Biographies

Amancio Ortega Gaona Biography: Success Story of Zara Co-Founder

Amancio Ortega Biography

Amancio Ortega

This success story speaks about Amancio Ortega Gaona’s biography, a Spanish fashion entrepreneur and the co-founder of Industria de Diseño Textil, S.A. (Inditex), which includes prêt-à-porter fashion chains such as Zara, Pull&Bear, Massimo Dutti, Bershka, Stradivarius, Oysho, and Uterqüe. Born into poverty, Ortega Gaona has accumulated enormous wealth, while modesty and openness remain his primary personality traits. Amancio Ortega is a true media nightmare known for having been a publicists’ mystery for decades, as neither Spain’s richest man nor his relatives have ever given public interviews.

Early Life

Amancio Ortega Gaona was born on March 28, 1936 (the beginning of the Civil War in Spain) in Busdongo de Arbas, a small village with less than 100 citizens in the northern Spanish region, León. He was the youngest of four other children. Being extremely poor, the Ortega family soon moved to La Coruña, Galicia, Spain, surviving due to Amancio’s father’s job at the local railway station. They lived in a beggarly house at the railway workers’ quarters. His mother was employed as a housemaid. Amancio heard her pleading for credit at local stores, unable to afford essential items, which made him leave school and start working at 14. Amancio Ortega’s first job was as a shop assistant at a local Gala company, where he learned to make clothes by hand. Frozen in time, Gala, a conventional shirt maker, is still active and open on one of La Coruña’s downtown corners. Selling traditional shirts, caps, and cardigans, José Martínez, who inherited the Gala business from his father, has recently reported that the visitors never buy. They ask about his youth friend, Amancio.

The customer has always driven the business model... – Amancio Ortega Gaona Click To Tweet

Working hard in his teens, Amancio Ortega enjoyed riding his bicycle around the town whenever he had free time. His brilliant business idea could have come during one of such rides, and Ortega realized that to earn good money, one should give customers what they want. At 16, Amancio Ortega was pondering how to figure out potential client desires and, even more importantly, meet those demands. In the 1950s, an autonomous community of Spain, Galicia, was a perfect spot for his business plan: poor job alternatives in combination with numerous single women who could sew pretty well. Ortega started to organize women into sewing cooperatives. The product line included lingerie, babywear, and nightgowns. Ex-employees of the sewing cooperatives run by Ortega shared with the media how thrilled the Galicia ladies were to get that job with excellent conditions and how excited they were to see their bosses be very close to the workers.

In 1963, having gained ten years of managing sewing cooperatives experience, Amancio Ortega Gaona founded his first company, Confecciones GOA, S.A. (his initials if to read backward). The founder of the bathing robes business organized Confecciones GOA into a family company. Amancio was responsible for developing new fashion trends, Antonio (his brother) was heading the commercial issues, Josefa (his sister) was responsible for bookkeeping, and Rosalía Mera Goyenechea (January 28, 1944 – August 15, 2013) was performing as his business partner. In 1966, Amancio Ortega married Rosalía Mera.

Known to Be an Incognito

Amancio Ortega’s private life is terra incognita. Known to be publicity discreet, Amancio Ortega spends millions of dollars to protect the privacy of his life. That is why no one is aware of Ortega’s first marriage date. However, known to be his first business partner, it was Rosalía Mera, who became Ortega’s first wife. The married couple never appeared together in public nor let their two children, Sandra Ortega Mera and Marcos Ortega Mera, be pictured by intrusive paparazzi. Their clothing business was the only affair they were busy with. With Rosalía Mera, Amancio Ortega integrated Confecciones GOA into Inditex, the holding group of several popular brands. Founded in 1985 and floated onto the stock exchange in 2001, the Inditex group, a Spanish clothing seller, owns Zara, Pull&Bear, Massimo Dutti, Stradivarius, Oysho, and Bershka brands.

