His remarkable journey from a modest upbringing in an orphanage to amassing a fortune of tens of billions of euros stands as one of Italy’s most celebrated rags-to-riches stories, symbolizing the nation’s post-war economic resurgence.
By the conclusion of 2021, Del Vecchio had firmly established himself as Italy’s second-wealthiest individual, second only to Giovanni Ferrero of Nutella fame, according to Forbes.
In a departure from the norm in Italy, Del Vecchio, who served as chairman of the prestigious eyewear manufacturer EssilorLuxottica, did not retire quietly. On the contrary, he continued to expand his business ventures well into his 80s.
In 2018, he orchestrated a momentous merger, uniting the Luxottica company he had founded in 1961 with France’s Essilor.
Furthermore, his holding company, Delfin, held the largest stake in Italian financial services giant Mediobanca and possessed a substantial interest in insurer Generali, positioning him at the epicenter of Italy’s corporate landscape.
Del Vecchio’s early life was marked by hardship. Raised by his mother in poverty after his father’s passing, he was entrusted to a Milanese orphanage at the tender age of seven due to financial constraints.
His journey began as a metalworker in a tool shop, eventually leading him to establish a business supplying eyeglass components in Agordo, a village in the foothills of the Dolomites in northeast Italy, where land was made available to new businesses.
Fashion and Deals:
After initial struggles that nearly led to bankruptcy, Del Vecchio’s company transitioned to manufacturing its eyeglasses a decade later. The 1980s witnessed rapid expansion as Del Vecchio recognized the potential of positioning eyeglasses as fashion accessories rather than mere necessities.
In 1988, he struck licensing agreements with renowned fashion houses like Giorgio Armani, subsequently collaborating with luxury brands such as Bulgari, Chanel, Prada, and Valentino.
Acquisitions played a pivotal role in Del Vecchio’s strategy. In 1999, his company acquired the iconic Ray-Ban brand, followed by the purchase of California’s Oakley and retail chains across North America and Australia.
Like many aging Italian entrepreneurs, Del Vecchio found it challenging to distance himself from his creation, refusing to relinquish control or designate a successor.
He had six children from three relationships and remarried his second wife in 2010.
For a decade, he loosened his grip on his company, passing the reins to Andrea Guerra while retaining his position as Luxottica’s chairman. However, disagreements with Guerra resulted in Guerra’s sudden departure in the summer of 2014, prompting Del Vecchio to return as the driving force at Luxottica’s Milan headquarters.
In his later years, Del Vecchio became increasingly involved in minutiae, such as providing instructions to staff on how to pack boxes during an office move, according to former employees.
His tenure was also marked by several boardroom battles, including the complex negotiations surrounding the EssilorLuxottica deal and the ongoing dispute over the distribution of top executive roles between Italian and French factions.