Juan March Ordinas (1880-1962)
You can find a branch of the Banca March in every town and village across Majorca, the bank which was set up by the multi-millionaire businessman Juan (or Joan) March from Santa Margalida. His first business involved smuggling tobacco from North Africa into Spain and it was just the start of a successful, if colourful career.
During World War I March doubled his potential income by supplying goods to the Allies and the Axis, searching out the best price for his goods. Using information provided by both sides, he made sure his merchant ships evaded the Allied blockade and the German U-boats. In the difficult years following the war, March's power increased under different Spanish governments and in 1926 he set up his own bank, the Banca March. King Alfonso XIII's Monarchy was replaced by the Second Spanish Republic in 1930 and March found himself at odds with the new regime. March's shady entrepreneur dealings resulted in him being thrown into prison but he soon escaped and fled to Gibraltar. The name of Manuel de Benavides' biography probably summed up the man; it was 'The Last Pirate on the Mediterranean. '
March's fortunes changed during the 1936 military rebellion against the Republic and he was an important supporter of the Nationalist cause. He arranged General Franco's flight from the Canary Islands to Spanish Morocco, involving colonial troops into the coup. He then financed their transfer to Southern Spain, paying for Italian planes to carry out the first airlift in history.
After three years of bloody civil war and a Nationalist victory, Spain found itself ruled by the dictator Franco and he had not forgotten his old sponsor. March was favoured by the new regime and was able to add new business activities to his existing portfolio until he became the wealthiest man in Spain and the sixth richest man in the world; his family is still one of the richest in the world.
During World War II, Juan March played an important part in giving the Allies the upper hand against the Axis powers. In 1941 the British government paid him to influence the Spanish generals and keep from Spain from entering the war on the Axis side. It was a move which kept open access to the Mediterranean Sea, allowing the Allies to continue their campaign in North Africa and eventually invade Sicily and Italy, striking at Europe's soft underbelly.
March also attempted to change the future of the Spain following World War II. Juan de Borbón become heir apparent to the throne when his two brothers renounced their claims and when Franco that declared Spain was a kingdom, he supported Juan's claim to the Spanish throne. Franco was afraid that the new king would undo his work and instead named his son, Juan Carlos heir to the throne in 1969; he designated King two days after Franco's death in November 1975.
Juan March was still a rich and influential man and continued to own a newspaper and fund political parties. He continued his illegal activities, bribing and bending the law to his own benefit. He owned large properties in Palma and both his home next to the palace and his first bank are museums. In 1955 he donated $1.5 million to establish the Juan March Foundation to support the arts and music. Another $30 million were donated on his death in March 1962, after he died of injuries received in a car accident. His family are still the richest family in Spain and they live between Madrid, Mallorca and Gstaad in Switzerland.
Please see the foundation website www.march.es to learn more about Juan March's legacy.
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