For those of you used to seeing Bill Gates or Warren Buffett as the world's richest man with the occasional appearance of Mexican telecom giant Carlos Slim Helú, welcome a newcomer to the top spot — if only for a short time.
In October 2015, Spanish retail giant Amancio Ortega took over the top spot from Microsoft founder Bill Gates, the placeholder at the time. Ortega's holding company, Industria de Diseño Textil (aka Inditex) managed to peak just shy of 34 euros per share in October, putting his net worth at $80 billion. Unfortunately, Ortega did not even get the entire day to celebrate, as his stock dropped 0.2 euros, which allowed Gates to reclaim the title.
As of this writing, Ortega has slid to fourth place in the Forbes Real Time Billionaires Ranking at $64.5 billion. Warren Buffett is third at $72.7 billion, while Carlos Slim Helú is in second with $77.1 billion. Bill Gates sits atop the world at $79.2 billion. It's hard to envision having so much money that you can lose $15 billion in a month, but such is life at the top.
Who is this man that reached a brief pinnacle as the world's richest person?
The son of a railway worker, Ortega co-founded the Spanish fashion chain Zara in 1975, supplying bathrobes and lingerie that he and his wife made in their home. Through shrewd management decisions and an aggressive strategy, Ortega grew his company into a retail empire worth billions. With limited advertising, he managed to keep a sound growth strategy through constant expansion and by exercising superior control over his supply chain.
Inditex is now the parent company to Zara, along with the Pull & Bear and Massimo Dutti brands. With approximately $20 billion in sales, Inditex is a picture of efficiency not often seen in retail. They can assess fashion trends and go from the initial clothing design stage all the way through production and sales in mere days. This efficiency keeps Inditex one step ahead of its competitors.
Ortega has shown significant financial acumen accompanied by a brilliant retail strategy. While the Spanish stock market was suffering through the Great Recession along with the rest of the world, Inditex defied the market and continued to prosper. Between 2009 and 2014, Ortega gained a staggering $45 billion mostly driven by the value of Inditex holdings. He currently owns 59% of the company.
Not content to sit on his money, Ortega has used his dividends from Inditex to invest in prime real estate throughout the world, including his home country of Spain. He owns properties in the major cities of Barcelona and Madrid, as well as ventures in London, New York City, Chicago and Miami. His diversification strategy is likely to keep him near the top of the billionaires list, whether or not he reaches the peak again.
If you are interested, check out the Forbes site and see the latest real-time rankings of the world's richest individuals. Ortega may well reclaim the top spot again.
Who knows, if a few more entrants like Larry Ellison of Oracle, the Koch brothers, or any of the Walton heirs can reach the next tier, perhaps we can make a sport out of it — think of it as horseracing or NASCAR for billionaires. If that fails, maybe a fantasy billionaires league would take off. All the people who are cut off from DraftKings and FanDuel can channel their energy into the financial world. Let's make some money off the billionaires for a change!