Economy

Zara billionaire dies at 69: Six key lessons from her rags to riches life

Melinda Oliver /

Spanish billionaire Rosalia Mera, co-founder of fashion giant Zara and reportedly the world’s richest self-made woman, has died at 69 years of age.

The fashion magnate was estimated to be worth around US$6.1 billion thanks to her stake in the immensely successful clothing chain.

Back in the 1960s, Mera and her former husband, Armancio Ortega, started a small clothing business. As manufacturing increased, they launched the Inditex company and opened their first store under the Zara name 1975, located in A Coruña, Spain.

Zara is a pioneer of the ‘fast-fashion’ model, and now has around 6000 stores worldwide. Inditex also operates other major fashion labels including Massimo Dutti, and a homewares line for Zara.

Mera reportedly suffered a stroke whilst holidaying on Spanish island Menorca, before dying in hospital.

Inditex released a statement on Friday, expressing its condolences.

“The Inditex Group is deeply saddened to learn of the death of Rosalia Mera”, the statement said.

“The Group wishes to send its sincere condolences to her loved ones and friends at this extremely difficult time, after the loss of a person who contributed so much to the origins and development of the company.”

Mera’s success from humble beginnings came from a combination of skill, hard work and no doubt the magic ingredient of luck.

While becoming a billionaire is a stretch to emulate, there are lessons all business owners can take from her inspiring life:

1. Embrace what you know best

Mera didn’t go to high school and worked as a seamstress from a young age. Mera and Ortega worked together on producing lingerie and dressing gowns from their home, planting the seed for what has become one of the most successful retail businesses in the world. It is unlikely they foresaw the colossal business that Zara has become – showing that focusing on a core skill, finding a niche, applying yourself and creating opportunities are the classic foundations of success.

2. Get the name right

Reportedly the pair originally planned to name the brand ‘Zorba’, but changed it to Zara. Zorba, a mythological Greek hero, was the name of another local business. It is hard to imagine the more masculine name ‘Zorba’ taking off with young, fashion-forward consumers, so it seems this double-up was a blessing. The trick here is to do your research on a name, and be willing to adapt if you aren’t the first to come up with it. Research is also essential to avoid any legal issues with existing businesses.

3. Mixing love and business can be fraught

Mera and Ortega may have created a thriving empire and had two children together, but business and romance can be tough to navigate. The couple eventually went their separate ways in 1986. Ortega continued to stay at the helm of Inditex as chairman until 2011, while Mera spent many years on the board.

4. Keep a stake

Forbes reported that Mera’s US$6.1 billion fortune came from an approximate 5.1% share she held in the US$21 billion business. While Mera’s fortune was nowhere near that of her ex-husband, which is reportedly around US$51 billion, it was still sizeable. It shows the possible outcome of keeping a stake in the company you have devoted your life into, even if personal relationships go sour.

5. Use your power for good

Mera is reported to have been quite outspoken on topics close to her heart, such as the Spanish government’s rules on abortion, as well as its push for austerity at the loss of public health and education services. She is also reported to have invested money in cancer research, while also supporting people with physical and mental disabilities.

Admittedly, wealth of Mera’s magnitude brings power and a ready platform from which to speak and be heard. But even on a small scale, business owners can harness community support and make a stand to local government on issues that matter.

6. Enjoy what you have

Reports suggest that Mera was loyal to her community, often seen socialising in local restaurants and bars. Business owners may work hard around the clock, but life is too short not to stop and enjoy your family, friends, and celebrate success.

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