However, in 1986, Amancio Ortega divorced Rosalía Mera. In 2001, he married Flora Pérez Marcote, having a love affair with her since 1983. She is 18 years younger than Amancio. She used to be one of the workers of Ortega’s company. Currently, she holds a board position at Inditex. Being in her early 30s, Marta, Ortega’s daughter from Flora Pérez, is considered to be his future successor. Marta is very close to her father; similar to Ortega’s experience, she has undergone professional training at Inditex, starting from the lowest level of a store employee. Along with the career similarities, Amancio Ortega and Marta share horse riding as a hobby; Amancio purchased an equestrian center in Galicia, Spain, to spend family time.

It is a known fact that the overall number of pictures with Amancio Ortega, who has been avoiding the limelight his whole life, cannot even amount to 200. Zara’s official news corporation has presented most of them, and Covadonga O’Shea or Xabier R. Blanco has developed the other photographs of Amancio Ortega Gaona and cheeseparing pieces of information. The latest is a local Spanish journalist tracking Amancio Ortega’s career. O’Shea is Ortega’s lifelong friend; she runs a fashion school at the University of Navarra. Xabier R. Blanco and Jesús Salgado co-authored the non-official biography of Amancio Ortega Gaona, called Amancio Ortega, de cero a Zara, published on February 17, 2004. However, Covadonga O’Shea has been granted the right to develop Ortega’s official biography. On October 21, 2008, the book was published in Spanish under the title Así es Amancio Ortega, el hombre que creó Zara. In March 2012, the book was published in English under the title The Man from Zara: The Story of the Genius Behind the Inditex Group.

Unique Business Model of Zara

Venturing into clothing retail in his early youth, Amancio Ortega Gaona launched his own company, Confecciones GOA, in 1963. Having formed successful sewing cooperatives with the low-cost local workforce, Ortega offered fast production clothing turnarounds. Several factories being acquired in Spain, Amancio Ortega opened his first storefront in La Coruña downtown, called Zorba, in 1975. Named after Ortega and his first wife’s favorite movie, the store soon changed Zorba into Zara. The reason for that was a complaint from the owner of a nearby bar called Zorba. The bar Zorba remained local, but Zara stores expanded to several Spanish cities by the early 1980s. In 1988, after the Inditex Group was formed, Ortega opened the first Zara shop in Portugal, where he found the workforce even cheaper than in Spain. In 1989, the Zara shop was opened in the USA and introduced in London in 1998. Zara’s further international expansion came along with Inditex’s retail portfolio development: Pull&Bear and Massimo Dutti (1991), Stradivarius (1994), Bershka (1998), Oysho (2000), Uterqüe (2008). By 2000, the Inditex brands were distributed in over 30 international markets.

Amancio Ortega’s business success is tightly connected with the unique business model of the fast-fashion retailer. The two fundamental ideas of this business model are to give customers what they want as quickly as possible. For instance, Zara is known for its 12,000 new designs developed and distributed annually, speed being the retailer’s driving force. Moreover, Zara refreshes its garment stocks twice a week. Amancio Ortega Gaona imposed a golden rule in the 1970s, which stated processing new orders within 48 hours. That is why Zara factories look like well-oiled machines, where hundreds of designers and sales analysts cooperate in an open space floor, organized around these principles: delivery speed and a customer-oriented approach. Designers usually create three models daily, and analysts and patternmakers choose one item from each set. Commercial experts usually possess regional expertise and come from varied backgrounds. These experts apply reports from local managers to compile appropriate customer habits collections. Each Zara employee is trained to monitor clients’ styles, requests, and selling trends.

These two basic rules to give customers what they want and deliver orders with motorway speed have assisted Amancio Ortega in building the fashion empire. The Inditex corporation has become a global fast-fashion retailer with its 137,054 professionals employed in 6,683 stores and facilities, which are currently located in 88 countries, the annual sales revenue being over €18.1 ($19.67) billion as of January 31, 2015. The fast-fashion empire would have been impossible to build unless Ortega had ripped up the traditional haute couture business model to replace it with his unique one, refined over decades. However, those brutal schedules the fashion industry has never attempted to keep are not always flawless. Failures arise occasionally, being removed from stores as soon as detected. Such an incident happened on Manhattan Avenue, where the clientele did not loyally meet Zara’s white jackets. As soon as sales staff discovered that the latest preferred cream color was available, the white ones were withdrawn, and the model was reissued in cream tones, which was a success.

