Amancio Ortega, the Spanish self-made man

The king of clothing who loves simple outfits: Amancio Ortega

Spanish billionaire businessman Amancio Ortega Gaona was born on March 28th, 1936 as the youngest of four children in the small village of Busdongo de Arbas in the province of León in northwestern Spain, bordering Galicia.

Both of his parents, railway worker Antonio Ortega Rodríguez and housewife Josefa Gaona Hernández, were from the neighboring province of Valladolid.

Ortega is the founder and former chairman of the world’s largest fashion group, Inditex (Industrias de Diseño Textil), best known for its chain of Zara clothing and accessories shops.

Despite suffering heavy losses due to the coronavirus pandemic, in early 2021 Ortega had a net worth of 77.3 billion US dollars, making him the second-wealthiest person in Europe after Bernard Arnault (born 1949), chairman and chief executive of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the biggest luxury-goods company worldwide.

For a brief period of time in 2015, Ortega was the richest man on the planet, bypassing Microsoft founder Bill Gates (born 1955), when his fortune peaked at $80 billion because of an increase in stock value.

He spent his childhood in Tolosa in the Basque Country and moved to the Galician city of La Coruña at the age of 14. There he found a job at a shirt maker called Gala, which still sits on the same corner downtown, and learned to design and make clothes by hand.

A man with a lot of entrepreneurial vision enjoyed two very favorable conditions in a region which in the 1950s was among Spain’s poorest: a high unemployment rate and many women without resources who knew how to tailor. As an initial step, Ortega started to manage cooperatives which employed large numbers of seamstresses.

In 1963 Ortega founded his first own business, Confecciones GOA (the reversed initials of his name) with other family members to sell bathrobes.

He married Rosalía Mera Goyenechea (1944-2013​) in 1966, who died as Spain´s wealthiest business woman, leaving behind a patrimony of 4700 million euros.

Daughter Sandra (born 1968) is currently the president of the Foundation Paideia Galiza, founded by her mother to help disabled people like her only son Marcos, who was born in 1971 with cerebral palsy.

The couple divorced in 1986 after Ortega had fathered daughter Marta (born 1984) with Flora Pérez Marcote (born 1952), who became his second wife in 2001.

In spite of his immense wealth, Ortega is very private, even reclusive, about his personal life, and likes to keep a low profile. Until 1999, no photograph of him had ever been published and so far he has only given three interviews to journalists.

Therefore his public appearance in 2000, as part of the warm-up prior to an initial public offering on the stock market in 2001, made headlines in the Spanish financial press.

In 1975, he established the company which later would be well-known around the globe as the Zara brand. Originally it was to be called Zorba, after the protagonist of the 1964 movie Zorba the Greek, which Ortega liked very much.

Coincidentally, a bar in the area of La Coruña where the first store was opened had the same name and its owner therefore asked Ortega to change it.

Ortega gradually also created the brands Zara Home, Bershka, Kiddy’s Class, Lefties, Oysho, Tempe, Pull and Bear as well as Uterqüe. He bought Massimo Dutti in 1991 as well as Stradivarius in 1994.

His first location outside of Spain was Porto in 1988. Meanwhile there 7,300 stores on five continents and the work force has increased to 176,000 employees.

In 2011, Ortega announced his imminent retirement from Inditex and asked vice president and CEO, lawyer Pablo Isla Álvarez de Tejera (born 1964), to take his place as head.

A discrete but fervent Christian, Ortega over the years has given considerable sums to Caritas, a large Catholic social service and relief organization, including the most generous single donation of its history.

In 2001, the Amancio Ortega Foundation was created in Arteijo, the site of Inditex’s headquarters, as a non-profit institution that aims to promote activities, mainly in the field of education, by offering each year 250 scholarships for the United States and Canada.

The private Spanish Association of Foundations (Asociación Española de Fundaciones, AEF) awarded Ortega in the 2017 Philanthropic Initiative category.

In 2018 Spanish public hospitals all over the country received 320 million euros to purchase 440 machines to detect cancer and 50 to treat it.

However, this decision wasn’t unanimously welcomed and criticized by the left-wing party Unidas Podemos, which brought forward the silly argument that the health system shouldn’t rely on multimillionaires.

It was revealed in July 2020 that Ortega’s property holdings, through his investment company Pontegadea, were worth 17.2 billion US dollars and the most successful in his homeland.

His main real estate assets are located in Madrid and Barcelona, but also include some in Berlin, Lisbon, London, Paris and Rome as well as in Chicago, Miami, New York, Seattle and Washington, DC. Since 2019 he is one of Amazon´s landlords in the State of Washington.

Nevertheless, Ortega mostly lives with his spouse in the same apartment in La Coruña, where his professional career started decades ago.

Ortega likes to wear a simple blue blazer, white shirt and gray trousers, none of which are Zara products, and refuses to wear a tie.

He owns two yachts and two private jets, though no real luxury cars, just two Mercedes and two Audi. The self-made made Ortega has never lost touch with reality nor forgotten his humble origins.


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