Botín, the FT and the age limit for bankers


When the Financial Times published a week or so ago a feature on the chairman of Banco Santander Emilio Botín, the pink one wasted an opportunity to open the debate about the always saucy subject of retirement age limits for directors of large corporations. Instead, the newspaper preferred to play a role it seems to relish these days: being the loudspeaker of those who scorn everything Spanish.

Patrick Jenkins, author of the article and FT’s banking editor, was not given an interview with Botín. Jenkins then showed his true colours using a language both coarse and insulting. He does not like a Spanish bank occupying such a big place on the British banking stage and not opening for him the offices of its presidente, so he tried to hit Santander under its waterline by criticising “diminutive septuagenarian” Botín.

Jenkins could have focused on a subject that undeniably is a matter of interest, the need to renew or not at some point directors and board members at large quoted companies. Unfortunately, the FT let him perpetrate a shameful revenge with a poor piece of journalism full of bitterness and infantile pride.

The discussion about the age of bankers and presidents of corporations is an important one. It usually brings a clash of trends and theories about company governance and business knowledge, experience, prestige and wisdom, to which even the European Banking Authority refers in its papers. But FT’s Jenkins had something else in mind. He not only spoke in a patronising tone, which too often wraps comments on everything southern European, but turned a blind eye on other septuagenarian bank chairmen as, for instance, Barclay’s David Walker–who came to substitute Marcus Agius after the Libor rigging scandal.

Following Jenkins’ thread, if the future of a global entity like Banco Santander is so dependent on Botín’s age, 40% of presidents of Madrid-listed companies should have already retired; successful investors Warren Buffet and Carlos Slim should go, too; Alan Greenspan should not have been offered a job at the Federal Reserve; Rupert Murdoch and Amancio Ortega should leave their chairs; and even changes should be occurring in Buckingham Palace…

It doesn’t make sense. In fact, the FT’s addiction for obsessive and empty criticism over most euro periphery and particularly Spanish matters is getting boring but, nevertheless, worrying. When the FT publishes lines like “[Santander has] assets that come close to the GDP of Spain” or suggests that the Spanish bank’s stock performed poorly in 2012–it gained a 4% increase–, it is the FT itself that loses out.

Readers looking for journalistic rigour and open exchange of ideas would feel increasingly uneasy about this.

About the Author

The Corner
The Corner has a team of on-the-ground reporters in capital cities ranging from New York to Beijing. Their stories are edited by the teams at the Spanish magazine Consejeros (for members of companies’ boards of directors) and at the stock market news site Consenso Del Mercado (market consensus). They have worked in economics and communication for over 25 years.

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