We cannot limit ourselves to continuing on the path we have already opened… – Amancio Ortega Gaona Click To Tweet

Zara never reproduces its bestsellers to save their customers from identically dressed fashion twins. The brand modifies and offers varied versions. Loyal Inditex customers know the best days to purchase items from new collections. For Zara, the day of new clothing deliveries is Sundays and Thursdays, whereas shoes come on Tuesdays and Fridays. At Stradivarius and Massimo Dutti, new garments arrive on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Every Tuesday and Friday works for Bershka and Pull&Bear. Seduced by the state-of-the-art collections, which are meticulously cut and tailored in countries with strong traditions of sewing, famous Zara clients include Queen Letizia of Spain, the Duchess of Cambridge, Michelle Obama, Mary Berry, Olivia Palermo, Alexa Chung, Katie Holmes, Samanta Cameron, January Jones, etc. A famous fashion blogger, Garance Dore, has coined another term – “Zaragasm,” which means being seduced by the variety of choices and fashionable messages Zara offers.

Due to the business model described and Zaragasm’s influence, very few companies can compete with Inditex. Its high street competitors are known only for fashion, as opposed to Zara, which is also associated with its distinct style, a feature attracting the privileged 45+ demographic with its vast disposable income. A retail analyst at Barclay’s, Christodoulos Chaviaras, believes the company is challenging itself to operate faster. A new Zara store, for example, opens daily somewhere in the world, and the 6,000th store of Inditex’ was launched on Oxford Street, London, a few years ago. There are approximately 50 Zara storefronts in the U.S., 2,000 in Spain, and 350 in China. Most manufacturing factories are located in Spain and its neighboring countries; the Inditex Group also has its production in China and Morocco, making it possible to increase output overnight.

Investments and Philanthropy

Amancio Ortega’s business portfolio, which has made his net worth, includes fashion and additional investments, such as gas, banks, tourism, and worldwide real estate holdings. Inditex shares’ price is increasing constantly; Ortega Gaona owns the holding’s 59.3 percent, valued at €110 ($119.54 ) billion in 2015. Financial magazines report the fashion business allowed Ortega to become the owner of real estate holdings in London, Paris, Madrid, and Lisbon, as well as luxury accommodations in Miami. Apart from the business activities, Amancio Ortega invests in charity. With his first wife, Rosalía Mera, Ortega founded The Paideia Foundation in 1986. This philanthropic foundation helps people with mental and physical disabilities get interdisciplinary education and training. Amancio Ortega’s ex-wife, Rosalía Mera Goyenechea, used to perform in the position of the president of the foundation. The Paideia Foundation has received many awards since the beginning of that charitable project. Amancio Ortega introduced another non-profit organization in 2001. Fundacion Amancio Ortega is a private NGO aiming to promote science, research, education, social action, culture, and welfare. Recognized with the Order of Civil Merit in 2009, Mr. Ortega is the organization’s president, and Flora Pérez Marcote, his younger daughter, is vice president.

The unique business model of Zara’s business, with its two golden rules of giving customers what they want as quickly as possible, is not the only business secret of Amancio Ortega. As a prime property owner, Amancio Ortega rents them to his Zara stores and performs as his fashion business’ landlord. It is not a coincidence that Inditex stores enjoy a loyal land proprietor who never increases the rental cost. In 2011, bidding with Tishman Speyer, the owner of London’s Tower Place, Rockefeller Center, and the Chrysler Building, for the 43-floor Picasso Tower, Madrid’s famous office building, Amancio Ortega won. His $556-million offer was accepted, and Amancio Ortega Gaona paid all cash.

Moreover, in 2014, Ortega purchased another $60 million stake (the first cost $105 million) in Barcelona’s prime real estate, which hosted the Apple flagship store. After purchasing real estate locations in London’s West End, the Meatpacking District of NYC, Barcelona’s best shopping areas, and Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive, Amancio Ortega invested $1 billion within four months (December 2013 to March 2014). Currently, Amancio Ortega maintains both the fast fashion retail business and his real estate investments – being compared to Sam Walton, the Walmart founder, and Donald Bren, the Irvine Company owner, the most powerful one in the real estate sector. The precise value of Ortega’s real estate empire is estimated at $10 billion. Over the past decades, the entrepreneur has spent around $6 billion purchasing real estate in Chicago, Miami, San Francisco, Washington, Berlin, and Paris. Such acquisitions are usually made through Pontegadea Inmobiliaria and Pontegadea Inversiones, Ortega’s real estate holdings.

