Rosalia Mera, Who Was Spain’s Richest Woman, Dies at 69

Rosalia Mera, the Spanish billionaire who co-founded the Zara fashion label and helped turn the holding company into one of the world’s largest clothing retailers, has died. She was 69.

Her death was reported today on the website of Inditex SA. Mera suffered a brain hemorrhage on Aug. 14 while vacationing with her daughter, Sandra, on the island of Menorca, El Pais newspaper reported.

Mera co-founded Inditex with her then-husband, Amancio Ortega, who began his career in clothing manufacturing in 1963 before the couple opened their first Zara store in the 1970s. Initially making women’s bathrobes, the company expanded to sell eight different brands, including Massimo Dutti and Bershka, with more than 6,000 stores in 86 markets. Sales in 2012 reached 15.9 billion euros ($21 billion).

Mera’s estimated net worth of $5.5 billion made her Spain’s richest woman, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Ortega, 77, owns a 59.3 percent stake in Inditex and is the world’s fourth-richest person, with a net worth of $56.9 billion, according to the index.

After Inditex’s initial public offering in 2001, Mera and her daughter, Sandra, became the second-largest shareholders through their family investment vehicle Rosp Corunna. She holds almost 7 percent of Inditex, according to the Spanish stock-market regulator. Other investments include a 5 percent stake in Spanish biotechnology company Zeltia SA, as well as holdings in film and television production, and real estate.

‘Significant Role’

“Even though she wasn’t involved in the company anymore, she did play a significant role at the beginning, along with her ex-husband,” said Francisco Salvador, a Madrid-based strategist at FGA/MG Valores. “Her investments haven’t made any big impact yet on the corporate world, but her influence will remain through the social works of her foundation.”

Rosalia Mera Goyenechea was born on Jan. 28, 1944, in a working-class neighborhood of La Coruna, a northwestern city in Spain’s Galicia region. She dropped out of school at age 11 to work as a sales assistant in a clothing shop. Mera married Ortega in 1966.

In 1975, she and her husband opened the first Zara store in La Coruna, and Inditex was founded as a holding company for the group of businesses 10 years later. Zara expanded abroad in 1988, opening a store in Portugal, before establishing an outlet in New York the following year and a Paris store in 1990. The company is based in Arteixo, Spain.

Mera and Ortega separated in 1986 and she shifted her focus to family life and charity work. In the same year, she co-founded Paideia Galiza Foundation, which helps disabled and disadvantaged people to find jobs and develop greater self-reliance. The couple divorced in 1997. Ortega remains Inditex’s majority shareholder and is a member of the board.

Mera had two children, Sandra and Marcos, from her marriage to Ortega.