The group’s board met to decide on a new leader after Emilio Botin died from a heart attack at the age of 79 and said his daughter was the “most appropriate person” for the role.
She added: “In these difficult times for me and my family, I appreciate the trust of the board of directors and I am fully committed to my new responsibilities.
“We’ll continue to dedicate all our efforts with total determination to keep building a better bank for our customers, employees and shareholders.”
Ana Botin had been chief executive of Santander’s UK arm, which yesterday said its board would meet next week to identify a new boss. That job is widely expected to go to Nathan Bostock, who quit as Royal Bank of Scotland’s finance director last year after less than three months in the role to become deputy chief executive at Santander UK.
Banking industry figures paid tribute last night to the late Botin, who was known for his hands-on leadership and turned the small institution run by his father into the eurozone’s largest bank by market capitalisation through a series of acquisitions.
He shook up Spanish banking with a campaign to attract depositors in 1989, forcing rivals to compete on price, and bought troubled Banesto in 1994 to create the country’s biggest lender.
Santander now has 102 million customers and more than 186,000 employees.
Former RBS chairman Sir George Mathewson said: “He sat on the RBS board for years and was constantly taking notes and learning about the business. He made a major contribution to Spanish banking. He brought discipline to banking in Spain.”
Antonio Horta-Osorio, the Lloyds Banking Group chief who worked at Santander from 1993 to 2010, added: “Emilio was a unique banker, the best of his generation and the driving force behind the success of the bank.
“He was a great mentor to me during my time with Santander and he will be missed by many across the banking industry. My thoughts are with his family.”