Founder and executive president of Luxottica and now CEO of the new world-leader in optics following the merger with Essilor, Leonardo Del Vecchio, a self-made man of talent and vision, went from the an orphanage cot to Italy’s second-richest man. Let’s take a look back over his spectacular ascent.
Intuitive and far seeing, generous with his employees – to whom he gave away 9 million euros in shares on his 80th birthday – intractable in his dealings with high-level staff, but also discreet, mysterious even, at the age of 83, Leonardo Del Vecchio, Milanese by birth and Monegasque by residence is, according to Forbes, the 37th richest man in the world with a personal fortune estimated at over 19 billion dollars.
A talented entrepreneur who started from scratch, the founder and executive president of Luxottica, the world leader in eyewear that's listed on the Milan and New York stock exchanges, owns category-killers like Ray Ban and Oakley and supplies brands such as Chanel, Armani and Versace. Now the CEO of EssilorLuxottica, the world’s number one eyewear company (corrective lenses, frames and sunglasses) born from the merger with France’s Essilor, he has achieved all this without a diploma or family connections.
Italian style success
Leonardo Del Vecchio’s career is an authentic Italian-style success story, and he has made himself into the perfect instrument of social revenge. The youngest of four boys, fatherless and entrusted to an orphanage at a young age, he began work at fourteen in a small company that manufactured frames, all the while attending evening classes to learn design.
In 1958, he opened his own eyeglass frame shop in Agordo, Veneto. Three years later, this shop had about ten employees and became Luxottica. Leonardo Del Vecchio was twenty-five.
It took a full decade for the small company to start producing on its own and another to get a foothold in the US market. From there the company has experienced rapid international growth, driven by the will of a founder who admits to having “always hated to depend on others.” This explains his strategy of vertical integration which, over the years, led him to conclude several takeovers and open numerous subsidiaries - turning his group into a global powerhouse with 82,000 employees and 7,000 points of sale.
Then came the big twist: the tie up, finalized a month ago, with Essilor, the world’s biggest corrective lense producer and a pioneer in the field of ophthalmic optics technology. A deal presented as a merger of equals that worried the competition authorities to the point where they took months to give the it the go-ahead.
With Leonardo Del Vecchio as CEO and Hubert Sagnières, boss of Essilor, the vice-CEO, the newly-minted multinational has 150,000 employees and 18 billion dollars in turnover and accounts for 15% of the global optical market.
Turnover...and staff turnover
So much for the positives. On the down side, there has been trouble with the tax authorities who, in 2009, slapped him with a fine of 340 million dollars for tax evasion, and significant instability in the boardroom, with no less than three CEOs stepping down in seventeen months citing fundamental disagreements with the founder.
A level of staff turnover that forced Del Vecchio to re-take the reins of the group in January 2016 instead of appointing one of his six children – born from three different unions – to head of the company, remarking, “I'd never condemn my children to the task of leading such a large company.”