According to Forbes’s real-time tracker, the elusive multibillionaire founder of European clothing retailer Zara smashed past Bill Gates to become the wealthiest person on the planet, with a fortune of $79.8 billion (€71.83 billion or £51.84 billion). Bill Gates’ estimated net worth is $79.5bn as of this afternoon. He’s expected to take back his top position from Ortega. The elusive Ortega isn’t as much of a household name as Gates, but he’s quietly ascended the wealth rankings in recent years, as his company continues to perform well and expand.
Unlike many of the richest people in the world, Ortega has a fascinating rags-to-riches story. Born in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War, Ortega’s father earned 300 pesetas a month, a meager salary.
Ortega’s biographer described his memories of a childhood during which his family could not always afford enough food. He left school in his early teens, working his way up from the absolute bottom rung as a messenger boy in a shop.
It wasn’t until he was 40 years old that Ortega got around to setting up Zara, the fast-fashion retailer that has gone from strength to strength, first growing in Spain, then neighbouring Portugal and France, then London. Now it’s all over the globe.
According to Forbes, Ortega’s wealth rose by 5.3%, another $4 billion, over the last 24 hours. That’s partly down to a surge in Inditex shares, the parent company that owns Zara.
In the last 10 years, the market value of Inditex has risen by about 570%, the main driver of Ortega’s climb up the ranks.