By Christopher Bjork and Jeannette Neumann
MADRID-- Banco Santander SA replaced its chief executive with its long-standing finance chief and made several changes to its board of directors Tuesday in the first major leadership shake-up since Ana Botín took over the eurozone's largest lender following her father's death.
Javier Marín will leave Santander after less than two years as CEO and be replaced by Jose Antonio Álvarez, who has spent the past 10 years as finance chief, the bank said in a statement. It gave no reasons for Mr. Marín's departure but simply conveyed Ms. Botín's gratitude for his "great work for Banco Santander for 23 years and especially for his service as CEO."
Ms. Botín, who was appointed executive chairman in September, also elevated one of her top lieutenants, José García Cantera, to the post of chief financial officer. Mr. García Cantera was CEO of Banesto, once a unit of Santander, when Ms. Botín chaired that bank.
Tuesday's changes demonstrated Ms. Botín's eagerness to establish herself as a powerful chairman, transforming a board that her father, Emilio Botín, had built up over decades and pushing out a chief executive he had appointed in April 2013. The appointments give Santander a younger board, a sign that Ms. Botín, 54 years old, is trying to give the bank a fresh face.
While bankers, analysts and investors said they had expected Ms. Botín to make her own mark on Santander, the shake-up came more quickly than many had anticipated. At the time of her takeover, Ms. Botín's message was one of continuity and she publicly backed Mr. Marín in his role as chief executive.
But at times before Mr. Botín's death, Mr. Marín and Ms. Botín clashed over strategic matters, according to a person familiar with their relationship.
Earlier this month, Ms. Botín gave a public glimpse of her willingness to excise her father's allies from Santander.
On Nov. 14, Santander dissolved its international advisory board, a 17-year-old creation of Mr. Botín that had met twice last year and was stacked with powerful figures from financial and political circles. The decision separated the bank from one of the advisory board's members, Rodrigo Rato, a former managing director of the International Monetary Fund who is the target of several judicial inquiries in Spain.
Days earlier, Mr. Marín had deflected a barrage of reporters' questions about why Mr. Rato remained on the board despite the investigations.
One set of inquiries, opened two years ago, center on his leadership of Bankia SA, the failed lender that received EUR22.4 billion in European Union bailout funds in 2012.
In recent weeks, a judge began an investigation into whether Mr. Rato and several dozen other executives at Bankia and Caja Madrid, the largest of seven savings bank that merged to form Bankia, had misused company-issued credit cards for personal purchases, apparently without telling the tax authorities.
Mr. Rato has denied any wrongdoing in all the inquiries and says he has returned the sum he spent on his company credit card.
Santander said the advisory board was disbanded because the bank "has decided to reshape its institutionalized advisory relationships in light of the changes that have occurred globally and will continue in the next decade."
Other recent changes hint at Ms. Botín's attempts to establish herself.
While she was often called Ana Botín in the U.K., she was widely known in Spain as Ana Patricia Botín. As recently as the summer, a Santander webpage listing its board members referred to her as Ana Patricia Botín.
The webpage now referred to her as Ana Botín.
Ms. Botín's staff says she prefers to be called "executive chairman, " in contrast to her father, who was referred to as simply chairman or "el presidente," in Spanish. Ms. Botín's staff says the term "executive" is necessary because in some countries the title of chairman can be nonexecutive. In Spain, chairman typically implies an executive role, meaning Ms. Botín's current role is akin to the chairman-chief executive role in the U.S. The CEO at Santander serves more as a chief operating officer.
Ms. Botín's staff has said she didn't want to change the title from executive chairman to executive chairwoman, to maintain some continuity of titles between her father's role and her own.
Tuesday's announcement by Santander listed four other appointments. Bruce Carnegie-Brown will be first deputy chairman and lead independent director of the board. Mr. Carnegie-Brown is chairman of Moneysupermarket.com, a U.K. price comparison website, and a board member at Santander's U.K. unit, which Ms. Botín led before her father's death.
Others named as independent directors were Catalan businesswoman Sol Daurella, who chairs the Coca-Cola bottling company in Spain and Portugal, and Carlos Fernández González, a Mexican national who is a former top executive of beer maker Grupo Modelo, as independent directors. Mr. Fernández is a current member of the board of Santander Mexico.
Rodrigo Echenique, a nonexecutive member of the board, was named as deputy chairman.
The new board members will replace two men who are more than 70 years old and have served on Santander's board for more than a decade--Fernando de Asúa, a board member since 1999, and Abel Matutes, a member since 2002, resigned, Santander said.
New Chief Executive Álvarez, like Ms. Botín, is 54 years old. In a memo to the bank's staff, Ms. Botín said "no one knows our business, our balance sheets, our team and our investors better."
"Mr. Álvarez is an experienced and well-regarded executive whose leadership should be positive for Santander and the shares," Citigroup analyst Stefan Nedialkov said Tuesday in a research report. "We expect continuity, predictability and potentially more transparency on issues such as capital and strategic priorities."
Santander shares were up 1.88% in afternoon trading in Madrid.
The changes will take effect on Jan. 1, Santander said, a month before the bank presents annual earnings results. Mr. Marin, who had served as Mr. Botín's chief of staff before his elevation to CEO, joined his boss for a joint presentation of last year's annual results.
David Enrich in London also contributed to this article.
Write to Christopher Bjork at email@example.com
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