Santander Picks Insider as Next CEO

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Banco Santander SA

SAN 1.64%

named its head of Mexico and North America operations as its new chief executive, as the Spanish bank braces for a period of economic uncertainty in many of its markets.

Héctor Grisi

joined Santander in 2015 as head of its Mexico unit, and in 2019 added the role of North American head. In those jobs he has cut costs and increased customers in Mexico, and he turned a struggling unit in the U.S. into the largest contributor to profit in the group last year. 

Santander expects he will replicate results of those operations into the wider group, which spans from Brazil and Argentina to the U.K. and its home country, Spain. Santander says its diversification helps it keep growing even when some countries are facing a slowdown. But it is also a challenge as it means management must deal with a variety of setbacks and requirements. 

Many of Santander’s operations, from the U.S. to Spain, are facing economic uncertainty because of high inflation. While that helps the bank make more money from lending, it could become a problem if interest-rate increases cool off economies too much, triggering a recession. 

Executive Chairman

Ana Botín

said Mr. Grisi “brings decades of experience and a deep understanding of our markets and business.” 

He is expected to start the job in January 2023. In February, Santander said its CEO would report exclusively to the board instead of to Ms. Botín as well, an answer to regulators who wanted clear divisions in Santander’s leadership structure, which is common in Spain. Ms. Botín continues to oversee the bank’s strategy, while Mr. Grisi will handle day-to-day operations. 

Santander was meant to have a new CEO years ago. In 2018, it appointed Andrea Orcel, one of Europe’s highest-profile investment bankers, but months later it took the offer back, triggering a legal battle between Mr. Orcel and the bank. Mr. Orcel won the court case and Santander was told to pay him more than $50 million. The bank is contesting the decision in an appeals court.

After Mr. Orcel’s appointment fell through in early 2019, Santander reinstated

José Antonio Álvarez

as the CEO. Mr. Álvarez will remain on the board.

Like Mr. Orcel, Mr. Grisi was an investment banker, and between 2007 and 2015 headed

Credit Suisse’s

Mexico operations. Inside Santander he has been seen as someone who gets the job done, and his investment-banking experience will help the bank handle high volatility in markets.

Write to Patricia Kowsmann at [email protected]

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