The Spanish founder of the Zara fashion chain has overtaken Bill Gates to become the world’s richest man.
Amancio Ortega’s personal fortune leapt by $1.7billion this week to $79.5billion – taking the Inditex owner past the Microsoft co-founder’s estimated $78.5billion.
Already Europe’s richest man, the 80-year-old – whose glamorous daughter Marta is expected to take over management of the business – now tops the global list.
Marta, 31, has undergone training at the firm, including stacking shelves when she was younger.
Despite rumours that she is due to succeed her father, Inditex – parent company to Zara, Massimo Dutti and Pull&Bear – will not confirm her as successor.
Forbes reported that Ortega became the world’s richest man on Wednesday when Inditex shares went up 2.5 per cent.
He now has a larger net worth than the likes of US investor Warren Buffett and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
It is not the first time he has topped the list and was briefly ahead of Bill Gates in October before a surge in Microsoft shares put him back in second place.
The son of a railway worker from La Coruna in Spain, Ortega transformed clothing group Inditex from a tiny family dressmaker into Spain’s biggest company.
He has turned Zara into a byword in chic for themoney-conscious, transforming the apparel business with its’fast fashion’ model.
Affordable imitations of catwalk designscan move from drawing-board to stores within two weeks, and poorsellers are pulled off the shop floor even quicker.
Last year, his sales blossomed asInditex shares rose nearly 40 per cent.
He holds a 59.3 percent stake in what is now the world’sbiggest fashion retailer, ahead of Gap and Hennes &Mauritz.
It grew from humble beginnings in the rainynorthern region of Galicia to more than 6,000 stores in some 90countries with a stable of brands from high-end label MassimoDutti to homewear chain Zara Home.
The group is only the third Spanish firm ever to be valued above100 billion euros, after bank Santander and telecomsgiant Telefonica, both of which now lag well behind.
He is known for selecting designs based on feedback fromshop assistants who zero in on shoppers’ reactions.
‘If he speaks to a shop assistant and he likes what they hadto say, he will pay more attention to that than to any of hismanagers,’ a former Inditex director told Reuters.
Since his ex-wife and Inditex co-founder Rosalia Mera diedsuddenly in August 2013, there has been intense speculation overthe succession.
His second wife Flora Perez, 61, sits on the board ofInditex.
Ortega’s majority stake in Inditex is held through anothercompany, Pontegadea Inversiones, which Ortega has also used tochannel the steady flow of dividends and build up a real estateportfolio with assets worth 8 billion euros at end-2014.
This, as well as favourable inheritance laws in the Galicianregion, means that his heirs are likely to keep a tight controlover the fashion empire.
In July it was reported that Ortega’s real estate assets in 2015 topped 6billion euros alone.
Using massive dividend payouts from Inditex, which have nearly doubled over the last five years, Ortega has made largely debt-free purchases of prime buildings from London to New York, becoming a major commercial real estate player over that period.
‘All the buildings he buys are in prime districts. It’s a steady, reliable income stream, almost like a sovereign bond,’ said Carles Vergara, finance professor at IESE Business School.
Ortega’s first big real estate purchase was Torre Picasso, an office building in Madrid, bought in 2011 around the time he handed the daily running of the world’s biggest clothing retailer to chief executive officer Pablo Isla.
Since then he has bought properties including an office block in London’s Mayfair; a stretch of London’s prime shopping drag Oxford Street; and the historic cast-iron clad E.V. Haughwout Building in SoHo, New York, which housed a world- famous cut glass and porcelain store in the 19th century and featured the world’s first passenger elevator.
Ortega not only rents out his commercial property to Inditex stores like Zara and upmarket label Massimo Dutti at market rates, but also to rivals such as H&M of Sweden and Gap of the United States.
In Madrid, he owns No. 32 on the Spanish capital’s main shopping drag Gran Via. The Art Deco building, built as one of the city’s first grand-scale department stores in the 1920s, now houses biggest store in Spain for arch-rival Primark.
In February, Ortega made his first foray into Asia, buying a 22-storey plaza in Myeongdong, Seoul’s trendy shopping district.
Photos: Bloomberg, Alamy, Spread Pictures, Gatty Images