Leonardo Del Vecchio, Billionaire Ray-Ban Owner, Dies at 87

LItalian entrepreneur eonardo De Vecchio has passed away. He started out with a small optics shop in the Dolomite Mountains and became the undisputed global leader in eyewear. He was 87.

After earlier reports by the Italian media, EssilorLuxottica in Paris confirmed his death on Monday.

Del Vecchio was raised in Milan and set out to open a shop in Agordo in the Alps north from Venice. He started as a supplier of frames to the local eyeglass maker.

Del Vecchio was the chairman of the vision-care colossus EssilorLuxottica. He made a number of bold acquisitions that helped the company to grow into the global leader in its field. Del Vecchio was a keen buyer of iconic brands, such as Oakley or Ray-Ban.

Del Vecchio’s net worth was $25.7 billion as of June 1, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

He owned a 32% controlling stake in EssilorLuxottica. EssilorLuxottica was created from the 2018 merging of Luxottica SpA and French lens manufacturer Essilor. This company produces frames for brands such as Armani and Prada and has over 180,000 employees. It also owns Ray-Ban and operates across the globe.

EssilorLuxottica is both the world’s top eyeglass retailer and its biggest producer of corrective lenses.

Shy and secretive

Del Vecchio was shy and kept his private life secret. He spent many decades trying to avoid the spotlight.

In a conversation earlier in the year with a journalist, Del Vecchio was asked about his business and how it all came together. “I’ve always strived to be the best at everything I do—that’s it,” Del Vecchio said. Describing the drive that took him to the top, he said simply, “I could never get enough.”

In addition to a controlling stake in EssilorLuxottica, Del Vecchio’s Delfin holding also had interests in Italian financial companies such as Mediobanca SpA, Assicurazioni Generali SpA and UniCredit SpA.

Del Vecchio was born May 22, 1935 and grew up in Milan poverty. Unable to care for her son, his mother — widowed five months before he was born — sent him to an orphanage when he was seven. At the age of 14, he started as an apprentice for a Milan tool- and dye factory.

In the 1960s, Del Vecchio made a start-up making frames for eyeglasses designed by other people. Luxottica, which he founded in 1961 using a dozen employees on the property he acquired from the town to spur the local economy was started by him.

Luxottica began producing its own designs around the 1960s and Del Vecchio started buying companies in America in the 1980s. Ray-Ban was purchased by him for $640 million in 1999.

In the early days of his career, Del Vecchio said he “put work before everything else,” dedicating little time to his children. “The factory became my real family,” he said, adding that he had made up for some of the lost time in recent years, spending time with his extended family in Milan, or at his homes on France’s Cote d’Azur and the island of Antigua.

Del Vecchio’s final goal, he said in what would be his final interview, was to push EssilorLuxottica into the exclusive club of companies valued at more than 100 billion euros ($107 billion).

He was the biggest shareholder in investment bank Mediobanca with a stake of just under 20%, and one of the main investors at Generali, Italy’s top insurer. Del Vecchio played a crucial role in a group that attempted unsuccessfully to replace Philippe Donnet, the Chief Executive Officer of Generali. He had frequent disagreements with Alberto Nagel, CEO of Mediobanca.

Del Vecchio believes that the reason for his skirmishes within finance came down to thinking large. “You need to be brave enough to keep doing things, to move forward,” he said.

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