She started on the floor of Zara’s shop on King’s Road, to clear the fitting room and stock. Now – at the age of 37 – he has been named chairman of the €90 billion business. But it’s no rip to riches story: Marta Ortega Pérez is the daughter of the Spanish tycoon who founded Zara’s parent company, Inditex, and other brands like Massimo Dutti and Pull & Bear.
It was announced this week that Ortega Perez is to be handed control of the family’s fashion empire. Ortega Pérez is the youngest daughter of Spain’s richest man, Amancio Ortega, who co-founded Inditex in 1963. Ortega Perez has spent 15 years working behind the scenes at the company in various roles, but has now moved out of his father’s shadow.
Inditex said that Ortega Perez was promoted to the top position – and that his appointment was accompanied by other changes announced, including a new CEO – to complete a “generational handover process” that began in 2011. When Amancio stepped down as president. In a statement, Ortega Perez vowed to “dedicate his life to building his parents’ legacy, while looking to the future but learning from the past.”
A wave of nepotism hung over Ortega Perez’s promotion, and some investors were upset by the move. Inditex shares fell after the announcement. Other brands from Zara and Inditex face challenges from cheap startups like China’s Xien, as well as a generational shift to online shopping.
So, is Ortega Perez ready for the job? Ortega Perez has “lived and breathed in this company since childhood,” she said in a statement, adding, “I’ve learned from all the great professionals I’ve worked with over the past 15 years.”
A wave of nepotism hangs over the promotion of Ortega Perez
Ortega Perez began his career with Inditex after graduating from university, working on the floor of a Zara shop on Kings Road. “The first week, I thought I wouldn’t survive,” she told the Wall Street Journal in a rare interview earlier this year. “But then you get addicted to the shop. Some people never want to leave. It’s the heart of the company.” She has since held various positions within the business, although she is said to have had no specific title prior to her promotion.
Richard Hyman, a longtime retail consultant, said Ortega Perez’s profile in the industry was “not very big”, but it was not unusual for his father. Amancio, 85, is notoriously private – he is said to have never given press interviews and his first public photo only surfaced in 1999. This is even more unusual considering his estimated net worth of $75 billion, which makes him the second richest. Man in Europe according to Forbes.
Both official and unofficial biographers have pieced together his background. Amancio was born in 1936 on the eve of the Spanish Civil War, the youngest of four children. His father was a railway worker and his mother was a maid. Growing up poor, he dropped out of school at the age of 14 and found work at a local shirtmaker in La Corua, northern Spain. In 1963 he set up his own manufacturing business to manufacture quilted bathrobes. Then in 1975 they opened their first store which they were making directly to the consumers. He is said to have settled on the name Zara after taking Zorba as his preferred option.
The first international store was opened in Portugal in 1988 and in the early nineties, Zara was in New York and Paris. Today, the company is the world’s largest clothing retailer with over 6,600 stores worldwide and sales of €20.4 billion last year.
Ortega Perez’s childhood was very different from that of his father. According to the International Federation for Equestrian Sports, she grew up going to ballet classes and riding horses – having participated in nearly 400 equestrian events. The Ortega family built their own stables in 2000 in La Corua, where Inditex is still headquartered.
Zara has long been renowned for its ability to quickly dispense large quantities of on-trend items, pushing ‘fast fashion’. While it could take an entire season for rivals to switch to the new designs, Zara could do it in less than half the time. That ability had been created by Amancio for decades. Hyman, who has toured Inditex’s facilities, said: “I’ve visited several retail businesses in my time and I don’t think I’ve ever been blown away.”
Ortega Perez is credited with linking Zara’s vast production and distribution capabilities to the realm of high fashion, offering buyers the haute couture look at affordable prices. She launched premium lines like Zara SRPLS – a twice-annual collection of catwalk style pieces – and Zara by Charlotte Gainsbourg. Celebrity stylists and fashion photographers are enlisted to shoot campaigns for the series under her supervision. “I think it’s important to build the bridge between high fashion and the high street, between past and present, between technology and fashion, between art and functionality,” Ortega Perez told the Wall Street Journal.
According to one profile, she is Valentino’s “fangirl”, and is a regular on the brand’s shows. Actually, she married her second husband in a Valentino gown. (Her second husband Carlos Torreta is himself the son of an Argentine fashion designer.) That ceremony was reportedly attended by Bruce Springsteen’s daughter Jessica and the guests were presented by Norah Jones, Jamie Cullum and Coldplay’s Chris Martin.
Despite the glitz, Inditex’s outgoing chairman Pablo Isla described Ortega Perez as “very polite” to the Wall Street Journal. Hyman said: “They have a very collegiate, non-hierarchical structure. They are quite polite.” Amancio is famous for never taking office, instead working on a factory floor with designers. Marta works at a desk a few yards away.
Hyman says that Zara’s incredible track record and the success of Amancio’s retirement from the role of president in 2011 suggest that the appointment of Ortega Perez would be a good one. “If he is the anointed heir, it is clearly thought out,” he said. “History shows that these are the people whose decisions are strictly commercial.”
Baroness Denise Kingsmill, an independent director on Inditex’s board since 2016, said she was “personally pleased” with the elevation of Ortega Perez.
“I think it’s an excellent development that’s been under consideration for some time,” she said. Standard, “Marta is steeped in the company culture and business. She brings a youthful outlook and a keen sense of fashion, both of which are at the heart of Inditex.”
Ortega Perez said: “I am deeply honored by the trust that has been placed in me, and very excited about the future that we are all about to embark upon together.”