Recluse behind Zara is now world's third richest man

Mon Mar 4, 2013 11:30am EST
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By Sarah Morris

MADRID (Reuters) - 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.

The aggressively managed Inditex has more than 6,000 stores in some 90 countries and includes such brands as Ortega's flagship 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 capitalization 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.   Continued...

People walk by one of Zara's stores in central Madrid December 14, 2011. REUTERS/Susana Vera