Amancio Ortega, the founder of clothing retailer Zara, is the sixth-richest person in the world, according to Bloomberg. The 83-year-old Spaniard is worth an estimated €62.9 billion, with 970 stores in 76 markets around Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and South America. Ortega’s life truly exemplifies a rags-to-riches story. He is founder of the world’s largest fashion clothing retailer, Zara. Ortega started Zara in 1975 and saw it grow to 1,500 stores in 70 countries by 2012
Born in 1936, he started delivering shirts at age 12 after dropping out of school because his family needed the money. Ortega was raised by his railway worker father and his housemaid mother. They were so poor that his mother had to ask the local shopkeeper for credit to feed her family on occasion, which was sometimes refused, shaming the young Amancio.
He learned how to make dressing gowns and lingerie with his first wife, Rosalia Mera, with whom he had two children. As his knowledge of the clothing industry grew, so did his ambition. This is the story of how Ortega seized the opportunity to start his own small clothing business, growing it into one of the most successful retail operations in the world.
In 1963, Amancio Ortega gathered the local women into a thousand different cooperatives and formed a company called Confecciones Goa that sold the dressing gowns, housecoats, and lingerie they produced. Ortega’s siblings and soon-to-be-wife Rosalia Mera also stitched some of the first items by hand in their home. In 1975, he and Rosalia opened a retail store they called Zara that quickly expanded across Galicia, Spain. Zara attracted sales because it sold designer fashions at reasonable prices.
By the mid-1980s, Ortega had spread Zara throughout Spain. In time, he incorporated the brand into a holding company named the Inditex Group and bought 59.29% of the group’s shares, thereby becoming its largest shareholder. Inditex SA serves as Europe’s leading fashion retailer and carries brands that include Massimo Dutti, Uterque, Zara Home, Stradivarius, Bershka, Oysho, and Pull&Bear.
To date, the Spain-based company has more than 88,000 employees and operates more than 7,400 stores in 96 markets around the world. In its 9-month interim report ending Oct. 2019, the company reported gross profits of €11.5 billion, a year-over-year increase of 8%.
To date, the Spain-based company has more than 88,000 employees and operates more than 7,400 stores in 96 markets around the world. In its 9-month interim report ending Oct. 2019, the company reported gross profits of €11.5 billion, a year-over-year increase of 8%
The 1990s was the decade when Ortega expanded his wealth by acquiring the Massimo Dutti, Uterque, and Stradivarius fashion designs, as well as the Pull&Bear and Bershka brands. Ortega differentiated himself from competitors by limiting advertising, controlling most of his supply chain, and expanding as wildly as he could. He also chose wisely when investing in Inditex, which Louis Vuitton, French fashion designer, called “possibly the most innovative and devastating retailer in the world.” When the Spanish stock market plunged, Inditex gained, giving Ortega about €41.3 billion.
By the end of 2010, Ortega had diversified his investments, owning premium office and retail properties in major cities in Spain, parts of Europe, and the United States. Three of his acquisitions were the Epic Residences & Hotel in Miami, Florida; the Torre Picasso skyscraper in Madrid; and a nine-story building also in Madrid, which he bought for €413 million. Ortega also acquired a 21.6% stake in La Coruna, an equestrian centre in Larin, Spain. In 2016 he has made smart real estate investments in Madrid, London, Chicago, Barcelona, New York and Miami. It’s reported that Ortega earned €72 million from his property portfolio alone in 2016.
However, one of the most unique things about Ortega is that he has never had his own office, a habit that was apparently driven by his humble roots. He would sit at a desk in his headquarters at A Coruña to meet with his designers and staff. Ortega lives a humble life. He avoids publicity, is a workaholic and went without holidays for 25 years. He eats his meals in the company cafeteria along with his employees and visits the same corner cafeteria every day. In fact, Ortega has yet to own an office; he works from various design areas and factories instead. Ortega’s first interview was in 2000 when he promoted Zara. Even then, the interview was given to only three journalists. The billionaire’s only published photograph until 1999 was an old national ID.
In 2015, Zara opened its 7,000th store in Hawaii and also set up a profit-sharing scheme that would go on to pay out €37.4 million to 78,000 employees across the company’s stores, factories, brands and subsidiaries across 50 different countries.
Ortega can also attribute his wealth to his shrewd investing strategy. Most of his fortune has come from Inditex, the world’s largest clothing retailer from which the billionaire has received more than €4 billion in dividends. The once-upon-a-time errand boy is consistently listed in Forbes’ top 10 wealthiest individuals in the world, joining the ranks of billionaires Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett.
Ortega was born in northwestern Spain in 1936, the son of a railroad worker and a stay-at-home mother. He started making clothes with his siblings and future wife, Rosalia Mera, in their home in the early 1960s. In 1975, Ortega and Mera opened the first Zara store in downtown La Coruna, Spain. Ten years later, in 1985, Ortega incorporated Zara into a holding company called Inditex. In August 2013, Rosalia Mera died at 69. She was Spain’s richest woman. Ortega and Mera married in 1966 and were divorced in 1986. He and his wife, Mera, separated around that time, but she remained the company’s second-largest shareholder.
In 2015, Zara opened its 7,000th store in Hawaii and also set up a profit-sharing scheme that would go on to pay out €37.4 million to 78,000 employees across the company’s stores, factories, brands and subsidiaries across 50 different countries
Ortega married to his second wife, Flora Perez, and since 2001 they live in a discreet apartment building in La Coruña, Spain, near a major port of the Atlantic Ocean. They share a daughter, Marta, who is a senior creative consultant at Zara Women. Marta married top Spanish equestrian Sergio Álvarez Moya in February 2012, but the couple separated in 2015.
He bought one of the tallest skyscrapers in Spain, the Torre Picasso in Madrid. The building stands 180 meters and costs almost €500 million, in addition to the Epic Residences and Hotel in Miami, considered to be one of the best luxury hotels in the USA. Currently, he owns property in nine countries: Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Mexico, Portugal, South Korea, Spain and the United States.
He owns The Global Express BD-700, a private jet designed by Bombardier, one of the leading manufacturers of luxury private jets. The plane carries a price tag of €41 million, but he rarely jets off on vacation. He says he loves working too much to take time off. Ortega and drives an Audi A8 luxury sedan that is said to be more about comfort than luxury.
His latest major real estate purchases came late 2019 when he bought an office building used by Facebook in Seattle for around €400 million as well as the “Troy Block” complex in the same city which houses part of Amazon’s headquarters for €720 million.
Ortega is known for being immensely private. In 2012, Bloomberg noted that he had only granted interviews to three journalists. He dresses modestly, usually wearing a simple uniform of a blue blazer, white shirt, and grey trousers — none of which are Zara products.
He goes to the same coffee shop every day and eats lunch with his employees in the company cafeteria. In his free time, Ortega is known to enjoy horseback riding and owns an equestrian centre in Finisterre in Galicia, Spain, where he likes to ride with his daughter Marta, who was previously married to international showjumper Sergio Álvarez Moya until they divorced in 2015.
His immense wealth has allowed him to hobnob with celebrities and royalty. Since 2008 was often seen in company with Princess Letizia and Crown Prince Felipe of Spain. The pair are now King and Queen of the country.
Ortega stepped down as chairman of Inditex, the owner of Zara, in 2011 but he still owns 59 per cent of the world’s biggest fashion retailer, which also owns other popular fashion brands like Massimo Dutti and Bershka.