Santander Bids Final Farewell to Native Son Emilio Botin

The city of Santander bid farewell to its native son Emilio Botin as he was taken to his final resting place on a tree-lined estate that’s been in his family for 300 years.

The Banco Santander SA chairman, who died in Madrid of a heart attack on the night of Sept. 9 at the age of 79, is to be interred beside his father and grandfather in a white mausoleum in Puente San Miguel, 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the northern Spanish city of Santander where he was born.

Botin’s hearse entered the estate preceded by six vehicles bedecked with wreaths as onlookers and mourners applauded the banker who transformed the port city’s 157-year-old lender into a global giant. Wearing a black suit and a red scarf, his daughter Ana Patricia, named yesterday to succeed him as chairman, walked with relatives toward the chapel-like building where Botin will rest.

“This is a historic event for the town, the region and further afield,” said Elvira Centeno, 35, who came to watch the event with her sister Maria del Carmen and nephew. “He was a powerful person who influenced the economy and he’ll be remembered well.”

Santander offices across the country fell to a hush today as employees observed a minute’s silence. At the firm’s branch in its historic headquarters in Santander, where Botin began his banking career, about 40 staff members dressed in the group’s red-and-black colors formed a circle in the building’s atrium at noon, heads bowed, while customers looked on in silence.

Era’s End

Condolences have flooded in from Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia. ABC newspaper published commiseration notices today from Fiat SpA Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne and Chairman John Elkann alongside those from Santander’s city hall and Marques de Valdecilla hospital, which the Botin family foundation has supported with donations.

His brother Jaime took to the pages of El Pais newspaper to pen a tribute, saying money meant nothing to Botin even though he was “born with the talent for multiplying it.” Botin had the “gift that Zeus gave to Tiresias, of being able to see the future,” wrote Jaime Botin, who’s the main shareholder in Bankinter SA, another Spanish lender.

Some people saw in Botin’s death another sign that an era of Spanish history is ending in a year that has also seen the abdication of King Juan Carlos and the passing of Adolfo Suarez, the prime minister who led the nation into democracy in the 1970s after the rule of General Francisco Franco.

Santander Succession

“It was the generation that made the Spanish transition to democracy,” said Mauro Guillen, a professor of management and international relations at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania who has published a history of Banco Santander. “This is the end of an era, a whole generation.”

Botin will be succeeded at the bank by his daughter Ana Patricia, 53, chief executive officer of Santander’s U.K. unit. The eldest of Botin’s six children, with 26 years of service at Santander, she takes over at the bank with 1.2 trillion euros ($1.6 trillion) of assets that administers lenders in markets from the U.K. to Brazil, the U.S. and Poland as well as Spain.

The mother of three joins the highest echelons of global finance, and extends the role of the Botin family, which owns 2 percent of the bank.

She will be the fourth Botin to hold the Santander chairmanship and be at the head of a dynasty that has helped run the bank since at least 1895.

City Ties

Santander was founded in 1857 to serve merchants trading from the port on Spain’s Cantabrian coast as the region saw an industrial boom spurred by the railroad and mining. Rafael Botin Aguirre, brother of Emilio’s great-grandfather, became the first family member with an executive role at the bank when he was named a managing director in 1895.

The family’s links to the city have remained strong even after Botin built Santander into Europe’s second-largest bank by market value.

From the mansion called El Promontorio, or The Promontory, donated to the family foundation in 2006, to the construction of the Botin Center on Santander’s waterfront set to rival Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum, the city bears the Botins’ mark.

Santander holds board meetings at its historic offices that overlook the new arts center and Botin was a supporter of Racing Santander soccer club.

“Botin has created one of the most important banks in the world, but he still invested in Santander,” said Martin Saenz, 75, a local resident, standing outside the Botin Center, covered in scaffolding. “This is a work to commemorate his life. It’s a real shame that he won’t be able to see it.”

Santander’s citizens are shocked by Botin’s death, said Inigo de la Serna, the city’s mayor, in an interview yesterday with Onda Cero radio. “Emilio Botin has been an essential figure in the history of this city,” he said.

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