Billionaire Zara founder stands down as chairman

19th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

The billionaire founder of Spain's Inditex, the world's biggest fashion retailer and owner of the Zara brand, handed over the running of the group to his deputy on Tuesday.

A board meeting approved the appointment of managing director Pablo Isla as chairman to succeed Amancio Ortega, Spain's richest man and seventh in the world according Forbes magazine with a fortune estimated at $31 billion (22 billion euros).

Isla, 46, a former co-chairman of the tobacco group Altadis, has been with Inditex since 2005.

"It is a very emotional day for us," a tearful Isla told the board.

"I want to express my admiration for the person of Amancio Ortega, as head of the company and on a personal and ethical level."

Ortega, 75, had announced the move in January, saying in a letter that it would not prevent him "from remaining with the group and its board."

The son of a railwayman, Ortega left school at 13, to work as a salesman in a shirt store in the northwestern city of La Coruna. Just four years later, he set up his own business, initially handling wholesales.

He opened his first Zara boutique in 1975, in La Coruna. More followed, and he expanded into Portugal in 1988, the United States in 1989, France in 1990.

In 1979, he owned just six stores in the northwestern region of Galicia. Now the group has 5,000 shops and about 100,000 employees around the world.

But he shuns publicity, and remains an enigma. He was not present at Tuesday's board meeting.

The Spanish media said on Tuesday that he could not have chosen a better time to retire.

Inditex last month posted bumper profits for the first quarter of 332 million euros ($470 million), up 10.3 percent from the figure last year, as it pursues an ambitious programme of international expansion.

Already the world's biggest fashion retailer in terms of sales, it has now passed Sweden's H&M in terms of market capitalisation.

Aside from Zara, its brands include youth label Bershka and the upmarket Massimo Dutti.

© 2011 AFP

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