Susana Rodríguez Vidarte hit the headlines five years ago when she became the first woman dean at Spain's prestigious business school La Comercial--a post traditionally filled by men. Now she has become a beacon for professional women throughout Europe, following her May appointment to the board of Spain's No. 2 bank, Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria. Rodríguez, 47, an expert in operational planning and advanced management control, is the first woman nonfamily member in Spain to sit on the board of a major Spanish company.
Rodríguez' appointment was part of a move to restore BBVA's reputation, following a slush-fund scandal that prompted 19 board members to resign in March and April. Now BBVA--one of Europe's top banks, with $276 billion in assets--is pushing to set a new global standard in corporate governance by appointing independent board members with impeccable credentials--like Rodríguez. She insists a board's job is to look after the interests of shareholders large and small and ensure that board recommendations are actually carried out by management. "That wasn't standard practice before boards began to bring in more outsiders," says Bilbao-born Rodríguez.
Rodríguez, a mother of four who plows through management books in her spare time, will remain in Bilbao at La Comercial, part of Deusto University, where she has been grooming Spain's future managers for the past 24 years as a teacher. "We began preparing students to be European managers when the European Union was just a distant plan," she says. "The students didn't balk. It was as if they could see the future." With her appointment to BBVA, La Comercial's talented academic chief is forging a modern Spanish economy on more than one front.