OBITUARY Del Vecchio rose from poverty to billions by adding style to spectacles

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OBITUARY Del Vecchio rose from poverty to billions by adding style to spectacles

In this photo illustration taken in Rome, February 4, 2016, the Luxottica name is visible in a pair o sunglasses. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

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June 27, 2007 – Leonardo del Vecchio, a businessman who created Ray-Ban, the glasses company, has died. He used his billions to become one the most influential figures of Italian finance.

Del Vecchio grew up in an orphanage, and went on to amass a fortune worth tens billions of Euros in one the most famous rags–to-riches stories of Italy’s postwar economic recovery.

Forbes reported that he was Italy’s second-richest man at the end of 2021, just behind Giovanni Ferrero, the Nutella-making Group’s Nutella-making Group.

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As is the norm in Italy, Del Vecchio was not content to retire. In fact, he continued his business activities in his 80s, if anything.

He closed a major merger deal in 2018 to combine Luxottica with France’s Essilor.

His Delfin holding company, which is also the largest shareholder of Italian financial services group Mediobanca(MDBI.MI), and also owns a large stake in insurer Generali [GASI.MI], putting him at the center of the country’s boardroom intrigues.

Del Vecchio was raised in poverty. His father, who was a fruit and vegetable salesman, died young and his mother, who couldn’t afford to provide for him, gave him over to a Milanese Orphanage when he had seven years.

After learning metalwork in a shop, he started a business selling components for glasses in Agordo in north-east Italy. This village is located in the Dolomite foothills.

FASHION AND DEALS

After a difficult start, almost going bankrupt, the company began making its own glasses a decade later. It grew quickly in the 1980s after Del Vecchio realized the importance of making spectacles as fashion accessories rather than a necessity.

In 1988, he struck licensing agreements with Giorgio Armani. He then went on to work for other luxury brands, such as Bulgari and Chanel, Prada, Prada, and Valentino.

Acquisitions were also part the Del Vecchio strategy.

The company acquired Ray-Ban in 1999 and then went on acquisition of Oakley in California and other retail chains across North America and Australia.

HANDS-ON MANAGER

Critics say that Del Vecchio, like many other ageing entrepreneurs in Italy, struggled to separate himself from his creation and failed to cede control or designate an inheritor.

He has six children, from three relationships, and he remarried in 2010.

He relinquished his control over his company for a decade, handing Andrea Guerra the reins, while still being Luxottica’s chairman.

However, Guerra was not happy with the decision and he left in the summer 2014. Del Vecchio took over as the driving force at Luxottica’s Milan headquarters.

Former employees claim that he became more involved in trivial matters such as teaching staff how to pack boxes for a move.

Del Vecchio was also involved with a series of boardroom fights, and the EssilorLuxottica agreement was followed by a long struggle about how to divide the top jobs between the French- and Italian-speaking camps.

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Reporting by Silvia Aloisi and Claudia Cristoferi
Writing by Keith Weir and editing by Barbara Lewis

Our Standards The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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