| MADRID, March 4
MADRID, March 4 Spain's Amancio Ortega, elevated
by Forbes to become the third richest person in the world, may
have discovered fashion's secret of eternal youth.
The "fast fashion" tycoon's estimated net worth of $57
billion is built on a formula of endless renewal, with dresses
and blouses displayed in thousands of Zara stores worldwide for
only a few days before they are taken off the rails and replaced
with an even newer line of must-have garments.
Customers know they have to buy the clothes quickly if they
want them because they will not be available for long. The
now-global strategy also encourages shoppers to return
frequently to see new ranges and trends.
In a country with sky-high unemployment and businesses going
to the wall, Spain's richest man is a rare self-made mogul amid
a corporate culture dominated by family dynasties.
Ortega overtook U.S. investor Warren Buffett and luxury
group chief Bernard Arnault of France to become the third
richest person on Forbes' 2013 annual ranking of billionaires on
Monday. Ahead of Ortega are Mexican telecoms boss Carlos Slim at
No.1, followed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
Ortega's aggressively managed Inditex group has
more than 6,000 stores in some 90 countries and includes such
brands as Zara, Zara Home, Massimo Dutti and others. It is the
world's biggest fashion retailer ahead of Gap and Hennes
& Mauritz, making 840 million garments a year.
Inditex says it does not advertise, and with celebrities
such as Kate Middleton - wife to Britain's Prince William -
wearing Zara clothes, it may not have to.
Ortega's empire is a cash-rich business with a market
capitalisation of 65 billion euros ($84 billion) that is
thriving amid the deep economic gloom that is engulfing its home
country. The shares rose 67 percent last year, bucking a slump
in consumer spending in Spain.
Ortega, a stocky 76-year-old who favours blue blazers,
open-necked white shirts and casual trousers, took home 666
million euros in gross dividends thanks to his 59 percent stake
in Inditex, which is worth 38 billion euros at current prices.
He has also largely defied the gloom in Spain's property
sector through clever purchases and management of real estate.
His Zara stores are often positioned in premium locations near
other more luxurious brands as part of his marketing strategy.
Yet surprisingly little is known about Ortega, despite the
best efforts of Spain's intrusive celebrity press.
He has guarded his privacy so jealously that the company has
only released one photograph of him, when the company listed in
2001. The nation's most successful entrepreneur routinely turns
"To Amancio Ortega: he didn't open any doors, nor did he
close any windows," wrote one biographer in a dedication.
According to the Spanish press, Ortega lives in a
comfortable but not lavish apartment with his second wife,
His daughter Marta is widely expected to take over the
fashion empire one day and has undergone training at Inditex,
including working in a store, although the firm won't confirm
she will be the successor.
Ortega became Spain's richest man when Inditex listed on the
stock exchange but he did not attend the inaugural ringing of
the bell at the bourse and never goes to shareholder meetings.
"Reclusive", "secretive" or "reserved" are the usual
descriptions for Ortega, a man occasionally seen at equestrian
competitions with his family, who manages to maintain his
privacy partly thanks to living in the rainy city of A Coruna in
northwest Spain, 300 miles (500 km) from the capital.
Biographers who say they have had access to him tell a
rags-to-riches story: Ortega left school when he was 12 to work
as a shirt-maker's delivery boy, to help support his poor
He learnt fast and began making gowns and lingerie in his
living room along with his first wife, Rosalia Mera.
He realised customers wanted affordable versions of catwalk
trends and opened his first Zara shop in A Coruna in 1975. Over
the years, he has added more labels to the business, from teen
brand Bershka to the more upmarket Massimo Dutti.
Experts credit Zara with transforming the business through
"fast fashion". Affordable imitations of catwalk designs can
move from drawing-board to stores within two weeks -- and poor
sellers are pulled off the shop floor even quicker.
Ortega handed over chairmanship of the company to Pablo Isla
in 2011 but is thought to retain an active role in the business,
where security is tight at its headquarters.
Visitors are picked up from A Coruna in chauffeur-driven
cars and taken to the company's campus a 20-minute drive away,
at Arteixo in the middle of the countryside. The complex sprawls
across an area equivalent to 11 soccer pitches.
Reuters was attentively shown around by members of the
company's communications team, but it is the firm's policy to
talk more about the company than its founder, and there are
scant biographical details in the few books about him.
Ortega does, however, talk to the workers when he visits the
A Coruna headquarters.
There are bright, modern, open-plan floors where designers
sit close to teams who talk directly to representatives in the
firm's stores, feeding back customers' reactions to the clothes.
The slickest part of the operation is found at the logistics
depot, where computer-controlled overhead conveyer belts drop
clothes stitched by suppliers into boxes to be sent out to shops
around the globe.
The highlight of the visit, though, is to "Fashion Street",
a mall within the complex that includes a Zara store and another
from the furnishings brand Zara Home.
Here every window dressing and table layout is meticulously
trialled and photographed, so that stores can replicate the most
eye-catching displays from Madrid to Tokyo, from London to Sao
Paulo, an example of the tight control practised by the company.
"The till works but you can't buy anything here," explained
an Inditex spokesman in the Zara Home store, showing Reuters
around its tables of artfully arranged scented candles, folded
napkins, towels and racks of bed linen.
Beyond retail, Ortega has investments in two main funds:
Pontegadea Inversiones, in which he is the majority owner with
97.2 percent and his daughter Marta has 2.8 percent; and