Third-gen chairman of Santander Emilio Botin has died of a heart attack on Tuesday, at the age of 79 – with the board set to decide on a successor to the iconic Spanish businessman as early as this afternoon.
Botin is credited with turning the domestic bank into the eurozone's largest lender – something that would shield the family business from Spain's future economic woes.
He was still actively involved in the family business right up to his death, reportedly even scrutinizing individual loans made through the lender.
His daughter, Ana Botin, is touted as a top contender to succeed him.
Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy told journalists in parliament the family business leader's death was a “surprise and a blow”, stating he had met with Botin last week and perceived him to be in good health.
Raised in the northern Spanish city that lent its name to Santander, Botin succeeded his father at the helm of the family business in 1986.
Before the turn of the decade he had started a competitive price campaign against domestic rivals, and by 1994, following the acquisition of troubled lender Banesto, Santander had become the country's largest bank.
From there, Botin's strategy turned global, expanding the business first to Latin America, and, in 2004, purchasing Britain's Abbey National.
Ana, one of his six children, is now head of UK operations. A Harvard graduate, she first worked at JPMorgan, but after an eight year stint moved to the family business, where she has stayed for the last 25 years.
Her family connections attracted criticism ahead of her previous re-election to the board of directors, but in spite of this she got the backing of 81% of shareholder.
In a statement released this morning, Santander expressed regret at the passing of its chairman.
Outlining its next course of action, the bank said: “In accordance with the procedures set out in article 24 of the board rules, the appointments and remuneration committee and the board of directors will meet today to appoint a new chairman of the bank.”