldest of six (sister Carmen was married to Seve) her Basque mother Palomo – the Marchioness of O’Shea – is an accomplished pianist and generous patron of Spanish arts.
Ana’s elite training began in America where her papa packed her off after to school to take an economics degree in Philadelphia. A job in investment banking followed at JP Morgan, spending eight years in New York before returning to Madrid in 1988 to work at Santander.
Defying Spanish banking’s overwhelmingly male-dominated culture, Ana rose quickly through the ranks, soon establishing herself as her father’s heir apparent. In 1999, newspaper El Pais declared her Spain’s most powerful woman.
But her snowballing profile would soon to count against her. During this time her father was bidding for Banco Central Hispano. The bank’s executives disliked the way Ana was being groomed as their future boss. Never one to let anything get in the way of a deal, Botin’s padre ruthlessly gave his daughter 24 hours to clear her desk.
She spent her time banished in the wilderness launching a technology advisory business and running a small private equity firm.
Three years later, she returned to the family biz to head one of Santander’s main retail businesses, Banesto, making her only the second woman to run a bank in Spain. In 2010 she was sent to London to run Santander’s UK arm, replacing Antonio Horta Osorio, now chief at Lloyds.
When Emilio died unexpectedly in 2014 at 79, she found out via a late-night phone call. There was a scramble to charter a plane to Madrid to stake her claim as his replacement. Within hours of an emergency board meeting, she was installed as executive chairman.
She scoffs at the suggestion the dynastic succession will continue when she steps down, though it’s possible she’s just being a protective mother. She has three sons, all of whom work in the banking industry. Their father Guillermo, the son of a wealthy Andalusian landowner, whom Ana’s been married to for 35 years, is also in finance.
They live in Madrid, but keep a £25 million, six-bedroom crash pad in Belgravia. Botin estimates she spends 100 days in Spain, 100 days in London, and the rest jet-setting around the globe.
Any time she gets away from the office – when not swinging the golf sticks – she enjoys watching box sets of Game Of Thrones.
Compulsive? Driven? Si! But also rather magnifico, no?