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Inditex Chairwoman’s First Task: Overseeing Zara Without Russia

Marta Ortega will start her job as chairwoman of Inditex next month with an unenviable task: dealing without Russia, the Zara owner’s second-largest market in terms of stores.
Zara owner names founder’s daughter chairwoman in generational shift.
Zara-owner Inditex has over 500 stores in Russia. (Tim Van De Velde)

Marta Ortega will start her job as chairwoman of her father’s retail empire Inditex SA next month with an unenviable task: dealing without Russia, the Zara owner’s second-largest market in terms of stores.

Marta Ortega’s predecessor, Pablo Isla, is leaving the company after spearheading Inditex’s expansion over 17 years. He paid a special emphasis to Russia, where the Spanish company has more than 500 stores, more than any other country besides Spain. Now those are all temporarily closed in response to the war in Ukraine.

Ortega, the 38-year-old daughter of Inditex’s founder, faces a laundry list of challenges besides Russia. Inflation and supply chain challenges are dimming the outlook for this year, while the resurgence of Covid in China threatens to weigh on consumption in another key market. Meanwhile, cut-rate price online retailer Shein Group is steadily becoming a bigger competitor even as Inditex has been pumping 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) into its own e-commerce business.

Inditex said Wednesday the spread of omicron wiped 400 million euros off of earnings during its key Christmas quarter. The shares were little changed, having lost about a quarter of their value since late November, when Inditex replaced its chief executive officer with Oscar Garcia Maceiras and announced Ortega would become chairwoman.

Investors have been concerned the new management doesn’t have the same track records as their predecessors. Isla spearheaded the company’s expansion, and the shares quintupled since he became chief executive in 2005, making founder Amancio Ortega richer than Warren Buffett at one point.

Isla later ceded the chief executive position but has been leading the company as executive chairman. Marta Ortega’s role will be a non-executive one.

Ortega has spent a decade and a half at Inditex in various jobs, though never a top management position. She’s been most involved in strengthening the brand of Zara, where she introduced a collection with Charlotte Gainsbourg and a premium line called SRPLS, adding a veneer of glamour to a chain that focuses on selling affordable fashion.

Garcia Maceiras never held a chief executive position previously, unlike Isla, who headed Spanish tobacco company Altadis SA before joining Inditex. The 46-year-old executive has been a state attorney, a prestigious role in Spain and has overseen the legal team at Banco Santander, Spain’s largest bank. He also helped set up Sareb, the bad bank set up after the real estate crisis to manage non-performing real estate assets.

Sales rose 36 percent in the year through January, the fastest pace since Inditex’s initial public offering two decades ago, largely due to the bounceback from the pandemic. Annual revenue of €27.7 billion means Inditex is a bigger company, making it harder to achieve growth rates of the past.

While Russia has been the source of 8.5 percent of Inditex’s operating profit, Inditex said the US became its second-largest market last year, helped by online expansion as the company has only about 100 Zara stores there.

E-commerce should keep driving sales growth, as the company expects to get more than 30percent of its revenue from its online business by 2024. Inditex also forecast a stable gross margin after it reached a six-year high.

Amancio Ortega is 85 and controls a 59 percent stake. His net worth is more than $50 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

By Thomas Mulier, Rodrigo Orihuela

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