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Leonardo Del Vecchio Dies at 87; Transformed Eyeglass Industry

Leonardo Del Vecchio, the Italian multibillionaire who rose from Dickensian poverty to construct a globe-straddling behemoth that helped remodel the stodgy, fragmented eyeglass business right into a fashion-oriented enterprise, died on Monday in Milan. He was 87.

His dying was introduced by the corporate, now referred to as EssilorLuxottica. No trigger was given. An organization spokeswoman mentioned he had died at San Raffaele Hospital.

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Though largely unnoticed outdoors of the business, Luxottica, as the corporate was lengthy identified, achieved as a lot dominance within the low-tech, eyeglasses enterprise as Google and Amazon have in theirs.

Producing glasses for luxurious manufacturers like Ray-Ban, Armani, Bulgari, Chanel and Brooks Brothers, and promoting them by means of company-owned retail chains like Pearle Imaginative and prescient, Lenscrafters and Sunglass Hut, the corporate, which Mr. Del Vecchio began in his house in Agordo, Italy, greater than 60 years in the past, grew to become the world’s largest eyewear maker, with factories in Europe, Asia and the Americas.

And he grew to become one among Italy’s wealthiest males. Forbes journal ranked him and his household 52nd on its listing of the world’s wealthiest individuals this yr, estimating their web price at $27.3 billion.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi, in a press release, referred to as Mr. Del Vecchio “a number one determine in Italian entrepreneurship” and “an excellent Italian.”

“He introduced the group of Agordo and your complete nation into the middle of the world of innovation,” Mr. Draghi mentioned.

Born in Milan on Might 22, 1935, Mr. Del Vecchio was raised in an orphanage. His father, a avenue peddler of greens, died earlier than Leonardo was born. His mom, with 4 different youngsters already, was unable to look after him.

At 14, he apprenticed as a metallic engraver after which moved on to a workshop that produced elements for eyeglass frames. “I began because the store boy,” he recalled in an organization video a few years later. “They didn’t name me Leonardo, however merely ‘boy.’”

In 1961, he moved to Agordo, a small city in northeastern Italy, to open his personal workshop to make body elements. The city was providing free land to anyone who opened a enterprise.

He constructed his fledgling enterprise, Luxottica, on a riverbank with an adjoining house for his younger household. He started his workday at 3 a.m. and had little time for anything.

“There have been no kisses, no cuddles,” his eldest daughter, Marisa De Vecchio, recalled in “A Far-Sighted Man,” the official biography of Mr. Del Vecchio revealed by Luxottica in 1991. “Frankly, we had been terrified of him.”

Mr. Del Vecchio come across two improvements that will catapult him over the competitors.

He insisted on controlling all elements of the enterprise, from the manufacturing of body elements to their meeting into completed eyeglasses to their distribution by means of a worldwide community of stores.

He additionally pioneered the wedding of eyewear and style manufacturers, turning a utilitarian necessity right into a style accent as fascinating as Gucci purses or Air Jordan sneakers. Starting with Armani in 1988, over the following 20 years he signed licensing offers with Ralph Lauren, Chanel and a dozen different well-known designers. By elevating eyewear into style, he was in a position to cost costs that generally exceeded $1,000 for a pair of glasses.

As his enterprise grew, Mr. Del Vecchio purchased such established rivals as Ray-Ban, Persol, Sunglass Hut, Pearle Imaginative and prescient and Oakley.

In 1990, he listed Luxottica on the New York Inventory Change, a uncommon transfer for a midsize European firm, giving it entry to share capital and financing for an acquisition spree.

An oft-cited instance of his dedication to develop was his 1995 hostile takeover of the Ohio-based United States Shoe Company — a conglomerate with 5 occasions the market worth of Luxottica. His solely curiosity was the corporate’s worthwhile Lenscrafters shops, the biggest optical chain in the USA.

So he purchased the corporate for $1.4 billion and bought off all the things besides Lenscrafters.

In search of to achieve each market section, Luxottica bought cheap frames in creating nations, generally even freely giving glasses by means of charities.

By the point rivals caught on to the breadth of Mr. Del Vecchio’s ambitions, his firm had unique licenses with 80 % of the key designer manufacturers and the ability to set market costs throughout the eyeglass business.

Nearing 70, Mr. Del Vecchio introduced his retirement in 2004, and turned over administration duties to a youthful govt, Andrea Guerra. However a decade later, Mr. Del Vecchio shocked his shareholders by retaking the reins of Luxottica.

Over the following three years, analysts raised questions concerning the stability of each the corporate and its founder, as Mr. Del Vecchio ousted Mr. Guerra after which appointed and dismissed three different chief executives.

However out of this chaos got here Mr. Del Vecchio’s best deal. In 2017, at age 81, he introduced a merger between Luxottica and Essilor, the French firm that made nearly half of the world’s prescription lenses. He was named govt chairman of EssilorLuxottica with a 32 % stake. In a name to buyers disclosing the deal, he hailed it as “the achievement of a lifetime dream.”

For his Lilliputian rivals, the brand new conglomerate was a nightmare. “The brand new agency won’t technically be a monopoly,” famous The Guardian. “However in seven centuries of spectacles, there has by no means been something prefer it.”

Mr. Del Vecchio was married 3 times to 2 girls and had six youngsters. Together with his first spouse, Luciana Nervo, he had two daughters, Marisa and Paola, and a son, Claudio, now the chief govt of Brooks Brothers, the clothes retailer. He had one other son, Leonardo Maria, along with his second spouse, Nicoletta Zampillo. After divorcing her in 2000, he had two sons, Luca and Clemente, with a girlfriend, Sabina Grossi. He remarried Ms. Zampillo in 2010. She survives him, alongside along with his six youngsters.

Even earlier than the Essilor merger, Luxottica’s dominance of the market resulted in income that had been “comparatively obscene,” Tim Wu, a professor of regulation at Columbia College, instructed Forbes.

However the merger didn’t finish Mr. Del Vecchio’s ambitions. In 2019, he nearly doubled EssilorLuxottica’s retail community to greater than 16,000 shops throughout the globe by buying a majority stake in GrandVision, the Dutch optical retailer.

An organization assertion referred to as the deal “one other step towards our ambition to eradicate poor imaginative and prescient on this planet earlier than 2050.”

Elisabetta Povoledo contributed reporting from Rome.

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