Editor’s Note: “Inditex Back to Back (1 & 2)” has been put together by GUIDEPOST to honor two individuals who were once so desperately poor but made it to the list of the world’s richest and most powerful through sheer hard work, unshakeable faith in their product and the will to succeed.
“Back to Back” is the marvelous story of Inditex founders Amancio Ortega and Rosalía Mera who passed on recently.
One thing that stood out about Rosalía Mera was that, despite her great wealth, she remained true to her humble beginnings.
In the evening of 15 August 2013 billionaire Rosalía Mera passed on. She was vacationing on the Balearic island of Menorca with her daughter Sandra and Sandra’s family when she suddenly felt bad. She checked into the public hospital. Her health was good. But only hours later she suffered a stroke, causing brain hemorrhage . . .
Sandra, in a desperate attempt to save her mother’s life despite the hopelessness of it, transported her on an ambulance plane to A Coruña. This time they took her to a small private clinic to protect her, vainly, from the prying cameras of the paparazzi whom she had always tried to avoid once she became a kind of celebrity for being the former wife of fashion mogul Amancio Ortega and who somehow got wind of the tragedy.
Forbes magazine, among numerous other international and practically all of the Spanish media, announced her demise: “Rosalia Mera, World’s Richest Self-Made Woman, Dies at 69.”
For its part, Inditex issued a formal statement: “The group wishes to send its sincere condolences to her loved ones and friends at this extremely difficult time, after the loss of a person who contributed so much to the origins and development of the company.”
This coldly standard communiqué was at variance with a visibly affected Amancio Ortega who rushed to the clinic, spent hours at the wake and didn’t want to miss the burial. After all, this was the woman who slaved beside him and made the birth of Zara store possible in 1975.
One thing that stood out about Rosalía was that, despite her great wealth, she remained true to her humble beginnings. (She was from the seedy neighborhood of Monte Alto, A Coruña). Asked by popular radio and TV host Iñaki Gabilondo if she was a leftist, she said that “cuando se nace en las circunstancias en la que yo nací, no se puede ser otra cosa (when one was born in the circumstances in which I was born, one can’t but be [a leftist].”
As everyone knows by now, Rosalía left school when she was just 11 years old. Like Amancio Ortega, she had to help support her poor family. At the La Maja garments store the pretty and vivacious teenager was first hired as a seamstress and then promoted to shop assistant.
Instead of living it up in the typically luxurious watering holes of the very rich (“thousand-millionaires”), she stuck close to home, figuratively and literally speaking, sharing tapas with friends in unpretentious bars and taverns and queuing up at the movies. She would have none of ostentatious high society stuff unless it happened to have something to do with her philanthropy: “Si me tengo que identificar, me identifico mucho más con ese entorno que ha sido mi mundo y del que tampoco he querido moverme demasiado porque me nutre, me sostiene (if I must define myself I would say that I am more of that environment that has been my world and from which I never wanted to venture too far out because it nourishes and sustains me).”
One of her favorite places was the Os Belés where she sometimes sang along with the band. But people heard that she frequented the tavern; they came by, avid to see what the billionaire looked like and maybe have a chance to importune her for some favor.
After her divorce from Amancio in 1986 she created the Fundación Paideia Galiza. She said of the foundation: “It’s a way of beginning anew, like falling in love again, this time not with a man but with an idea.” Incidentally, the breakup of her marriage was a great blow to this all-woman social activist who put great premium on the family.
The core idea of her foundation is to integrate those in danger of being marginalized by society because of mental or physical disability, no doubt sparked by her own personal experience with her son Marcos who is afflicted with congenital cerebral paralysis and her natural inclination for helping others to help themselves. Her leftist values do not however preclude a deep-seated respect for the business enterprise, self-contradictory as that may sound, and her detractors took pleasure in throwing it in her face. She lamented the Spanish youth’s propensity for plodding through secure jobs. She wanted them to be more adventurous, to create their own businesses and sweat it out until success came.
