Amancio Ortega: the humble introvert who made a billion

Amancio Ortega shook up the retail industry with his “fast-fashion” revolution. Now he’s the richest man in Spain and has a property empire bigger than the Duke of Westminster’s. 


Move over Hugh Grosvenor, there's a new European property king. According to Bloomberg data, the founder of Zara, Amancio Ortega, has quietly overtaken the real-estate heirs of London to hold the continent's biggest portfolio with assets worth $13bn, compared with $12bn for the young Duke of Westminster and $7bn for Charles Cadogan. Not bad for a man who grew up so poor that there were periods in his childhood when he ate "only potatoes".

At 83, Ortega is Spain's richest man, with a fortune put at $63.6bn most of it derived from his majority stake in Zara's parent Inditex, the world's largest fast-fashion operator. For some years Ortega's wealth managers have been scrambling to diversify his wealth, says The Economist. Property was the natural choice for a mogul who likes an investment "he can touch". And of late the chief target of Ortega's investment firm, Pontegadea, has been the US, where he has spent $3bn over the past six years typically on landmark properties in key cities. Like many multibillionaires, he mostly pays in cash.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Become a smarter, better informed investor with MoneyWeek.

How he turned fashion on its head

Zorba the Greek

Right from the start, Ortega turned the fashion industry's established modus operandi on its head. Rather than deciding what people should wear, then trying to persuade them to buy it, he asked shoppers what they wanted and designed the products accordingly. Before a global push in the 1980s, Ortega built a pioneering system linking Zara's talented young designers with its factories, warehouses and stores. It was the start of a fast-fashion revolution that left rivals trailing. These days, garments "fly from the design room to the shelves of stores in New York and Tokyo within four weeks".

Advertisement - Article continues below

In 2008 Inditex whose other brands include Pull&Bear, Massimo Dutti and Bershka overtook Gap to become the world's largest clothes retailer by sales; in 2011, it usurped Banco Santander as the biggest company in Spain. Success has posed problems for Ortega, "whose leadership style appears to favour extreme introversion", says The Economist. He is so self-effacing that investors visiting in advance of the firm's 2001 float "awkwardly" confused him with other staff. He has always preferred to direct his firm while standing with colleagues in the design room "he has never had his own office, deskor computer".

No model stays brilliant forever in business, and the challenge facing Inditex is how long it can keep growing, and at what pace, says the Financial Times. Ortega, who retired in 2011, is out of the daily fray, but still occasionally drops by the staff canteen. Described by one financier as "a man of the people", it must have come as a shock when Spain's Podemos party recently insinuated during a lament about inequality that he was "a terrorist". If so, he's been a remarkably productive one for Spain.




Willie Walsh: the colourful scamp who saved BA

Willie Walsh is standing down after 15 years in the cockpit at Britain’s flagship airline. Few will miss his combative approach, but the industry is l…
17 Jan 2020

Neil Woodford rides again

Neil Woodford’s speedy descent made Icarus look like a slouch. Many thought he would now be spending more time with his horses. He’s actually plotting…
1 Jan 2020

The movers and shakers of 2019

Men make history, but not in circumstances of their own choosing, said Marx. Some men make more of it in less time than others. Here are four figures …
31 Dec 2019

Pham Nhat Vuong: Vietnam’s Donald Trump

Not satisfied with a business empire that covers just about everything in his native Vietnam, property mogul Pham Nhat Vuong is making a move into the…
25 Dec 2019

Most Popular


Want to make money in 2020? Gold and silver are looking like a good bet

If you want to make money from investing, says Dominic Frisby, it’s simple: find a bull market and go long. And in 2020 gold and silver are in a bull …
22 Jan 2020

Money Minute Wednesday 22 January: UK public borrowing

Today's Money Minute looks ahead to the latest on of the UK's public finances, with the Office for Budget Responsibility’s forecasts for borrowing thi…
22 Jan 2020
Share tips

India’s small and mid-cap stocks are set for big gains – here are three to buy now

Each week, a professional investor tells us where he’d put his money. This week: David Cornell of the India Capital Growth Fund highlights three favou…
20 Jan 2020
Share tips

Class acts going cheap: buy into Europe’s best bargains

Value investing appears to be making a comeback, while shares on this side of the Atlantic are more appealing on metrics such as price/earnings ratios…
16 Jan 2020