Go to many central high streets of the world’s capitals or main cities and one of the names amongst some of the other globally recognized names that you will see is one consisting of a simple four letters, ZARA.
Zara is now a colossal international giant with a presence all over the world. Though having its clothes worn by many who are, or more importantly would like to be thought of, as sophisticated, glamorous and trendy ironically the founder of this company is in fact to this day quiet a simple, modest person despite being the richest person in Europe, richer than the Queen of England or the King of Spain. Spain is in fact the country where Zara founder, Amancio Ortega was born, grew up in and lives in till this day.
Amancio Ortega was born in the north of Spain. Spain is a state consisting of many different regions and also races with their own language and distinct identity such as the fiercely proud Catalans and Basques. Galicia is also another part of Spain where the people speak their own language, Gallego, (similar to Portuguese) and millions of people in Latin America and elsewhere through out the world who are of Spanish ancestry come from that particular region, as did Spain’s ruler for a large part of the twentieth century, general Francisco Franco. However Ortega was not born in Galicia or as a Gallego but in a small village called Busdongo de Arbás in the Leon region of Spain.
Ortega grew up in Leon during his childhood and it was in his adolescence that he moved to La Coruna, the second biggest city in Galicia and where he still lives today, next to the Atlantic Ocean.
Upon moving to Coruna, Ortega ended up getting a job at the age of fourteen for a shirtmaker in that town called Gala. Ortega’s father was a railway worker and had left their native Leon for work reasons. The family had financial problems and Amancio, the youngest got this job to help the family out, little did he know it would be the first step in making him a billionaire and richer than the king of Spain, the successor to the Spanish royal throne that once ruled much of Europe and much of the Americas.
Ortega decided business success lay in identifying what customers wanted and giving that to them as opposed to creating products and then marketing it to make customers want them. All this was to be done with speed. It is this speed which more than anything else characterizes Zara and differentiates it from other fashion retailers. The sheer speed with which new design lines and new products are created and then displayed at shops is not matched by others.
Ortega opened his first Zara shop in Coruna in 1974 and then in the comparatively short time of 6 years he went from having his first shop in his adopted home town to expanding in to a foreign country, Portugal in 1980. Then in the following decades it continued to expand across Europe and overseas including the USA, Asia, Africa and elsewhere.
The company is an integrated operation controlling the whole line of business from design on to production on to distribution and retail selling, unlike other fashion designers or textile companies. So though some companies have hired some ex-Zara designers they have not been able to replicate other aspects of the companies entire operational process which is a comprehensive one from conceptual design to the customer buying from the till.
Ortega is still involved in running Zara and is the head of the parent company, Inditex.
Ortega’s simple lifestyle and charity work.
Many articles and journalists have spoken much of Ortega’s modest lifestyle, which in their eyes is an exception to a norm. Whether that exception is something positive or negative in their view is not totally clear. However, yes Ortega hardly gives interviews to the media. Ortega does not travel abroad that much and yes he has not chosen to live in a lavish mansion somewhere. What these journalists however often omit to mention is his charity work.
Ortega runs the “Fundacion Amancio Ortega” (FAO) or Amancio Ortega Foundation, a charity which runs a number of projects including educational ones.
One of the FAO’s projects is in conjunction with Spain’s Agrónomos Sin Fronteras (Agronomists without frontiers)
Spain and Galicia in particular seem to be proud of this successful Spaniard who has shown the world that though you can be rich you can continue to live a modest, down to earth life with your close family and among the community that you grew up with.