This Man Just Beat Bill Gates to Become the Richest Man on Earth

Spanish retail tycoon Amancio Ortega briefly topped Bill Gates as the richest man on Earth.

The elusive multi-billionaire is the owner of apparel company Zara, which has over 6,000 stores in over 89 countries.

According to Forbes, Ortega’s fortune is worth $79.8 billion as of Friday morning as stock in his holding company Industria de Diseño Textil, or Inditex, hit 33.99 euros per share. Inditex is the parent company to brands including Zara, Pull&Bear and Massimo Dutti.

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Ortega, the son of a railway worker, cofounded Zara in 1975 with his wife Rosalia Mera. He was born in 1936 to a humble family that did not have the comforts that money could provide. As a teenager he dropped out of school and worked as a delivery boy for a shirtmaker in the city of Coruna, Spain.

The first Zara was opened in Spain and sold nightgowns, lingerie and babywear. Today Ortega owns 59% of the clothing company known for its affordable imitations of high-fashion designs. The company is a $20 billion sales enterprise.

Ortega and Mera divorced in 1986 and questions of succession arose when Mera passed suddenly in August 2013 from a fatal brain hemorrhage. Their daughter, Sandra Ortega Mera, inherited her mother’s stake of $7.3 billion, which made her the second-richest person in Spain. His second wife, 61-year-old Flora Perez, is a board member of Inditex. Their daughter Mara, 31, is widely speculated to take over the firm.

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The man who built one of the richest clothing empires rarely grants interviews and is seldom photographed. According to Reuters, he was absent from the inaugural ringing of the stock market bell at the Madrid exchange for Inditex in 2001.

It’s no surprise that Ortega, a savvy businessman, has been so financially successful. He is known to take into account the feedback from shop assistants who inform him of shoppers’ reactions when choosing future designs for the store. A former inditex director told Reuters:

“If he speaks to a shop assistant and he likes what they had to say, he will pay more attention to that than to any of his managers.”

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Ortega earns hundreds of millions in dividends from Inditex each year for his clothing empire, but he is investing that fortune into expanding his real estate portfolio. He owns buildings in major cities including London, Madrid, Barcelona and Chicago.

Ortega purportedly purchased an entire block of retail space in Miami for $370 million in September. His real estate business, Pontegadea Inmobiliaria, reported assets valued over 5 billion euros when it filed with the Spanish registry in 2012.

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