Some clothing store bosses are famous figures and household names, however billionaire Zara founder Amancio Ortega prefers to keep out of the limelight.
Earlier this week, Ortega’s fortune surpassed that of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, making the fashion guru the world’s richest man throughout Wednesday and Thursday. Fluctuating share prices later moved Ortega back into second place in the global rankings – still no mean feat, for an 80-year old grandfather from humble beginnings.
Ortega stepped down as chief executive at Zara’s parent company Inditex in 2011, but still continues to work – despite being old enough to retire. Everyday, the Spanish entrepreneur makes the 10km journey from his home to the Inditex headquarters, which are based just outside the town of A Coruna where the Zara brand was first launched. Unlike many other billionaires around the globe, Ortega has chosen to keep a low profile, avoiding interviews and media appearance whenever possible.
Ortega was born in 1936, just before the outbreak of Spain’s civil war. The family struggled to make ends meet, and following an incident where his mother could not afford to pay for the family’s grocery shopping, young Ortega left school, and went to work in a shirt shop. Following years of further experience with other retailers, Amancio set up business with members of his family and his future wife Rosalia, launching a textile manufacturing company then the Zara brand.
A spokesperson for Mr Ortega says the scale of his success has taken the company’s founder by surprise; he was always ambitious but never chasing wealth, and often expresses his surprise at how things have turned out. The fashion tycoon accredits Zara and its parent company Inditex’s to one thing – the speed of which it brings fashion to the consumer. Ortega felt that shops were taking too long to bring people the fashions they craved and that by the time a product arrived, fashion-conscious shoppers wanted something different. So Zara took a different approach; listens to what its shop managers said customers were wanting and buying, then ordering more of popular products or changing styles in line with demand. As Inditex manufactures predominantly in Europe, it can get products from design to shop-floor much quicker than those manufactured in Asia.
This business model cannot be easily copied by other brands who lack an established local supply chain, however online companies like ASOS and Boohoo take a similar approach; although on a much smaller scale. As well as Zara, Inditex owns owns Pull & Bear, Massimo Dutti and Bershka (to name just a few of it’s companies) and it’s size means that it’s lacking in competition – for the foreseeable future at least.