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Marta Ortega, the heiress to the Zara empire

The daughter of Inditex’s founder, who will become chair of the group in April, has played a key role in developing the business’s fashion collections and building the brand’s image

Marta Ortega in 2018.
Marta Ortega in 2018.EFE/Cabalar

Marta Ortega Pérez does not have an office at Zara, despite working at the company for 15 years. In this respect, Amancio Ortega’s youngest daughter, 37, is just like her father, who always preferred to work in an open space, side by side with the rest of his team. From April 1, she will head up his fashion empire Inditex, in the role of non-executive chairperson. But change is afoot at the company, which is headquartered in Arteixo, in Spain’s northwestern Galicia region. Those close to her say that the future chair of Inditex will have a much more public profile, unlike her father, who is very private.

A sign of this shift was a Wall Street Journal interview published in August, the first Marta Ortega has ever granted. It stands in stark contrast to the silence of father, who has never sat down with a journalist and is rarely photographed in public. “I will always be wherever the company needs me most,” she said in what is now perceived as a teaser for the shock succession announcement. In the interview, she also recalled her humble beginnings working in a Zara store on the King’s Road in London: “The first week, I thought I was not going to survive,” she said. “But then you get kind of addicted to the store. Some people never want to leave.” She fails to mention that her colleagues soon worked out who she was when they saw the Rolex watch she was wearing.

Until now, Marta Ortega has never held a formal position in her father’s company, although her name has been bandied about for years to succeed its 85-year-old founder. When she takes her place at the head of Inditex, which has a market value of €87 billion ($98 billion), she will become the most powerful (and youngest) woman in the small club of female leaders of Spain’s Ibex 35 stock market index. Others include Ana Patricia Botín, executive president of Banco Santander, and Beatriz Corredor, who heads the Spanish utility Red Eléctrica de España (REE).

Born in Vigo, Galicia on January 10, 1984, Ortega has been groomed for the role since she was young, and is considered a key part of its future strategy. Sources close to Ortega say that she has done “a bit of everything” in a fashion group where “there is a lot of teamwork.” In recent years, she has focused on supervising women’s fashion design, where she works with the head of the collection, Beatriz Padín, and on developing the brand image. “They say that Marta is different from her father, but these are different times too, and she knows more about fashion and social media: she appears wearing a t-shirt in a magazine and the next day it is sold out,” noted journalist Xabier R. Blanco, who is the author of two books on Inditex.

Zara has made an important transition: over the years this retail company has moved closer to important figures in the fashion world and embraced a more creative side. Collaborations with Steven Meisel, a leading fashion photographer, have brought Zara’s website closer in line with the aesthetics of fashion magazines. Under Meisel’s leadership, campaigns and collaborations have been launched with noted creatives such as art director Fabien Baron, stylist Karl Templer and filmmaker Luca Guadagnino. The development of premium collections, like one recently launched with actress and musician Charlotte Gainsbourg, has also raised the brand’s image.

She may not have a long CV in terms of business management, but she has specific training in Inditex, she knows what it is, how the company works and what the stores are like
Javier Díaz Giménez, professor at Spain’s IESE business school

Inditex’s future chairwoman also shops for major luxury brands herself, and regularly attends Valentino catwalk shows. The work of photographer Peter Lindbergh, a friend who died in 2019, leads an exhibition she personally oversaw that opens to the public this Saturday in the port of A Coruña. “Peter was a genius as a photographer, but as a person, he was a stratospheric human being, loving, patient,” she wrote in an email published a couple of weeks ago in El País Semanal – her first statement to Spanish-language media.

Before graduating in business studies from London’s European Business School in 2007, Marta Ortega attended a religious educational establishment in A Coruña and then completed her Bachilerato (post-16 education comparable to the International Baccalaureate) in Switzerland. She loves horses and has participated in equestrian competitions at an international level. “She may not have a long CV in terms of business management, but she has specific training in Inditex, she knows what it is, how the company works and what the stores are like,” said Javier Díaz Giménez, a professor at Spain’s IESE business school. “Family businesses are like that: someone has to represent the shareholder and the important thing is to know the family culture, and that is not learned at Harvard – Marta Ortega will have learned that from her father.”

Shares dropped 6% on the announcement of her appointment, in what was interpreted as a sign of fear over the departure of Pablo Isla, a highly respected executive who came to the group in 2005. He replaced Amancio Ortega when he stepped down as the non-executive chairperson in 2011. Marta Ortega will assume this position in April, and will continue to perform her current duties in addition to leading the board of directors. Inditex’s CEO will be Óscar García Meceiras, who joined the company in March. Pablo Isla called his successor “very humble” in the Wall Street Journal interview, but added: “At the same time, of course, she has strong opinions about many different things.”

Xabier R. Blanco calls the decision “a return to Inditex’s origins,” with some caveats. The Galician journalist also points out that longstanding executives of the group including Carlos Crespo and Pablo del Bado remain at the top, and Amancio Ortega himself continues to visit the offices on a regular basis. “I think it seems like a very supervised replacement,” he said.

The announcement of Marta’s appointment clears longstanding doubts over who was going to take over the reins of the family business. One alternative could have been Sandra Ortega, from Amancio Ortega’s first marriage. But it has been taken for granted for some time that the chosen one would be Marta, from his second union with Flora Pérez.

Marta Ortega has also succeeded in gradually introducing her father as a face in Spanish public life. He appeared with her on the day of her first wedding to equestrian Sergio Álvarez Moya in 2012. He then put in an appearance at a company party she organized when he turned 80 years old in 2016, and at her second wedding to Carlos Torretta, who now also works at Inditex. It was a big change for Amancio Ortega, whose photo did not appear in the company’s annual report until 2000.

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