More Than Meets the “I”

When I would tell my friends that this summer, I´d be working in the Human Resources department of Inditex, they often gave me quizzical looks, to which I would have to explain, “The company that owns Zara.” This same lack of recognition for the corporation that owns such a well-renown brand is true even here in Spain. In group interviews, one of the first questions the interviewer asks the candidates is if they can name the other brands the company owns. During my time working for Inditex thus far, I´ve learned what a truly incredible company this is, and for more than just Zara – for revolutionizing the fashion world, for their top quality products, for their commitment to sustainability, and for their philanthropic ventures.
Inditex is a Spanish multi-national clothing company started by Amancio Ortega Gauna, who is now the fourth richest man in the world. Ortega founded Inditex in A Coruña, in the north of Spain, in 1963. The first Zara store was opened in 1975, and stores had spread to New York by 1989 and Paris by 1990. Besides bringing quality styles at affordable prices, Inditex revolutionized the fashion world by cutting production time from two months down to two weeks. Their speed and production logistics have made them nearly as famous as the quality of their style. The group designs and manufactures everything by itself, dispatching new designs twice a week to Zara stores.
Today, still headquartered in Galicia, Spain, Inditex is one of the world´s largest fashion distribution groups, with more than 6,249 stores in 77 countries, and employing more than 130,000 people on four different continents – Europe, America, Asia, and Africa. Its vision of fashion based on quality and creativity, and their ability to react to market demands with speed, has enabled the company to enjoy not only rapid but successful and well-received international expansion.
While Zara is indeed the largest of the retail chains, Inditex operates a total of ten brands:
Zara – the flagship brand, with versatile and trendy options for men, women, and children. While it started as a low cost competitor, its quality now matches the best brands in the world.
Pull & Bear – casual and laid back clothing for young adults, with a very urban style, at affordable prices.
Bershka – a more hipster version of the brand Pull & Bear.
Massimo Dutti – preppy and more formal style clothing, for both men and women, comparable to J.Crew.
Stradivarius – for the free spirit, a very hippie-chic feel, comparable to Free People.
Oysho – women´s undergarments, accessories, and bathing suits, comparable to Victoria´s Secret.
Zara Home – merchandise for the home, comparable to Crate and Barrel.
Lefties – the most affordable and youthful of the company´s clothing lines.
Kiddy´s Class – a children’s brand.
Uterqüe – the newest and most expensive brand, offering very fashion-forward styles.
Besides being well-known for its speed and style, Inditex operates with strong corporate values, and collaborates with other organizations and initiatives with similar values, to develop their corporate social responsibility policy. Some examples of partnerships Inditex maintains include: the UN Global Compact, the CEO Water Mandate for conservation of water, Better Work Programme for workers rights, Medicos Sin Fronteras (doctor´s without borders), World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), the Ethical Trading Initiative, and Sustainable Apparel Coalition.
A huge part of their CSR policy is their commitment to sustainability. They call this commitment the “Right to Wear,” stating “Sustainability means the seamless and supported integration of our business model in the community. It means taking a long-term approach with the aim of adding value to society.” This concept is further broken down into five categories:
Clean and safe to wear (customers) – quality of product is a non-negotiable for Inditex, which starts with in-house health and safety standards. Inditex promises to design responsible clothing, obtained from production processes that do no contaminate soil or water.
Teams to wear (employees) – Inditex believes in a responsibility not only to society, but to ourselves, and encourages a corporate culture of critical thinking, teamwork, open communication, and self-imposed high standards. The company is commited to offering policies that ensure a work-life balance, as well, such as paternity leave and adjusting working hours to class schedules.
Inditex also launched a chain of seven stores called “for&from,” which collaborates with social enterprise entities, to integrate employees with disabilities into the workforce. Inditex builds the store, which sells prior-season clothing at a discount, and the stores then becomes self-sufficient. The profits generated fund the social enterprise entities that run the stores.
In addition, Inditex encourages employee volunteerism. In 2013, a project called “Likes” was started, in which employees that are seeking to support specific social or enviornmental causes submit their ideas for votes from their coworkers. Once the project receives enough votes, Inditex donates both cash for funding the project, and employee working hours to volunteer.
Tested to wear (suppliers) –  Inditex produces its clothing from organic cotton or recylced materials, as well as promoting raw materials training and forest management for their suppliers to ensure ecological farming decisions are always being made.
Social to wear (community) – Inditex also supports education and employment programs, as well as humanitarian relief, through its corporate offices. In 2013, the company invested over 23 million euro into community work, supporting 313 non-profit organizations, only 33% of which stayed in Spain. Some of the key projects the company has recently supported are the fight against Ebola, a nutrition program in India, providing care for Syrian refugees in Turkey, and emergency aid to the Nepal earthquake victims.
Green to wear (environment) – Inditex operates under a policy that allows the company to maintain their pace of growth, while complying to stringent environement standards. All stores are kept as eco-efficient as possible. This strategy is broken down into three forms – water conservation, energy management, and biodiversity protection.

Inditex is a company not only setting the gold standard for their industry, but commited to a strong CSR policy that puts people first – both employees and customers, that takes care of the environment and community their products come from, and that utilizes their success to give back to both local and global causes.

Appreciating the Differences

Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of working abroad this summer has been the chance to experience the cultural differences between the United States and Spain, within the context of a professional work environment. For example, greetings are handled much differently. Whenever a new person walks into the office, everyone that knows them stands up to give a warm, traditional Spanish greeting of a kiss on each cheek. Before any work is discussed, a few minutes are spent catching up about kids, the past weekend, and the most recent Real Madrid futbol game. On the other hand, a telephone greeting is much more abrupt. True Madrilleños answer the phone with a quick ¨dime¨(tell me) or simply ¨¿si?¨. Phone calls are as efficient as possible, cutting straight to the point and hanging up immediately afterwards.

