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Emilio Botín voted Family Business Leader of the Year 2008

Campden FB's inaugural search to find 2008's Family Business Leader of the Year has been won by Santander chairman Emilio Botín.

The 74-year-old Spanish banking patriarch has beaten NewsCorp's James Murdoch and Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helu into joint second place in an online poll voted for by Campden FB readers.

Botín, whose family has led the bank since 1857, took over from his father as president in 1986. Since then he has turned Santander into one of the largest and most profitable banks in Europe.

In common with many of his rivals, 2008 has been a historic year with early highs followed by the current worrying lows. Yet Boitin has won plaudits for the way he has led the bank through the year.

In June, he gave a revealing insight into his management style and values. "The traditional caution of Santander in risk management has enabled us to avoid the losses that many big banks around the world have had," he said, referring to the bank's low gearing and lack of exposure to toxic subprime assets.

"We have always maintained a low and predictable risk profile and we turn down many transactions that may be profitable but don't fit with our risk policy."

This classic family business approach has enabled the bank to stand tall as Lehman Brothers and the rest were forced to take government bailouts or fall by the wayside.

However, despite snapping up smaller rivals including mortgage lender Bradford & Bingley and building society Alliance & Leicester at knock-down prices, and bullishly suggesting the company would exceed €10 billion in profit this year, Santander has not had it all its own way.

In early November Santander was forced to increase its capital by €7.2 billion through a deeply discounted rights issue as its share price has roughly haved over the course of the year.

Nevertheless, as Botín himself admits, the current financial crisis is "probably the most difficult times seen by a whole generation of bankers," and surviving to the extent that it has should rightly be regarded as a success.

One of the key drivers behind Botín's success is, according to the man himself, the Santander brand, which aims to be the "banner and substance of global differentiation".

We can take part of this differentiation to be the founding family's guiding vision – a vision that has been sadly lacking in financial circles led by managers who have not taken the long-term view and for whose faults we are all paying for at the current time.

Santander can therefore look forward to better times but, for now, we heartily congratulate Senor Botín for a job well done.

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