Leonardo del Vecchio, whose rags to riches story, from a childhood in an orphanage to creating the world’s largest optical company, while becoming the second richest man in Italy has passed away at age 87.
Born on May 22, 1935, Del Vecchio grew up poor in war-torn Milan. Unable to care for her son, his mother, widowed just months before he was born, sent him to an orphanage when he was seven. He began working as an apprentice to a tool and dye manufacturer in Milan when he was 14.
In the 1960s Del Vecchio moved to set up his own shop in the town of Agordo, in the Italian Alps north of Venice, from where his small supplier of eyeglass frame parts transformed into the global leader in optical, Luxottica. Del Vecchio grew Luxottica to become a leader in the design, manufacture, and distribution of some of the biggest name brands in eyewear, including Ray-Ban, Oakley, Vogue Eyewear, Persol, Oliver Peoples, Arnette, Costa del Mar, and Alain Mikli, as well as licensed brands including Giorgio Armani, Burberry, Bulgari, Chanel, Coach, Dolce&Gabbana, Ferrari, Michael Kors, Prada, Ralph Lauren, Tiffany & Co., Valentino, and Versace. Del Vecchio was constantly making deal and growing Luxottica, eventually merging his company with lens giant Essilor to become EssilorLuxottica forming an eyewear leviathan with a market capitalization of about 57 billion euros.
“I’ve lost a friend, first, and a companion in this long professional adventure,” designer Giorgio Armani said in a tweet. “Your passing afflicts me deeply.”
“Leonardo Del Vecchio was a great Italian. His story, from orphanage to leadership of a business empire, seems like a story from another time. But it is an example for today and tomorrow. RIP,” European Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said on Twitter.
“With the disappearance of Cav. Del Vecchio the world of eyewear loses the man who was the first to understand the potential of an object that, from a medical tool, has been transformed into an indispensable fashion accessory: a Copernican revolution in the sector – commented the President of ANFAO / MIDO Giovanni Vitaloni on behalf of the entire Board of Directors. He was a visionary, the first in Italy in the business world to recognize a great commercial outlet in the American market, seizing expansion opportunities first directly through his company, then with important acquisitions. It is precisely the acquisitions and mergers that have built the policy that has lead the company to expand its field of action from production to distribution on a global scale.
He was a pioneer in Italy on corporate welfare issues, which he was able to innovate by paving the way for a system of participatory industrial relations, attentive to the needs of its employees. Our country has lost a guide, an entrepreneur, and an extraordinary man: like all pioneers, his model will remain unmatched in terms of consistency, solidity, and depth “.