When in 2003 the Galician port town of Rianxo won €120 million of the first prize of the Gordo Christmas sweepstakes, converting many into well-off families, a team of financial advisers from the Fundación Paideia came down for the long haul to guide the winners along on what to do with their money (engage in productive enterprise) and what not to do (splurge on luxury cars and acquire non-productive assets).
Rosalía Mera’s philanthropic outreach was about as extensive as her business interests which included shares in open-end collective investments with variable capital (SICAV), investments in real estate, tourism (her holding company Rosp Corunna controls 30% of the Room Mate hotel chain and has an interest in the exclusive London Bulgari Hotel, as well as developing successful rural tourism especially in aid of women), renewable energy, biotechnology (she owned 5% of the Zeltia marine farming company), fingerprinting system for newborn babies . . . The list was long.
Forbes says that Rosalía “ha[d] found personal success as an investor.” Among the 100 Most Powerful Women, topped by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Forbes ranked her this year as Nº 66. Before her sudden death, she ranked Nº 195 among the 1426 billionaires in the world. Her net worth was $6.1 billion thanks mostly to her almost 6% share of Inditex. Her philanthropy also formed part of her “Power base”.
According to Forbes she was, until her death, the richest woman in Spain, and the second richest person in the country, next only to her ex-husband Amancio who is the richest in Spain and the third richest person in the world, with a net worth of $57 billion largely because of his nearly 60% share of Inditex.
Today Inditex employs 120,314 people; has nearly 5,900 stores in 86 countries and a sales volume of $20.56 billion; ranks Nº 321 among the Global 2000 and is Nº 78 in market value. Its CEO is Pablo Isla.
Since the marriage of Amancio’s daughter Marta to her horse jumper boyfriend Sergio Alvarez Moya in 2012, rumors about her becoming company president have died down.
Attention has now turned to Sandra, Amancio’s older daughter by Rosalía, who is expected to inherit the bulk of her mother’s billions as well as a future billionaire’s inheritance from her father. She may not be the apple of his eye but she’s still his forced heir. Fifty per cent of Rosp Corunna, which controls Rosalá’s share in Inditex, is Sandra’s. Her mother wanted it that way.
Don’t look now but Sandra may well have become Spain’s richest woman already !
Unlike Marta who’s had an elitist education in Switzerland and England, Sandra, who has a degree in psychology, went to public high school just as her own children are enrolled in public school. Mother and daughter were exceptionally close to each other; she was her mother’s most trusted adviser. She holds key positions in all of Rosalía’s companies and was vice- president of the Fundación Paideia before Rosalía died. In all probability she will become the president.
But is she her mother’s clone? “Her style is different from mine,” Rosalía told Jose Luis Gómez of Estrella Digital. “If there’s anything I’ve done well it was to encourage her to acquire the best of her father and me. . . She will be free to change what she wants [in Paideia, and presumably in Rosp Corunna]. Everyone must be free to run their own projects .”
The interviews Rosalía granted weren’t that many, considering the importance of her role in society, but when she did grant an interview she didn’t dodge the questions. Just before she passed away she had been quite frank about her opposition to the cutbacks in social spending and the government’s plan to reform the abortion law and make it more restrictive.
Her social conscience could very well have been her real power base – and her dogged refusal to renounce her humble originss despite all the billions to her name.
In 2004 she resigned her seat on Inditex’s board. She kept her share; otherwise the break with the company she co-founded would have been complete. At last she was truly on her own. The vista that unfolded before her must have been exhilarating.
Was she proud of her phenomenal achievements? She was, indeed. Was she aware of her clout? Certainly.
But there was no ostentation here. And strident she never was. For a leftist from the wrong side of the tracks she had surprisingly elegant ways about her.
Rianxo by Luis Miguel Bugallo Sanchez, and Sergio Alvarez Moya by Nordicht8, used here under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 Unported license
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