Ana Patricia Botin, named chairman of Banco Santander SA (SAN), becomes the most powerful woman in European banking, succeeding her father a day after his death.

Santander's board today named Botin, 53, to the top executive post at Europe's second-biggest bank by market value in a unanimous vote. Botin, who is giving up her post as chief executive officer of Santander's U.K. business, replaces her father Emilio who died of a heart attack at the age of 79.

Ana Botin, the eldest of Botin's six children with 26 years of service at Santander, 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 dynasty of the Botin family, which owns 2 percent of the bank and has helped run the lender since at least 1895.

"Family ownership has been a blessing," said Peter Braendle, who manages 500 million euros in European equities, including Santander, at Swisscanto Asset Management AG in Zurich.

"Ana has had a preparation that didn't start five years ago. It began a long time ago and it was clearly very carefully planned."

After joining Santander in 1988, Ana Botin led acquisitions in Latin America in the 1990s and ran the Banesto Spanish retail unit before becoming CEO of Santander's U.K. unit in 2010. The British business has been driving the bank's return to earnings growth as Santander's home market emerges from an economic slump.

Botin Heritage

"She's done very well," Sanford "Sandy" Weill, the former head of Citigroup Inc., said by phone. "She went to a place where they didn't have any past background in and she's built a very, very good presence where it represents a decent part of the company's earnings."

The leadership change comes less than 18 months after Javier Marin, 48, took over as chief executive officer. The appointment was a surprise at the time because he hadn't led any of the lender's core retail banking activities.

Santander shares have gained 42 percent since Marin was named CEO, compared with an 19 percent gain in the benchmark STOXX Europe 600 Banks Index over the same period.

The shares today fell 0.7 percent to 7.70 euros in Madrid, valuing the bank at about 92.3 billion euros.

By her own account, Ana Botin has given little thought to her lineage since joining the bank's board 26 years ago.

Banking Career

She grew up in a "normal" household in the Spanish port city of Santander where she made her own bed and her father would sometimes eat sardines from a can for his breakfast, Santander's in-house magazine reported in 2005. She never considered "whether I'm a Botin or not" while working at the bank, the magazine quoted her as saying.

She also said she wanted women to have the same opportunities as men. At Banesto, which she was running at the time, she tried to avoid having the bank hold meetings after 7pm to prevent disruption to families.

She was educated at Santander's Slaves of the Sacred Heart school and also in Switzerland and the U.K. and excelled at golf, becoming Spain's junior champion in 1973 and 1974. She speaks five languages and graduated in economics from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania.

Her banking career began immediately after college. She worked at J.P. Morgan, now part of JPMorgan Chase & Co., first in Madrid and then in New York, becoming a vice president at 24.

Santander U.K.

In her new post, she's assuming the most senior executive role by a woman at a large European bank. Lenders in Europe had almost no women in their top management teams at the onset of the financial crisis and while that is changing, although their corporate-suite rise has been slower than in industries such as consumer goods and energy, McKinsey & Co. data show.

At the euro-area's 10 largest banks by market value, women held about 5 percent of key executive jobs as of February, according to their filings. That was a third of the proportion at their 10 largest U.S. counterparts, which had 16 percent. Still, no woman has landed a chief executive job at any of the U.S. 10 largest banks.

Ana Botin took over the U.K. unit after Antonio Horta-Osorio resigned to become CEO at Lloyds Banking Group. Lower funding costs and efforts to win market share in higher-yielding small business loans have propelled profits at the unit, which is now Santander's biggest-earner, contributing a fifth of profit compared with 19 percent for Brazil.

"She is very focused and will be a good successor," said former Deutsche Bank AG CEO Josef Ackermann in telephone conversation. "She went through ups and downs in her career, which made her more resilient and better prepared for this role." He said her father was a "good friend" and "great banker."

Botin Legacy

Nathan Bostock, who returned to Santander U.K. as deputy CEO in August, will assume her responsibilities and the board will meet next week to identify the new CEO, said Andy Smith, a spokesman at Santander U.K.

"Santander lost a legendary leader with Emilio Botin's passing," Anshu Jain, Deutsche Bank AG co-CEO said in an e-mailed statement. "Having known his daughter Ana Patricia and the management of Santander for many years, I have great confidence that his legacy is in good hands."

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.