Botin is not expected to depart from her father’s legacy too much.

Less than 24 hours after the sudden death, in September, of her father Emilio Botín, widely recognized as one of the shrewdest, most successful bankers in modern history, Ana Patricia Botín was unanimously named by the board to take the helm of Banco Santander, an institution that has been under the control of her family for three generations. Botín, 53, who most recently led the bank’s UK operations, has the pedigree to go with the job. But she will have to work hard to make her own mark on Santander, which her father turned from an unimportant Spanish bank into a global financial titan.“She has been groomed from a very early age to follow in her father’s footsteps,” says Christopher Wheeler, a London-based analyst with Mediobanca. “The speed at which the succession occurred is indicative that the board knew exactly what they wanted to do.”

Botín studied in the United States, got an MBA from Harvard and started out in investment banking at JPMorgan. Soon thereafter she joined the family business, quickly climbing the corporate ladder. She was ousted by her father in the midst of a controversial acquisition in 1999, but returned in 2002 to head, successfully, Santander’s Banesto unit. Now she inherits one of the world’s largest banks. “This is a bank that is very well distributed geographically, that has been very good at controlling costs, and which is known for having superior systems,” says Wheeler. “This is good, of course, but at the same time there isn’t a lot of low-hanging fruit left that she can go for.”

Botín will likely start off cautiously and make changes only gradually. One area where she might look to depart from her father’s legacy is geography. “Mr Botín invested in Brazil and was very lucky,” says Robert Tornabell, professor of international banking and finance at ESADE Business School in Barcelona. “Now Brazil is not growing, Argentina has many problems, and so does Chile. I think she should focus on North America—Canada and the United States, of course, but also Mexico, which has the greatest potential.”