Author: Luca Ventura


By Luca Ventura

Appointed as chief executive of Santander in 2002, Alfredo Sáenz took less than a decade to turn the Spanish domestic lender into a multinational giant with operations in 40 countries.

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New CEO Marín kept a low profile at Santander

Together with the executive chairman Emilio Botín, Sáenz managed to nearly quadruple the group’s capitalization, making it the top bank retailer in the eurozone.

On April 29, Sáenz announced his resignation, but the news came as no big surprise. His tenure at Santander had been in question since 2009, when he was convicted of fraud and making false claims while chairman of Banesto bank in the early 1990s. He was pardoned by the government in 2011, but in February the country’s supreme court partially overturned that decision, leaving him exposed to a possible ban from the banking industry by Spain’s central bank.

Whereas the departure of 70-year-old Sáenz was considered only a matter of time, few could have anticipated that his replacement would be the head of Santander’s private banking and asset management division, the relatively unknown Javier Marín. A former personal aide of Emilio Botín who has worked at Santander since 1991, Marín, 47, has always kept a distinctly low-key profile in comparison to other executives and senior figures on the board.

For Santander, the shift in command comes at a very critical time. Marín’s skills will be especially tested in Latin America, where Santander earns more than half of its net income and the economic slowdown has taken a toll on its bottom line.

Nevertheless, according to Michael Symonds, a credit analyst at Daiwa Capital Markets, the chairman ultimately pulls the strings, “and so the change in CEO is not likely to herald a major shift in strategy.”

Having said that, Symonds continues: “With growth at the group’s Latin American operations petering out and activities in other key markets such as Spain and UK still under pressure, the challenges that the new CEO will have to face remain significant.”