When he was 31, Aguirre became the youngest-ever general manager at Chase Manhattan when he took charge of the bank's Spanish office. Later, at Goldman Sachs during the late 1980s and early 1990s, he was involved in almost every large Spanish privatization and M&A transaction. These included the sales of the first tranches of Spain's three largest state-owned companies, Telefónica (1989), Repsol (1990) and Endesa (1991).
He has been a similar success at Merrill Lynch, which he joined in 1994. He masterminded the 1996 acquisition of Spain's leading broker-dealer, FG Inversiones, in perfect time to take advantage of an equities boom.
Claudio Aguirre was born in Madrid in 1955. His father, who died when Claudio was 19, was a naval architect working for the Spanish state holding company INI (now SEPI).
Claudio's mother is from the Domecq sherry family, and Aguirre says that one day he would like become involved in wine-making. From an early age, though, his professional ambitions lay in finance. Although his father insisted that he study naval architecture, after a year of this at Madrid university he switched to economics and business. He later did an MBA at the Instituto de Empresa in Madrid, before starting work at the Banco Internacional de Comercio in 1979.
That year, foreign banks were authorized to set up offices in Spain, and in 1981 Aguirre was recruited by First Chicago. In 1982, after getting married, he moved to London to cover Spanish issuers. He helped originate and execute many of the large syndicated loans out of Spain, as well as the first swap, for Catalan energy company Enher. In 1984 he was headhunted for a similar job at Chase Manhattan.
In 1986, Chase asked Aguirre to return to Madrid to set up an investment banking unit. After two further years of capital markets transactions he was made head of Chase's business in Spain. But he soon found the job "too bureaucratic". So he jumped at an offer from Goldman Sachs to help start its investment banking presence in Spain, where he set about building an M&A team.
At the end of his first year there, Goldman was hired by Banesto to devise its defence against a takeover attempt by Banco de Bilbao, the first hostile takeover bid in Spain.
Aguirre also worked on many of the most prominent cross-border transactions, including the sale of brewing company Cruz Campo to Guinness and of Domecq to Allied Lyons. He also advised Endesa on its acquisition of regional electricity distribution companies.
"By 1994," he recalls, "we had an almost 100% market share in M&A and equities. I felt that having reached such a dominant position, we should move more locally and tackle the second-tier corporates. Basically, I wanted to go back to Spain and build a more local investment bank."
Goldman, however, was determined to keep running Spanish business from London, so in 1994 Aguirre joined Merrill Lynch. The move, he says, was to some extent risky. "At Goldman I had been in a very dominant position whereas at Merrill I had to start from scratch building a team." A year after he joined, though, Merrill was appointed sole global coordinator for the $750 million third tranche of Telefónica. A few months later he recommended that Merrill buy FG Inversiones.
Aguirre moved back to Spain to run it, and integrate it into Merrill Lynch. The $25 million investment soon began to look very shrewd. Three years later competitors were paying $300 million to acquire similar firms.
In 1996, the Spanish equity market boomed and, says Aguirre, "we saw incredible deal flows" as family companies went public. Merrill became the top domestic house for Spanish IPOs and by 1999 it was showing a profit of $150 million. That year Merrill was also jointly mandated with Goldman to advise Repsol - long a Goldman client - on its acquisition of Argentine oil company YPF.
At the end of 1999 Aguirre took charge of wealth management with a brief to refocus the business for very high net worth individuals. "$10 billion came in last year," he recalls, "and I thought I'd be doing the job for three or four years." But as soon as the vacancy occurred in European investment banking, chairman and chief executive David Komansky knew who he wanted to fill it