You won't find Spanish banking patriarch Emilio Bot?n watching football on Sundays. The 67-year-old chairman of Santander Central Hispano (SCH) is famous for donning his elegant pinstripes and hustling into the office for weekly strategy sessions with his top brass. Even though Bot?n had a victorious 2001, the hard-driving boss is still bent on overtaking the competition. "We want to be among the best-managed banks in the world--and in the global top 10 in market capitalization," he says. If that means working on Sunday, so be it.
At No. 19 globally, with a market capitalization of $43 billion, SCH still has a ways to go. But Bot?n, a fourth-generation manager from the bank's founding family, has already proven himself to be one of Europe's top financiers. Since taking charge of SCH in 1986, Bot?n has catapulted Spain's No. 6 bank in assets to No. 1 in both Spain and Latin America. And the bank (SBP) is one of Europe's most profitable. In 2001, SCH boosted net income 10%, to $2.3 billion, while many European peers saw profits slide because of contracting economies and markets. Even in Latin America, where SCH set aside $1.1 billion in reserves to cover risks at its Argentina unit Banco Rio de la Plata, net income last year soared 50%, to $1.5 billion, thanks to powerful growth in Brazil and Mexico.
Bot?n proved doubters wrong by making his audacious $5 billion takeover of Brazil's Banespa pay quick dividends. When Santander took a 30% stake in the bank in November, 2000, analysts fretted Bot?n paid too rich a price and that it might have hidden problems. But last year, Banespa earned $420 million and is now on track to meet the bank's forecasted return on investment of 17% by 2003. And though economic growth in Latin America has averaged a sluggish 1.2% annually since 1999, Bot?n has more than doubled profits over the same period, through tough cost control and by making sure retail, asset management, and capital market businesses grew faster than costs. "Brazil was absolutely important for us," he says.
Last year, Bot?n also emerged triumphant after a power struggle with top managers from merger partner Banco Central Hispano. The two big banks fused in a $9.6 billion deal in 1999, creating a triumvirate at the top with two co-chairmen and a chief executive. But constant battling among the three sapped momentum and eroded market share. Bot?n, whose family holds a 2.9% stake in the bank, finally succeeded in ousting co-chairman Jose Maria Amusategui and CEO Angel Corcostegui. Then he brought his daughter, Ana Patricia, a well-regarded banker in her own right, back as chief executive of wholly owned Banesto, another large Spanish retail bank.
Now SCH's sole boss, Bot?n aims to recoup lost ground by wringing excessive costs out of the bank and grooming it for another big acquisition. "We must do things better. We have the ideas and the management will," says Bot?n. With the help of partner Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC, the Spaniard hints, a cross-border takeover of a weaker European bank might be attractive. Bot?n also looks to expand in the U.S., where SCH currently has investment, corporate, and private-banking operations.
The Cantabrian manager is well-known for his obsession with growth and performance. Bot?n routinely visits branches, poking his nose into every corner of the business--whether sitting in on credit-risk sessions for midsize clients or inquiring about the cost of a golf ball being given away as part of a promotion. "Bot?n has an entrepreneurial approach that is not common in banking," says Chief Executive Alfredo Saenz, who has worked closely with Bot?n for 10 years.
Still clocking 12-hour days, Bot?n manages to take his recreation seriously, too, often rising at the crack of dawn for golf, swimming, or cycling. And he's now breaking ground on a sprawling SCH campus with extensive sports facilities outside Madrid. Developing more stamina to conquer the competition: That's what counts for this indefatigable banker.