Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Amancio Ortega: From Clothing Store Clerk at 13 to Becoming The Richest Man In The World

Amancio Ortega, one of the richest men in the world, left school at the age of 13 to work as a clerk in a shirt shop because of his family's financial problems. At that time, he swore to himself that they would never go hungry again, a promise born of the impotence he felt when he learned that his mother was no longer trusted at the grocery store. Perhaps when he vowed this, he did not think he would end up clothing the world.

Since he intoned that maxim, Ortega went from errand boy to salesman at the clothing company La Maja, where he met his ex-wife, Rosalía Mera, and began the seeds of Zara. The success of the padded wadding gowns that the couple sewed hand in hand at night, in their spare time, together with his brothers, a sister-in-law and the founding entrepreneur of Caramelo (José Antonio Caramelo) allowed Goa Confecciones (the initials of Amancio Ortega Gaona backwards) to take off in 1972. Forty years later, Ortega has amassed a fortune of 40.74 billion -not counting a stratospherically expensive divorce-, has more than 100,000 employees on his payroll and has built more than 5,000 stores of his brands around the world.

We wanted to pay tribute to the figure of this great entrepreneur and we bring you 10 of his best pieces of advice to enlighten you:

"I didn't study enough"

"My university is my profession. I was a clerk at the age of 13. My job is full-time. What the company needs we give them every day. My permanent priority is the company. My vocation is entrepreneurial. I didn't like the businessman I used to be. I wanted to be a different kind of entrepreneur. I wanted to change the world of entrepreneurship socially. It is now that I see my shortcomings. When talking about my career, it is repeated a thousand times that I started working at the age of 13. It is true, but it is not added that, as I could not do everything, I did not study enough. Now I miss it.

"We don't need consultants, or are people who don't live our business day to day, like us, going to know more about it?"

"Giving people real autonomy is key. We give 100 percent autonomy to everyone. An annual checkup and that's it, that's what I would like them to do to me. We give the responsibility for a store that sells 30 million euros to a 25-year-old person, who is the one who runs a store. I always bring in internal competition. We don't need consultants. Or is it the case that people who don't live our business on a day-to-day basis, like us, are going to know our business better?"

"The important thing is to set goals in life and put all your soul into achieving them"

"I delegated what I didn't like, the tax, finance and human resources issues. And I got involved in what I liked, distribution and product. Now I am having a great time with the works. Before, I used to come on Saturdays and Sundays and make the collections. Now I don't design, I haven't been involved in the collections for a few years. The important thing is to set goals in life and put all your soul into achieving them. The company is doing very well because everyone has clear roles.

"Optimism is negative"

"The worst thing is complacency. In this company we have never been complacent. I was never happy with what I did and I have always tried to instill this in everyone around me. Optimism is negative. Things are easy, we try too hard. Talking too much is negative... You have to turn the organization upside down on a daily basis. And from time to time we have to invent a suspension of payments. Success is never guaranteed.

"If I've made so much money, it's because my goal has never been to make money"

"If there is no growth, a company dies. A company has to be alive because of the people it has. Growth, of factories, distribution centers, stores, ... is a survival mechanism. Without that extra asset capacity, there is no flexibility. Results are not so important, I never look at them. If anything, after three or four months, Pablo (Isla, the CEO) shows them to me. What we do is innovate and not look at the results. If I have made so much money, it is because my objective has never been to make money.

Fashion: "The street is the great catwalk"

"Our inspiration is not only on the catwalks. My big advice to anyone who wants to do something groundbreaking is to look at the street. It's the great catwalk. I'm not that interested in the others. Fashion is in the street. Zara is not Galician or Spanish fashion, it is fashion (without surnames). There is the same style for women in all Zara stores. Each Zara store may cater to a different type of customer, but in the case of women, they are all the "Zara woman". You always select a woman's style because the whole world would not be possible."

"We can't fail. The product has to be right"

"We can't fail. The product has to be right. We have to strengthen the unity between design and the commercial area. In design, the world copies Europe. On a trip to Japan I saw blue and red lingerie. I tried to copy it. A Swiss man brought me the embroidery and I still have a full warehouse. Clothes are universal and the customer is also universal. You don't design for 84 countries, you design a dress for 84 countries. It's not that complex.

"Buying an expensive local has never been a failure. Cheap is a failure"

"Nobody invests as much in distribution as we do. The money has to be put into the store, which is the brand. I feel that I breathe through the stores, which are the heart of Inditex. Buying an expensive store has never been a failure. Cheap is a failure".

"What has helped us the most to be successful in sales is that we receive daily information about what is happening in stores around the world"

"I've always liked to sit among the most creative people and listen to what they propose... I really like to listen to them. I want to be from one side of the building to the other to keep very up to date with what's going on. When a person comes in from our Shanghai store, I always ask them what's selling, why and how. What has helped us most in our sales success is that we get daily feedback on what is happening in stores around the world. The consumer is the one who has the say, more strongly every day, and we have learned that it is essential to listen to him."

"I want immediate solutions to problems"

"I want immediate solutions to problems: if you have to travel today, it doesn't matter. We have to call things as they are: bread, bread and wine, wine. What is worth today is not necessarily worth tomorrow, most likely it will be of no use at all"

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