Botín: the man and his mission

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The masters of retail bankingGetting back to the Abbey habit | Awards for excellence - Best bank

Emilio Botín is the third generation of the Botín family to run Santander. He became chairman of the bank in 1986 when his father, Emilio Sr, reluctantly stepped down at the age of 83.

Now 71, the current patriarch of the dynasty shows no sign of slowing down. On the day before he spoke to Euromoney's Clive Horwood, he flew into London Heathrow. As soon as he disembarked, he headed off to play golf, his favourite pastime – not to one of the capital's prestige clubs, such as Wentworth or Sunningdale, but to an unassuming public course a few miles from the airport.

But Botín is never really off duty. After the round, he visited the club's pro shop, and asked the professional where he banked. The answer was Abbey. Botín asked where the nearest branch was. It was half a mile up the road. Botín dropped by to check the branch out on the way into London. To this day, the staff at that branch have no idea who their important visitor was.

What distinguishes Santander's style of management?

At board-level, we have vision. But we are also very good at the details. Look at how we present our branches – the colour, the window displays, the logo. These are carefully coordinated across the whole network.

How important is the new head office at Santander City?

We had the idea when we visited our then partner First Fidelity in the US several years ago. We have put 6,500 people together in a much better working environment, with a more international and professional feel. It's very important for the group. We have spent around €600 million, but it is one of the best investments I have ever made. The cost has been almost entirely offset by selling real estate in Madrid; and that process is not finished yet. We have yet to exploit all of the advantages, but it is already yielding some results.

What makes a good retail bank?

The best bank provides the best quality of service to its customers at the best possible price. It's a bit like who is the best supermarket.

Is it right that one of the world's top 10 banks is so much associated with just one person?

Everybody knows that Santander has the best management team of any of its competitors. I could give you the names of 20 people from chief executive Alfredo Saenz to the country heads in Latin America – all of them are brilliant at what they do.

Sitting here now, do you know in your own mind who your successor will be?

[Smiles] As long as I have the confidence of my shareholders, then I am very happy to continue to work for Santander in my current capacity.

You stated that you wanted to reach the top 10 banks in the world. Now you've done that, what is next?

Over the coming years we want Santander to be one of the best five banks in the world. By that, we mean being the best bank for shareholders, driving up our share value and dividend payments, and growing our earnings per share by more than the average of our competitors.  

The masters of retail banking | Getting back to the Abbey habit | Awards for excellence - Best bank