Business 13/09/2021

The Ortega sisters: two contrasting stories

Sandra loses her anonymity due to a legal dispute, while Marta steps forward in the succession to Inditex

5 min
The heads and tails of the Ortega germanas

The anonymity of the richest woman in Spain lasted 45 years. That's how old Sandra Ortega Mera was when her mother (Amancio Ortega's first wife, with whom he founded Zara parent company Inditex) died unexpectedly of a stroke during a holiday in Menorca. When she wen to the morgue, photographers and television cameras surrounded her and offered the first glimpse of a woman with short red hair who has amassed a fortune of over than €5.6bn, according to Forbes.

The death of Rosalía Mera in 2013 turned the Galician tycoon's first daughter into the second richest person in Spain after her own father. In inheritance she received, among many other assets, 5% of Inditex's shares, the fashion colossus where her mother started sewing bathrobes from home while her father served customers. After this appearance in public life, however, Sandra Ortega largely managed to keep a low profile and devote herself to managing the real estate assets, shares and charitable foundations of her mother's legacy. Or at least that's how it has been until very recently.

The tycoon's elder daughter is now immersed in a legal dispute with the man who was the manager of her enormous wealth for more than two decades, a confrontation that has forced upon her more attention than she would like. According to eldiario.es, Sandra Ortega has filed two lawsuits for misappropriation, misrepresentation and disloyal administration against José Leyte, manager until November 2020 of Rosp Corunna, the family office through which he managed her investments. Contacted by the ARA, a spokeswoman for the company avoided assessing a process that is still ongoing, after the courts started processing the complaints.

When after 20 years Sandra Ortega dispensed with Leyte, the dismissal due to "loss of confidence" hid some suspicions. According to the publication, Rosp Corunna commissioned a financial report from consulting firm KPMG to investigate whether the manager had maintained a fraudulent conduct in his job. The result of this audit, according to information published by eldiario.es, is the reason behind the two lawsuits filed by Ortega's firstborn. In parallel, Leyte has also filed a lawsuit against Rosp Corunna, demanding the compensation he would be owed in accordance with his seniority.

Sandra Ortega's wealth manager's profits are inevitably linked to the ups and downs of Inditex's dividend. That is why in 2020, according to the latest available accounts deposited in the Company register, the company lost €91m, compared to the €109m profits it made in the last year before the pandemic. In addition, this company still controls 30% of a business that has suffered heavily from the pandemic. Rosalía Mera, Sandra Ortega's mother, decided to become a shareholder in Room Mate, the hotel chain owned by Madrid businessman Kike Sarasola. As advanced by Cinco Días, Rosp Corunna has been looking to get rid of this stake and restructure its tourism investment portfolio since February.

Sandra Ortega's business holdings also include two open ended investment funds, Soandres de Activos and Breixo, 5% of the pharmaceutical Pharma Mar and the real estate company Ferrado. Through this company, the heiress has begun to build a resort luxury resort in the Portuguese coastal region of Alentejo this week. At the end of 2020, Rosp Corunna, which is in full reformulation of its investment strategy, controlled assets worth almost €6bn, €1bn less than a year ago.

While Sandra Ortega tries to regain her place away from the spotlight, her younger sister has made a gesture in recent weeks that would indicate the opposite. Marta Ortega Pérez (daughter of the tycoon and Flora Pérez, the Inditex worker who became his second wife) caused surprise this summer with a cover interview for the monthly supplement of the Wall Street Journal. With a defiant look and wearing a shiny black shirt, the heiress of the textile giant answered media questions for the first time, a silence she has broken before her father. "Zara's secret weapon", the headline of the American publication ran.

The piece revealed a mystery that has never been fully revealed: what is Marta Ortega's position at Inditex? The quick answer is none. But despite not having a specific role, the daughter of Spain's richest man explained that her day-to-day life consists in supervising the work of the women's fashion design team. Every morning, she meets CFO Miguel Díaz and other of the group's top executives to review the rankings of Inditex brands' best-selling products. Marta Ortega also confessed a textbook practice of the businessperson concerned about the image of their firm: every week she spends some time visiting Inditex stores to check what it is like. "I will always be there where the company needs me," the aspiring businesswoman simply stated.

Although she doesn't say so explicitly, Marta Ortega's destiny has always been more directed towards following in her father's footsteps than her sister Sandra. While the latter went to a state high school and graduated in psychology at the University of Santiago de Compostela, the younger finished her compulsory studies at a boarding school in Switzerland and later moved to London to graduate in international business. Her first job as a university graduate was in London, in one of the company's shops on King's Road, in the opulent neighbourhood of Chelsea. "The first week I didn't think I would survive," she explained about that first experience as a Zara shop assistant.

Later, Marta Ortega would start her particular Erasmus through different divisions and subsidiaries of Inditex, but always without a defined title within the company. "You don't know what your future will be, and I'm open to everything. But to be honest I would like to be close to the product. I think this is what my father always did", said the multimillionaire's youngest daughter about a possible succession to the company. The answer was completed by the man who currently controls the group. CEO and chairman of Inditex, Pablo Isla, stressed that she is "very humble" and with "strong opinions on many issues", but simply stated that her role will be "more relevant" as the company's sustainable focus. Contacted by ARA, no Inditex spokesperson responded to questions about Marta Ortega's future.

Amancio Ortega, 85, has never fully retired after handing over the management of his empire to Isla and can still be seen almost every day at the headquarters in Arteixo. But the fact that Marta Ortega has always remained linked to Inditex has increased speculation about a hypothetical division of the inheritance, in which she would inherit the title of first shareholder of the group, while the real estate company Pontegadea (with over €14bn in assets) would be for Sandra Ortega. The businessman has a third son, Marcos, from his relationship with Rosalía Mera, with severe cerebral palsy.

Unlike her elder sister, Marta Ortega's appearances in the front rows of fashion shows by haute couture brands such as Valentino are commonplace. With a declared love of fashion and horses (she took part in high-level show-jumping competitions), among her friends are personalities such as the late photographer to the stars Peter Lindbergh, models Eugenia Silva and Jon Kortajarena, designer Narciso Rodríguez and another millionaire heiress, the Greek Athina Onassis.

In fact, her two weddings have also been of the few occasions when her father has been caught on camera. The tycoon's youngest daughter has two children: the first, from her marriage to equestrian Sergio Álvarez, and the second, from her current relationship with Carlos Torretta, former director of international modelling agency Elite.

The celebrity magazines has always believed there was a distant relationship between the sisters, who still maintain at least two points of union despite leading radically different lives: Sandra's husband also works at Inditex with Marta and the two have agreed never to move away from A Coruña, the Galician city where their story started.

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