How well do you know Amancio Ortega? Here are 10 facts about the reclusive owner of Zara.
Earlier this week Amancio Ortega Gaona, founder of the fashion giant Zara, is said to have surpassed Microsoft’s Bill Gates as the richest man in the world. According to Forbes, based on networth, Ortega at “somewhere from $77.8 billion to $79.5 billion” was marginally ahead of Gates’s $78.5 billion networth.
Fortune.com points out, however, that there are different ways of calculating networth, and that according to Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index Gates was still riding high at number one slot with an estimated $89.7 billion, and Ortega trailing at $78.9 billion.
However, for someone whose early life was one of abject poverty, Ortega’s accomplishment is remarkable.
Here are 10 things not many know about a man who may have dethroned Bill Gates.
Ortega’s modesty is legendary. It is well known that despite being among the richest on the planet, he leads a modest lifestyle. He is known to eat lunch along with his employees in the staff canteen. It is also a common sight to see him on the factory floor, seated among his designers etc, discussing the product range. Zara today is a high street brand but its founder is known to wear the same blazer/shirt combo, neither of which is Zara.
Many billionaires are known for their eccentricities, here’s one about Ortega: He still buys coffee from the same cafe in La Coruna, Galicia, Spain, that he has been visiting for years, and ordering eggs and fries for breakfast.
Ortega’s childhood was impoverished. His father was a railway worker and his mother was a housemaid, and the family was often unable to afford even the most necessary of items.
Born in Leon in 1936, Ortega started working, at 14, as a shop assistant at a local company in La Coruna called Gala. This is where he learnt to make clothes by hand. Gala is still around, and more people visit it today to ask after Ortega than to buy anything.
Ortega set out organising women into sewing cooperatives, producing women’s bathrobes, lingerie, and nightgowns. This is where he founded his first company, Confecciones GOA. Ten years later, it metamorphosed into Inditex, the fashion conglomerate which owns brands like Zara, Pull&Bear, Massimo Dutti, Stradivarius etc.
His first wife, Rosalia Mera, was his partner in Ortega’s early venture, along with his siblings. They founded Zara in his living room, and their first shop opened in 1975 (it was originally called Zorba, after the couple’s favourite movie). Mera and he married in 1966 and divorced in 1986. But the couple never appeared together in public.
Speed is at the heart of Zara’s success. It’s probably the only major brand which changes their stock twice a week. The average time for a new range to go from design to shop floor is a eye-blinking three weeks.
Ortega does not open about his personal life. In one of the few times he has done so, he revealed how ‘hurt and humiliated’ he was as a child when his mother was refused credit by a bank.
Ortega’s second wife, Flore Perez Marcote, is 18 years younger than him and was one of his co-workers. The couple have a daughter, Marta, considered his future successor. The father-daughter duo have a shared love for horse riding; he even purchased an equestrian centre in Galicia.
Ortega’s pastime: Raising chickens and goats on his country estate. Not impressed? Well, he also owns a 40-metre yacht but it bears his signature frugality. And he owns a race horse. He also suffers from a fear of flying, and rarely if ever visits resorts frequented by the jet set.
Image: A file photograph of Inditex’s Amancio Ortega (left) with Spain's Queen Letizia, during the latter’s visit to an Inditex factory in Coruna, northern Spain on December 2, 2008. Photograph: Miguel Vidal (SPAIN)/Reuters.