Die of success? Give me a break! We've only just started! – Amancio Ortega Gaona Click To Tweet

Unemployment in Spain was at a critical level even in 2015. The trough of the crisis fell in 2007 when all Spanish corporations’ downtown offices in Barcelona, Madrid, and Bilbao sold their properties and moved out. Inditex has not heard about the crisis, and Amancio Ortega is taking advantage of the Spanish economic default to acquire locations for deep discounts. The Spanish Association of Fashion Designers president, Modesto Lomba, believes Inditex lives in another dimension. Pablo Isla, the CEO of Inditex, annually announces the stable growth of the holding’s revenue.

Lifestyle

In 30 years since Inditex was founded, Amancio Ortega has become a fast fashion mogul. According to Forbes, Amancio Ortega’s net worth is estimated at $73.5 billion as of December 20, 2015, and $88.3 billion as of October 2023. He is so successful due to his distinctive personality traits, which include mind flexibility, workaholism, and profound self-confidence.

His pioneering fast fashion clothing business has proved Amancio Ortega’s flexibility of mind. Ortega’s progressive ideas made it possible to respond to consumer demand quickly, developing ready-to-wear fashion clothing (instead of designing haute couture collections). According to the legend, Amancio Ortega’s habit is to behold young people’s lifestyles to reproduce relevant, innovative designs at Zara.

They say Ortega might see a motorbiker at traffic lights wearing a hand-made jeans jacket decorated with occasional patches, and the next moment, Amancio would call one of his designers to describe the garment he has recently spotted to have it in the future Zara collection.

In 2012, Ortega asked the vice president of Inditex, Pablo Isla, to replace Inditex’s CEO. However, at the age of 79, Amancio Ortega travels daily to the headquarters, 10 miles away from his home place, showing no sign of being less interested in the further international expansion of his brands. Despite his wealth, Ortega has never had his office, as he enjoys working together with other designers in the open-plan space, developing new trends, and discussing new colors and fabrics.

He remains open to all employees, as this hierarchically flat company has no memos and a lack of computers. Inditex employees do not have to fix appointments with Ortega long beforehand. Moreover, Loreto García Falque, Head of Zara Studio at Inditex, reports that they never attend fashion shows but listen to customers spotting new tastes. Amancio Ortega is still performing as the central muse and inspiration for the whole corporation.

Amancio Ortega Gaona likes to work and rarely takes vacations. The textile empire owner lives a pretty modest life, residing in his native La Coruña, the Galician town with approximately 300,000 citizens on the North Atlantic’s windswept coast. Amancio Ortega visits the same coffee shop every day, downtown La Coruña, ordering eggs and fries for breakfast. Fellow citizens often see Ortega walking along Plaza Maria Pita. The mogul behind Zara eats lunch in the company cafeteria, sharing tables with some fabric experts and buyers to discuss business matters. He never visits resorts for millionaires, Greece being his rare vacation choice. His flying fear also motivates Ortega to devote a few weeks a year to hiking pilgrimage tours along Galicia. While at home, declining extravagant hobbies, Amancio Ortega is fond of rearing chickens and goats and meeting his grandchildren at his Spanish villa.

Unprivileged childhood conditions and no MBA degree have made Amancio the man he is: possessing an entrepreneurial spirit, deeply involved with all the business routine while keeping a low profile. Despite his fashion business, Amancio Ortega is not interested in wearing brands himself, seemingly the only person who does not wear Inditex’s garments. His outfit preferences are as modest as his lifestyle: no tie, a simple white shirt, a blue uniform blazer, and gray trousers – none of those branded.

Amancio Ortega Gaona’s life story shows that he achieved success thanks to his self-confidence, hard work, and giving his customers what they want. We hope you have enjoyed exploring Amancio Ortega Gaona’s biography and success story of the Inditex Group.

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