Santander fired by education.
For all his reputation as a fierce dealmaker who eats foreign banks for breakfast, Emilio Botín is never happier than when addressing university students about the importance of tertiary education to sustainable economic growth and competitiveness.

Financial Times. By Mark Mulligan

March 20 2006

According to people who know him well, the chairman of Santander, Spain’s largest financial services group, revels in the bank’s high profile among universities in the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking world.

The financial services group is the main sponsor of Universia, a portal linking 990 tertiary institutions in Iberia and Latin America.

In 2004 Santander dedicated €57.8m, or 68 per cent of its social responsibility budget, to funding the portal, as well as scholarships, equipment, and research and development programmes in universities.

It should come as little surprise, then, that the bank has its own university – or, at least, an executive training and development centre with the look and feel of a modern business school.

Built as part of "Financial City", the group’s €480m, 150-hectare headquarters complex on the western outskirts of Madrid, the modernist wood and glass building features a 1,000-seat auditorium, central lecture theatre with space for up to 180 professionals and four smaller theatres, all with wireless internet connections and facilities for simultaneous translations.

Spanish and English are the main working languages, although Portuguese runs a close third because of the bank’s significant interests in Portugal and Brazil. The training centre also boasts a further 19 classrooms and meeting rooms and five IT rooms.

Bright red, Santander’s signature tone, dominates the interior colour scheme.

An adjoining building, whose interior evokes the minimalist, urban style of Spain’s designer AC and NH hotel chains, redefines the concept of student digs.

Many of the 168 rooms in the residential block offer views of the Financial City’s own 18-hole golf course, while communal recreational facilities include full-sized billiard tables and large flat-screen televisions in an expansive lounge area.

Ana Bolado, the head of executive resources at Santander, says that the accommodation block is rarely without guests, a fact that reinforces the bank’s reputation for driving its top executives and managers hard.

The training centre’s core student and faculty body is drawn principally from the so-called "Top 200" senior executives from the group’s global network.

The Top 200 convene there at least once a year to exchange ideas on strategy, risk, technological changes and the main corporate themes of the day.

They are also charged with teaching new executives and disseminating corporate culture and values throughout the group.

Their annual meetings, which last about a week, not only reinforce a common strategic vision, but allow executives to bring something of their own market to corporate headquarters, according to Ms Bolado.

Indeed, many of them are expected to prepare classes on the peculiarities of their own countries as part of the training. "They all bring a little of their home country culture to the centre, and then return to work infused anew with the central corporate culture," she says.

The school also serves as an induction centre for new, or acquired, managerial recruits – Abbey’s top executives passed through after the UK bank was bought by Santander in 2004 – a base for career development, and a conference and meeting venue for alumni networks within the bank’s executive and upper-management ranks.

It runs, in conjunction with faculty from European and US business schools, four specialist "corporate schools", covering risk management, wholesale banking, auditing, and asset management.

With full-time administrative staff of 35, it is equipped to handle up to 600 students at any one time. Ms Bolado estimates that as many as 15,000 of the bank’s 126,000 employees, representing 24 nationalities, would pass through the training centre this year. Of these, 3,000 will be involved in one of the four corporate school programmes.

The school’s "dean" is Guillermo Cisneros, former deputy director of the Esade business school, and now head of training and development at the Santander group.

With his close ties to academia and experience in managing one of Europe’s leading business schools, he was picked from a short list of candidates and lured from Esade’s Madrid campus with an attractive remuneration package.

He says Santander "doesn’t discriminate" when it comes to selecting outside professors and executive courses to complement its own curriculum, with each programme launched to open tender.

Although the loss of Mr Cisneros was a blow to Esade, the school – like Spanish competitors Iese and Instituto de Empresa – sees the Santander training centre as an opportunity rather than a threat.

"Corporate universities need to work with the traditional institutions," says Santiago Iñiguez, dean of the Madrid-based Instituto de Empresa.

"The ideal is a combination of the two."

Speaking to students and academics in Sevilla recently, Mr Botín summed it up with: "Our commitment to tertiary education is more and more rooted in our corporate culture.

"Every visit we make to a university reinforces our conviction that universities and companies have to get to know each other better and work together much more than they do today."