Emilio Botin, the patriarch and dealmaker whose vision transformed Banco Santander from a domestic lender to a global bank, grew to become one of the most powerful unelected people in Spain.
Botin, who was chairman of Santander for 28 years, died suddenly of a heart attack late on Tuesday, leaving a vacuum that the bank yesterday scrambled to fill.
Santander board members acknowledged their debt to his swashbuckling drive, expressing “deep sorrow” for the man they said turned Santander “into the leading bank in the Eurozone and one of the most relevant financial institutions in the world”.
Known as “El Presidente” to co-workers, Botin was the third generation of his family to run Santander, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Emilio, and father, Emilio II. His family still owns a two per cent stake in the bank and Botin’s personal fortune was estimated by Forbes to stand at more than $1bn (£620m).
After gaining a degree in law and economics, he had worked his way up through the business. He used a keen eye for deals to spread Santander's red-liveried brand around the world, amassing €1.4 trillion (£1.1 trillion) of funds and nearly 200,000 employees.
He was married, with six children, including Ana Patricia Botin, 53, who succeeds him.
Botin first shook up Spanish banking in 1989 with a campaign to attract depositors, forcing rivals to compete on price, and bought troubled Banesto in 1994 to create Spain's biggest bank.
He took advantage of cultural and language ties to expand rapidly into Latin America, and in 2004 snapped up Britain's Abbey National for more than £9bn. His canny deals included making €2.4bn in three weeks in 2007 by buying and selling Italian bank Antonveneta.
Yesterday, Ron Dennis, chief executive of McLaren Group which runs the Formula One motor racing team that Santander has sponsored since 2007, also paid his respects.
“Passionate and charming, he was firm but always fair. I feel privileged to have known him, and proud to be able to call him a friend.”