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Merger lessons from Spain

The Spanish have proved themselves masters of the bank merger. Successfully integrating two differing cultural entities, the merged Banco Santander Central Hispano has within a year become a European force to be reckoned with. Neighbours take note.

The old Banco Santander did not always have a chief executive to act as second in command to its powerful chairman Emilio Botín. Botín was hands-on and other senior executives were assigned tasks when necessary. But as Santander grew in the 1990s, Botín saw the need to bring in new talent.

He was particularly keen to have Ángel Corcóstegui, chief executive of Banco Central Hispano, work at Santander. One story has it that he asked him to join three years ago and Corcóstegui replied: "OK but can I bring my team?" "Certainly," replied Botín, "who does it consist of?" "The entire bank," said Corcóstegui in declining the offer. The result, say humorists, was that Botín had to buy the whole of BCH in order to get Corcóstegui.

It's an appealing image: the mild Cocóstegui astonishing the powerful and intimidating Botín with a softly-spoken rejoinder.Corcóstegui says the story is an exaggeration.

The two men are very different. But Botín, the deal-making autocrat and Corcóstegui, the more thoughtful and detail-oriented manager are making the new BSCH into a powerful new force among European banks, an influential player in takeovers in France and the UK.

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