If economic power has a face in Spain, it’s Ana Botín’s. Born into one of the country’s wealthiest families, a polyglot, a golf fan and proudly Spanish, Botín was appointed executive chairman of Santander after the death of her father Emilio in 2014. That made her the country’s most important business leader, the fourth generation in her family to rule what is now Spain’s biggest bank — and the glamorous face of the Spanish business elite as it reemerges on the European stage after a decade in the economic doldrums.
Santander close to tripled its profits from 2012 to 2016 as Spain carried out a €41 billion bank bailout — in which Botín’s company didn’t take part. Over the same period, the country’s unemployment rate descended from a peak of 27 percent in 2013 to 17 percent today. Spain has posted over-EU average growth for three years in a row, allowing Madrid to hold up its painful reforms as an example others should follow.
Botín, 57, says Spain experienced a “turning point” when it joined the bloc in 1986, which “led to a period of growth and modernization that completely changed” the country. She also expresses “confidence” that Spain can deal with still-high levels of unemployment — the gravest economic problem facing the country, according to Botín. The EU, she adds, should “finish what it has begun” and move forward on a banking union.
Ana Botín and Spain’s King Felipe visit the World Sailing Championship in Santander | Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images
Having weathered the country’s economic turbulence, Botín now has to navigate her bank through the Catalan crisis, Spain’s greatest political test in decades. She will also be keeping a watchful eye on Brexit, and making sure Madrid does too. Santander makes 20 percent of its profits in the U.K. and only 12 percent in Spain. “In the U.K., we are a British bank … and will consider the implications once the outcome of the process is known,” she says.
* * *
IN HER WORDS
You can change one thing about the EU. What is it?
Make things happen faster.
Who are your heroes?
People who build companies, from the smallest self-employed entrepreneur to the biggest, they are all heroes. With their work they are making the world a better place and helping others — from their families to their employees and customers — prosper.
“Europe.” Pick three words that first spring to mind.
Fair. Diverse. Welcoming.