Leonardo Del Vecchio, the billionaire founder of eyewear group Luxottica who rose from a childhood spent in an orphanage to become Italy’s second-richest man, has died at the age of 87.
EssilorLuxottica, created through the €50bn merger in 2017 of Del Vecchio’s company with its French rival, said on Monday it “expresses its deepest condolences to the family and to the global employee community for this enormous loss . . . The board will meet to determine next steps.”
Born into a working-class family in 1930s Milan, Del Vecchio was raised in an orphanage, an experience he described as “life-changing”. He started work as an apprentice aged 14 and would go on to build a personal fortune of more than €24bn.
At the age of 26, during Italy’s economic boom of the 1960s, he founded Luxottica in a small mountain town in the Veneto region, where the local administration offered land to anyone willing to start a business.
The eyewear group, which now employs 80,000 people worldwide, reported revenues of more than €19.8bn last year.
Following the Essilor deal, he also took large stakes in Generali, Italy’s biggest insurance group, and Milan-based investment bank Mediobanca.
While the Essilor merger has been mired with suggestions of a clash between Del Vecchio’s holding company Delfin and the French company, the Italian tycoon succeeded in appointing his closest confidant, Francesco Milleri, as chief executive of the combined group.
Where Del Vecchio had yet to show his magic touch was in the battle for control of Generali and Mediobanca.
As the bank’s largest investor with a stake of just under 20 per cent, he challenged Mediobanca’s reliance on its 13 per cent shareholding in Generali for profits.
At the same time, he had engaged in a battle to replace Generali’s management alongside construction tycoon Francesco Gaetano Caltagirone. Their efforts failed in April when shareholders confirmed Philippe Donnet as chief executive.
While people in Milan’s financial circles saw it as an emotionally charged personal battle triggered by misunderstandings with Mediobanca chief Alberto Nagel, Del Vecchio’s entourage last year insisted he wanted to overhaul and rejuvenate Italy’s sleepy financial institutions.
Bankers and executives in Milan now wonder what the future holds for Delfin without its founder.
“After Leonardo, there isn’t another Del Vecchio even if he has many children and he had put Milleri in charge of many things,” said one executive who knew Del Vecchio well.
Another Milan executive said the details and overall succession plan for his business empire were still under discussion, adding: “It won’t be easy.”