Freelance Spain
Spaniards for the 21st century

Amancio Ortega Gaona
Fashion entrepreneur, considered the richest man in Spain

According to one estimate, published in El Mundo newspaper, Amancio Ortega Gaona's net wealth in 1999 was $4.5 billion. That was more than $1 billion more than the man who had usually been listed as being the richest in Spain, banker Emilio Botín. In 2001, Forbes reckoned his worth at $6.6 bn.

Amancio OrtegaBorn in León in March, 1936, Ortega is a self-made-man who started out at age 14 as a gofer in a shirt store in La Coruña, Galicia (north-western Spain). In 1963 he started Confecciones Goa (his initials in reverse), which made bathrobes. In 1975 he opened the first store in what would grow into the enormously popular chain of  fashion boutiques called Zara. Still based near La Coruña, it has more than 700 outlets worldwide. He is majority shareholder of the Inditex group (Industrias de Diseño Textil Sociedad Anónima) which includes the brands Zara, Massimo Dutti, and Pull & Bear, among others, and has some 14,000 employees.

The mysterious Ortega keeps such a low profile that few Spaniards had ever heard of him, and there are practically no photographs of him, but by all accounts this owes to a genuine desire to to lead a relatively quiet life rather than to an an obsessive, Howard Hughes-style reclusiveness. He refuses to wear a tie, and likes to dress in blue jeans. When he finally put in a public appearance in early 2000 - as part of the warm-up prior to floating his company on the stock market in 2001 - it made headlines in the Spanish financial press.

In 2000 Inditex had sales of some $2.4 billion, and showed a profit of more than $240 million. Its launch on the Madrid stock market in May 2001 was a spectacular success: on day one, the initial share value of 14.7 increased by more than 22 per cent. Ortega retained a 61 per cent share in the group.

Copyright © Mark Little

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