MADRID (Reuters) - The chairman of Spanish department store chain El Corte Ingles, Isidoro Alvarez, died on Sunday, Spain's Economy Ministry said.
Media-shy Alvarez is credited with turning the brand into a household name in Spain, although the retail giant had recently been hit by the economic crisis. It turned to financial markets for funding for the first time in 2013.
The privately-owned group had sales of 14.2 billion euros last year and is considered a benchmark for Spain's economy, both as employer of 93,000 staff as well as a food, clothing and household goods retailer.
Alvarez, who was 79, had been admitted to hospital last week. His death comes just a few days after that of another Spanish business giant, Emilio Botin of bank Santander. Like Botin, Alvarez died at the helm.
His nephew Dimas Gimeno is widely seen as a successor, and the group also recently named Manuel Pizarro, former chairman of electricity giant Endesa, as a senior board member.
El Corte Ingles is the only company to run department stores across Spain and also operates businesses like insurance, information technology, travel booking and ticketing for concerts and theater, marketing to its store card holders.
Founded in the 1930s when his uncle bought a small tailor's in central Madrid, it became a retail darling for Spaniards in the 1970s with its then groundbreaking promise of a no-questions-asked product return policy.
Unlike Amancio Ortega, who founded Inditex's Zara, Alvarez has been accused of being slow to implement a more professional corporate structure.
Reporting By Inmaculada Sanz and Sarah Morris; Writing by Elisabeth O'Leary; editing by Ralph Boulton