Ray-Ban owner Leonardo Del Vecchio grew up in a Milan orphanage and has amassed a fortune of €24 billion


Leonardo Del Vecchio, the Italian entrepreneur who started with a tiny optics workshop in the Dolomites and became the undisputed world leader in eyewear, has died. He was 87.

His death was reported by the Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera. A Del Vecchio spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Raised in a Milan orphanage, Mr Del Vecchio made his way from the northern city to set up shop in the Alpine town of Agordo north of Venice, where he began as a small supplier of frame parts to local eyewear manufacturers.

His company, EssilorLuxottica, made a series of acquisitions to eventually become the world leader in the industry. Globally recognized names Ray-Ban and Oakley were among the many eyewear brands Mr. Del Vecchio bought on his way to the top.

Del Vecchio’s net worth was around €24 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index as of June 1.

He held a controlling 32 percent stake in EssilorLuxottica, the Franco-Italian eyewear giant formed from Luxottica’s merger with French lens giant Essilor in 2018. The company, which makes frames for luxury houses like Armani and Prada and owns brands like Ray-Ban, has more than 180,000 employees, offices around the world and a foothold in the luxury and medical device sectors.

EssilorLuxottica is both the world’s leading eyewear retailer and its largest manufacturer of prescription lenses.

Shy and secretive by nature, Mr. Del Vecchio has spent decades carefully avoiding the media spotlight.

During a rare chat with a reporter earlier this year, the tycoon was asked how he built his empire. “I’ve always strived to be the best at everything I do — that’s it,” he said. Describing the ride that got him to the top, he simply said, “I could never get enough.”

In addition to a controlling interest in EssilorLuxottica, Mr. Del Vecchio’s Delfin Holdings also held interests in Italian financial companies such as Mediobanca, Assicurazioni Generali and UniCredit.

Mr. Del Vecchio was born on May 22, 1935 and grew up poor in Milan. His mother, widowed five months before his birth, was unable to take care of her son and sent him to an orphanage when he was seven. At the age of 14 he began as an apprentice at a tool and paint manufacturer in Milan.

Mr. Del Vecchio moved to Agordo in the 1960s and started a small business manufacturing eyeglass frames designed by others. He founded Luxottica in 1961 with 14 workers on land given to him for free by the city to boost the local economy.

Luxottica began producing their own designs in the late 1960s. In the 1980s, Del Vecchio began buying companies in the United States. In 1999 he bought Ray-Ban for $640 million.

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

Mr. Del Vecchio’s ultimate goal, he said in one of his recent interviews, is to force EssilorLuxottica into the exclusive club of companies valued at more than 100 billion euros.

He was the largest shareholder of the investment bank Mediobanca with a stake of almost 20 percent and one of the main investors in Assicurazioni Generali, Italy’s leading insurer.

He was part of a group of investors that tried unsuccessfully to oust Generali CEO Philippe Donnet in the first half of 2022. At Mediobanca there have been strategic disputes with CEO Alberto Nagel.

Mr Del Vecchio said his skirmishes in the financial industry were due to him thinking big.

“You have to be brave enough to keep going and moving forward,” he said. Ray-Ban owner Leonardo Del Vecchio grew up in a Milan orphanage and has amassed a fortune of €24 billion

Fry Electronics Team

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