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The richest man you've never heard of

Alex Dunham/The Local/AFP · 15 Mar 2013, 11:00

Published: 14 Mar 2013 18:40 GMT+01:00
Updated: 15 Mar 2013 11:00 GMT+01:00

Custom-made
 
Amancio Ortega is the founder of Spanish clothing conglomerate Inditex, which owns the hugely popular clothing stores Zara, Massimo Dutti and Pull & Bear, just to name a few.
 
Although the rag trade specialist stepped down from the Inditex top job last year, he still holds a 69 percent stake in the firm.  
 
If you've been down any major European high street in the last few years, there's a good chance you've entered one of his Inditex stores. 
 
In fact, Inditex is the largest fashion retailer globally, with 6,000 stores in 86 countries. 
 
Last week the textile giant announced net earnings of €2.3 billion last year ($3.5 million), up 22 percent in just 12 months.
 
But even that wasn't enough to satisfy shareholders. Such are the expectations people have of Inditex that stocks actually fell 5 percent on the back of the news. 
 
All told, the clothing giant employs 120,314 people worldwide, of which 10,802 have been recruited in the last 12 months.
 
Crisis-proof?
 
It may be hard for some people to imagine a Spanish company doing so well at the present time.
 
But Juan Ramis, a professor at Spanish business school ESADE, says: "Internationalized companies are suffering much less than others in the crisis, and Inditex is about the most internationalized (firm) there is."
 
Indeed, only 21 percent of the clothing company's last year's earnings came from Spain. 
 
Economic "turbulence strangely favours a retailer like Zara,” Nancy Koehn, a retail historian at Harvard Business School, told Bloomberg.
 
“Among fashionistas, there’s a new badge of status in finding the cool at a lower price.” 
 
The company headquarters, however, remain in Amancio Ortega's native province of Galicia, and every single garment passes through Spain and more than half of production is done locally.
 
The secret of his success 
 
Amazingly, Inditex does not even advertise its brands, except through the shopfronts themselves, which are shining palaces of modern consumerism.  
 
The clothing group is also canny with its real estate decisions, often choosing locations near luxury brands, says The Economic Times.
 
Ortega's success has also been put down to the company's rapid turnover, with new designs constantly being dispatched to stores.
 
Having most of the production close by allows Zara and other brands to be quick: 15 days from design to retail rack — compared with the old industry standard of six months.
 
"Ortega works directly with people in the company's operations. He is in the production plants," Ramis says.
 
"Being so close to the ground he takes better decisions than others who stay in their office. As well as being a brilliant and intelligent person, he is better at taking decisions than others."
 
Forbes rich list 
 
Ortega has wealth now estimated at €44 billion ($57 billion), rocketing from €28.7 billion a year ago, according to Forbes Magazine.
 
Only the Mexican magnate Carlos Slim and US tech titan Bill Gates rank above him on global the rich list.
 
Keeping a low profile
 
Despite all this amazing business success, Ortega remains a mystery — even for most Spaniards. 
 
Ortega never gives interviews and despite his extreme wealth and omnipresent clothing stores, Spanish media have been hard pressed to dig up any stories about him.
 
What we do know is this: Ortega quit school at 13 and worked in a shirt shop in Galicia's La Coruña.
 
Four years later, he set up his own wholesale business. 
 
He opened his first Zara boutique in 1975, in La Coruña. More branches followed, and he expanded into Portugal in 1988, the United States in 1989 and France in 1990. 
 
Married twice and the father of three children, Ortega is said to eat often in the staff canteen with he designers, fabric experts and buyers for the Zara Woman line, says Bloomberg.
 
"In the street, I only want to be recognized by my family, my friends and people I work with," he told Covadonga O'Shea, the journalist who wrote his biography.
 
The Local's Spanish Face of the Week is a person in the news who - for good or ill - has revealed something interesting about the country. Being selected as Spanish Face of the Week is not necessarily an endorsement.

Alex Dunham/The Local/AFP (alex.dunham@thelocal.com)

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