The Empire of Amancio Ortega

My success is the success of everyone who has ever worked with me. A human being cannot be so intelligent, so powerful or so arrogant as to create a company of this caliber on their own. So many people have given their lives to this company. So many people have made this jewel a reality from the outset to this very day.” Amancio Ortega.

He could not hold back the tears. Walking hand in hand with his daughter, he continued along the crowded halls of his headquarters. The ovation was deafening, and was starting to become a bit disorienting and overwhelming to him. There were thousands of people, all applauding him.

He had imagined there would be a surprise or two: 80th birthdays are obviously a special occasion… But this far exceeded his expectations. So much love, applause and appreciation… He clenched his daughter Marta’s hand tighter still, and felt a squeeze from her in return.

In that moment, his mind raced back to another time when he had unconsciously squeezed someone’s hand so intensely—his mother’s hand, some 68 years ago…

I’m sorry, ma’am, but we cannot give you any more credit.

He still became flushed with rage by that recollection. Not a single day went by when he didn’t wish he could have spared his mother from that moment, and erase that episode from her beautiful biography. But it had indeed happened, and he was there.

Since that day, he had gone back many times in his imagination, feeling poor once again. “Going back to where it all began,” he would say to himself. To the origins of his hunger, drive and nonconformity. He would never be far enough removed from that moment in time, when he vowed to himself to never allow such humiliation to happen again—not to him, his mother or any other loved one.

Sometimes he chuckled to himself when reading the brainy analyses of any experts bold enough to delve into the Zara model and the Inditex empire. One of the largest fortunes in the world, amassed in just one generation, by a humble “errand boy” from a tailor shop in A Coruña.

In learning about his story, many could immediately see the importance of that moment for everything that happened afterward. But few could understand to what extent “hunger sharpens the wit.” Despite now having over 100,000 people working for him, he still felt the deciding factors were “hunger” and the responsibility at work to become part of the company. He took a look around and, once again, reaffirmed his principles.

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but we cannot give you any more credit.”

Those words were still resonating in his head, amid the applause in the background… Gradually he succumbed to the celebration with his people, the music from the tribute video, the loving words of his daughter… Would she ever understand what it means to be poor and needy? How much is a person willing to do to feed their children? What humiliation must they quietly endure? No, she would never fully understand that concept. That is precisely what he had always wanted to save his family from, ever since he began to grasp the concept of entrepreneurship…

He saw his friends from the company, his management team dancing, waving, laughing… What a lovely video, such a wonderful gift. Everyone in the company, it seemed, had taken a break from their jobs to congratulate, either in person or as part of the video, the founder of Inditex, their boss: Amancio Ortega.

He had built an empire, and it all started in a small grocery store at his mother’s side. Then came the jobs in various tailor shops; the development of a love of tailoring, and all that went along with it, which remained deep inside his heart. And a passion for customer service that he had managed to instill throughout the organization in the best way possible: through leading by example. The entire organization revolved around its customers, their reactions in stores, what they conveyed through their purchases.

Just then, he was overcome with pride, the satisfaction of having given his all to building a business that loved its customers and loved fashion—his two great passions going back to when he was an employee in the shirtmaker’s shop Gala, on Rúa Juan Flórez in A Coruña. And he realized once again, to his surprise, that he was deeply grateful to the experience of being poor. Deeply grateful for having gone with his mother to that grocery store. And deeply grateful to his parents, from whom he learned that unconditional love is the necessary starting point for living one’s life.