How the World's Second-Richest Man Got That Way

You've probably never heard of him — but he's loaded.
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You've probably never heard of him — but he's loaded.
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Who’s the richest person in the world? Sit down, Donald Trump: You’re not even close. It’s Bill Gates, who’s sitting on $80.6 billion. But according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index, the second-place man is rising steadily. Amancio Ortega just pocketed $3.7 billion, which brings his personal fortune up to $71.1 billion—a mere, rounding-error, coins-lost-in-the-couch, meager $9.5 billion away from being cash king of the world.

Good job, man! We’re all rooting for— wait, Amancio who?

Unlike Gates, who has spent plenty of time speaking to reporters and on stages, Ortega is happy to be unknown. He’s the founder of Inditex, a Spanish company that contains eight brands; the best known of them is global clothing chain Zara. He grew up poor; his dad was a railway worker. At the age of 14, Ortega worked in a local shirt maker's shop to help make money for his family.  And in June, he passed Warren Buffett to become the second-richest person in the world.

So, how does someone become this fabulously wealthy and stay under the radar? Here,  successful strategies from man who may soon become the world’s official #1 Papa Moneybags.

1. Let your work speak for you…

Some reporters have called Ortega “reclusive,” but that isn’t quite right. He isn’t hiding away in some attic, receiving daily meals by a blindfolded squire. He just doesn't like to talk to the press; reportedly, he’s only spoken to three reporters ever. And it seems one of his favorite subjects is this: Why You Should Leave Me Alone. “I just want to live a normal life and be able to sip coffee with my wife in the piazza with nobody paying attention to me,” he has said, according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index editor Robert LaFranco.

2. …and always speak to your workers

Ortega doesn’t carve out special space for himself. He has no reserved parking spot and eats lunch in the staff cafeteria, says Adlatina. He’s also never had an office. He sits out on the floor, at the end of an open workspace. And he likes to mix it up with his employees. “Newer staff members say they are astonished at how often Ortega discusses colors and trends with them,” reported Fortune, which also quoted an employee who said, “You can ask Ortega, ‘What do you think of this?’ It’s very flexible. You don’t have to fix an appointment.”

3. Hate what you loved

There are no darling ideas at Zara. “We never go to fashion shows,” Loreta García, who heads Zara Woman’s trends department, told Fortune. “We track bloggers and listen to customers, but we change our opinions all the time. What seems great today, in two weeks is the worst idea ever.”

Love it until you hate it, and then get it out of my face! Sure, it’s easy to change an opinion—but it’s a lot harder to do something about it. Most clothing companies operate by the season: They create a line of clothing for fall, say, and then stock the stores and prepare for the next season. Not Zara. Ortega designed his system for fast reactions; entire stores can be restocked with new clothing, reacting almost instantly to new fashion trends.

4. Talk with your money

Ortega clearly likes being thought of as a local hero, but he doesn't go giving TED Talks about it. Instead, he does stuff like this:

In 2007, Spain’s real estate bubble burst and property values tanked. Many companies moved their headquarters out of major cities. And that’s when Ortega came in, buying up primo locations in the hearts of Spain’s major cities. That's savvy business, sure, but it's also something more: “To the extent corporate flight can lead to the collapse not just of property values but lots of other things in a city, it’s important he’s making these big investments,” Ken Dubin, a professor at IE Business School in Madrid and the Lord Ashcroft International Business School in Cambridge, told the Financial Post. “And the fact he’s making them obviously gets other people into the game and attracts attention.” As these cities' business climates recover, Ortega will be thanked repeatedly.

5. Never take your success for granted

Fortunetells a story: “Once, when traveling to a store opening in Manhattan, Ortega watched as shoppers poured through the doors. He was so overcome he shut himself in a bathroom and wept. 'No one could see the tears streaming down my face,' he told [Covadonga] O’Shea [a longtime friend who wrote a biography of him called The Man From Zara]. 'Can you imagine how I thought of my parents then? How proud they would have been of their son who had, so to speak, discovered America, starting from a little town lost in the sticks of northern Spain!'"

Photos by Photo by Xurxo Lobato/Getty Images