Another interesting difference is the concept of time. It is typical in the Spanish culture to run a few minutes late. An 11 o´clock Skype call with the Barcelona offices may not start till 11:20. It is not perceived as rude, like tardiness is in America, but is simply an understood and unstated cultural norm. This norm matches the lifestyle – things just generally happen later in this country. Instead of working the standard 8 or 9am – 5pm, many Madrillaños work 9 or 10am – 7pm. My intern hours are from 9:30am – 6:30pm. Lunch noramlly occurs between 2 or 3 in the afternoon. It´s encouraged to walk around with your coworkers outside, to go out together for coffee and ¨bocadillos¨, the traditional Spanish sandwich, which is a full baguette with typically some assortment of meat and cheese. Many offices even give their interns a two hour lunch break so that they can enjoy a siesta, or a mid-afternoon rest, a Spanish tradition still very prevalent in the culture today. As many people are working later into the day, dinner occurs much later, as well. The average Spaniard will have dinner between 9 and 10pm! Walking around at 11 o´clock at night, the streets are still tilling with life. Cafe´s with outdoor patios in the streets are packed with couples and friends enjoying drinks, plaza´s are still filled with people milling about and enjoying the warm summer night, even young children are running around playing in fountains and watching street performers.

Processing so many resumes of Spanish college students, there are also many differences I´ve noticed with the average American resume. There is a much less rigid standard for resumes, allowing more room for personality and creativity to shine through. They all include a picture of the applicant, often include color and large charts, may be half a page or five pages long, and a general description of the candidates apptitudes. It is common for Spaniards to take off time between high school and college entrance exams, completing complementary or additional courses in an area of interest, sometimes even completing a two or three year degree before entering a traditional four year university. Even Spanish names are very different. Almost everyone is identified by two last names, and sometimes two first names, for example ¨Jose Luis Fernandez Alfonso¨. The first-lastname is their father´s, the second is their mother´s maiden name. The names are all very beautiful – common girl names include Belen, Marisol, Sofia, and Raquel; and for boys, Juan, Luis, Javier, and Daniel. Nearly every applicant knows at least two languages at an advanced or high level. Almost everyone knows English, which has truly become the language of the world, and it is also common to find a variation of the Spanish language called Catalan, spoken in the north east region of the country, or even Portugese, as the Portugese share the Iberian Peninsula with Spain. Other common languages besides these include French and German, sometimes even Arabic!

As a coffee adict, I can´t forget to mention, the Spanish are all about espresso instead of the normal American cup of Joe. The coffee machine in my office is an espresso machine, which although it is only about a fourth of the size of a small Starbucks coffee, never fails to wake me up on Monday mornings!

Perhaps one of the differences I appreicate most about working abroad, is that even at a bustling company like Inditex, employing over 120,000 people and operating very similarly to what I would imagine corporate America to be like, there is a work to live, not live to work mentality. Our coworkers are all close friends, referring to one another affectionatly as ¨chicas¨ and ¨compañeras¨. We always eat lunch together, they happily pass along restuarant or beach suggestions, ask us about our lives back home in America, and spend time helping us practice our Spanish. While working in a very professional atmosphere and for a huge company, people and life are by no means overlooked for the sake of our work. This work-life balance is most definitely an attribute I will value and take into consideration as I begin my job search in America this fall. Between the lessons I´m learning as an intern and the cultural differences I´m experiencing, this summer is truly allowing me to solidify my values and a vision of what I wish to continue to pursue in my future career.

Beginnings

Two weeks into my internship, and I can tell it’s going to be the summer of a lifetime. Having the chance to both live and work in Madrid has incited more thoughts and feelings than I can truly process; the greatest of these, though, is feeling overwhelmingly grateful. Every day, I go to work in the Human Resources department of Inditex. Inditex is a European fashion company that owns brands like Zara and Pull&Bear; we process applications and resumes to hire associates for the fast approaching sales that take place in Spain the entire month of July. As absolutely no English is to be spoken in my office, not only am I learning about the hiring process of a global corporation, but I am using and thinking in Spanish more than my six years of classes ever truly required of me. Though professional growth is a goal of every intern over the summer, acclimating to a new culture and company has taught me just as much about myself, and the power of your thoughts, during these first two weeks as it has shown me insight into my professional aspirations.

The first day in a new office can be intimidating. A positive attitude and an open mind can turn any situation into a good one.

Say yes more often. You never know when the dinner you got dragged into going to will be completely paid for by the stranger sitting next to you.

Embrace where you are and who you’re with. While we came here to work, it’s that time spent with the 35 other Ohio State students that I know will be the defining moments of summer.

Don’t take yourself too seriously. We all accidentally call our drinks (bebidas) babies (bebes) sometimes, anyways.

Life is all about people, and the quality of your relationships is dependent on your communication. Never again will I take speaking the same language as everyone around me for granted!

It’s not selfish to prioritize yourself; it’s completely necessary. While living with 35 other students is amazing fun sometimes, other times you need to exercise your independence, and have the confidence in those decisions to not second guess yourself.

Getting lost is FUN. Exploring a new place keeps in perspective just how small your problems are in relation to the rest of the world.

It’s not leaving your comfort zone, it’s expanding your comfort zone. Appreciate the differences you experience, or the lessons you learn. You’ll discover just how capable you truly are.

There are times that being an intern may not be glamorous, but remember to always be grateful.

And the best part about this all is that it’s only the beginning, but that’s the beauty of life.. Every day is a new beginning.