Francisco González was greeted warmly by the auditorium at Ciudad BBVA in Madrid where he was bid farewell with applause and a standing ovation. The bank’s executive chairman was interviewed by his successor, Carlos Torres Vila, in a memorable conversation that the Group employees could follow from more than 30 countries. After 22 years at the helm of the bank that has become BBVA, Francisco González declared that "with much effort," the legacy he leaves behind is "a bank in solid financial shape, an extraordinary project, and an absolutely exceptional team."
"The technological revolution undoubtedly advances at different paces in different sectors. But the financial industry has been the most impacted by this transformation, and it is also the industry that has the most to gain." These are not recent words. They were part of Francisco González’s statements at the 1999 annual general meeting, but they are as relevant today as they were almost 20 years ago.
Francisco González’s vision continues to be the driving force behind the bank's present-day transformation. It was remembered as such during the introduction at the employee gathering. During the – at times emotional – interview, some of the most important milestones of the past two decades were recounted, and there was no shortage of anecdotes.
One of the main threads of the conversation was the transformation process the bank began under Francisco González’s leadership. In the words of BBVA's executive chairman, the bank's transformation took on “even greater momentum starting in 2014” when Carlos Torres Vila took the reins of the new digital banking division.
BBVA Bancomer's employees follow the meeting from Mexico. - BBVA
BBVA's chairman was not above a little self-criticism. "Our vision was clear, but we needed more time for the execution of it." He also admitted that "we've made some mistakes along the way."
BBVA's executive chairman recalled that it is now more than 20 years since he established the three pillars of the bank's strategy: people, values, and innovation. Indeed, one of the things that he has learned during his tenure is "how important it is to operate with good values: to be sure everything we do is legal, transparent, and morally acceptable to society.”
I have always felt the support of both the management team and the board of directors when making those tough decisions, and as a result the bank now has an exceptional reputation
Always guided by these values, "we have had to say ‘no’ a few times” and have also made “difficult decisions.” He continued, "I have always felt the support of both the management team and the board of directors when making those tough decisions, and as a result the bank now has an exceptional reputation.”
The interview was also followed by employees of BBVA Compass in the United States. - BBVA
The moment of truth
Many things have changed at BBVA over the course of the past 22 years. Among them, the most significant challenge for Francisco González has been "the cultural change.” But, what does he see in BBVA’s future?
"The moment of truth for the sector will arrive within five years, when investors, shareholders and analysts better understand what is going on in the world of banking." he explained. That is when they will realize “there is a bank – BBVA – that has executed on a project that has positioned it to be a major player in the new competitive landscape.” He envisions that "that is where BBVA will be, but it will not be ‘just a bank’; it will be a great company providing all kinds of services.” He left the new team with some assignments: "Much more has to be done with data and the company has to be transformed into something else entirely.”
The moment of truth for the sector will arrive within five years, when investors, shareholders and analysts better understand what is going on in the world of banking
On a more personal note, Carlos Torres Vila recalled when Francisco González interviewed him to join the company. "He asked me about my grades at school," the CEO admitted. This is an example of "his thoroughness, his pursuit of excellence,” complementing his dedication and the work itself.
Carlos Torres Vila had words of gratitude for his predecessor: "You are leaving us a great legacy. Over the past ten years, you have helped me grow.” When speaking about the chairman's character, Carlos Torres Vila stressed "his unflinching non-conformity” and a "spirit of excellence in all things, great and small." As well as "an obsession with putting the customer at the heart of things."
From Turkey, the employees of Garanti, the Turkish subsidiary of BBVA, followed the event. - BBVA
Asked what advice he would give his successor, Francisco González didn’t hesitate to respond: to keep making decisions based on values. And continue having the best team. Looking forward, he advocated taking a long-term approach, while delivering on results each quarter. A challenging balance.
While speaking about the future, Francisco González wanted to ask Carlos Torres Vila what he is most looking forward to in the bank’s new stage that begins on January 1. "Being handed the baton is a tremendous honor, to face the challenges of the digital transformation, leading an organization of more than 126,000 people. It's leading the greatest project in the world of banking at a time of change, and with a team like the one we have,” he answered.
Being handed the baton is a tremendous honor, to face the challenges of the digital transformation, leading an organization of more than 126,000 people
Francisco González recalled some of the most moving moments from the past two decades at BBVA, such as visiting Colombian entrepreneurs with the BBVA Microfinance Foundation in 2016. He also mentioned OpenMind, the BBVA Foundation, and the important work the bank does for society in general. He believes "now is the time to reach out to the community and explain what banking is really all about.”
Francisco González gets up every morning at 7:00 and leaves his house by 7:25. He recognizes that from January 1, a new life will begin for him. Other than golf and chess, which are two of his passions, the BBVA chairman announced he intends to contact young doctors and biologists to explore the world of biomedicine.
January 1 also marks the beginning of a new phase for BBVA, with Carlos Torres Vila as the new chairman and Onur Genç as the new CEO. Indeed, it was the incoming CEO who provided the finishing touches to the event, approaching the stage and directing a few words to the team. He even ventured a few words in Spanish in order to emphasize how at BBVA, "the team is the most important. It is, without a shadow of a doubt, what sets us apart."