Isidoro Alvarez, chairman of Spain’s El Corte Inglés, died at a hospital in Madrid on Sunday. Alvarez, 79, was admitted to the Puerta de Hierro University Hospital in Majadahonda on Wednesday after suffering respiratory problems. The official cause of death was heart failure, according to a Bloomberg report.
Alvarez was last seen in public on Aug. 31 at the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting, according to reports.
He was born in Borondes in 1935 and graduated with an economics degree from Madrid’s Complutense University. He joined El Corte Inglés at age 18 and, in 1959, was named to the board of the company and its textile manufacturing subsidiary, Induyco.
Alvarez inherited 15 percent of Europe’s biggest department-store chain from his uncle, Ramón Areces, who founded the company out of a tailor shop of the same name in central Madrid, Bloomberg reported. He had a net worth of $919 million, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires data. El Corte Inglés reported consolidated sales of 14.3 billion euros, or $18.5 billion, in 2013.
Alvarez was named president of the retailer in 1989, following the death of his uncle, and under his leadership, the company expanded into hypermarkets, travel agencies, insurance and technology services and also acquired Marks & Spencer Group plc’s stores in Spain.
On the company’s Web site, Alvarez, one of the country’s most respected retailers, credited his uncle with showing him the ropes of the business. “My school has always been El Corte Inglés, and my teacher was Ramón Areces,” he said. “I believe that the history of retail trade in this country would not be the same without Mr. Areces, who introduced techniques and procedures that have modernized the retail business in Spain.”
Last year, Alvarez appointed his nephew, Dimas Gimeno, also a lifelong employee of El Corte Inglés, to be the retailer’s director general. In July, the company named Manuel Pizarro to the new role of deputy chairman, to strengthen its financial team.
On Sunday, Spain’s economy minister Luis de Guindos called Alvarez “one of the great businessmen of this country.”
Gilbert Harrison, chairman of Financo Inc., called Alvarez “a really strong retailer and somebody who really loved the business. He built El Corte Inglés to where it had sales of over $18 billion and was the number-one retailer in Spain. He will be missed.”
One of the honors he received over the course of his career was International Retailer of the Year from the National Retail Federation, in 2005. The NRF said Alvarez was a “person who has earned a reputation for his creative genius, inspired leadership and distinguished service to the retail industry.” In 2011, the World Retail Congress gave him an award for his “ability to innovate.”
Details on services were not available at press time.