Ray-Ban's billionaire owner Leonardo Del Vecchio passes away at 87

Ray-Ban's billionaire owner Leonardo Del Vecchio passes away at 87

June 29, 2022

Raised in a Milan orphanage, Del Vecchio struck out from the northern city to set up shop in the town of Agordo, in the Alps north of Venice, starting off as a small supplier of frame parts

Leonardo Del Vecchio, the Italian entrepreneur who started with a tiny optics workshop in the Dolomite mountains and ended up as the undisputed world leader in eyewear, has died. He was 87.

His death was reported by Italian daily Corriere della Sera on Monday.

NEW YORK and MILAN—Salutes and commentary from dignitaries, designers, colleagues, clients and competitors started to come through yesterday around the world on international media and social media as hundreds shared condolences and observations about the passing of Luxottica founder and EssilorLuxottica chairman, Leonardo Del Vecchio, who was 87.

The self-made billionaire's rise from poverty to developing his own eyewear manufacturing company and leading it, via expansion and acquisition into the world's largest eyewear business made him a legend, and his business leadership across Italy and much of the world was recognized as was his foundation efforts.

Comments from prominent politicians and Italian industrialists were many. Italy's prime minister Mario Draghi, said, "A leading figure in Italian business for more than 60 years, Del Vecchio created one of the country's largest companies from humble beginnings... he has always combined international openness with a focus on social and local issues." 

EU economy commissioner Paolo Gentiloni stated, "Leonardo Del Vecchio was a great Italian. His story, from orphanage to leadership of a business empire, seems like a story from another time. But it is an example for today and tomorrow. RIP." 

Ferrari chairman John Elkann, added, “Leonardo Del Vecchio was a great entrepreneur, who knew how to build an unparalleled industrial group, making Italian ingenuity excel all over the world. He was always close to Ferrari with great passion and enthusiasm, I remember him with deep respect and admiration."

In the fashion sectors and from executives, clients and competitors within the optical industry, admiration and recollections were extensive, too. Designer Giorgio Armani, who created an eyewear collection in partnership with Del Vecchio at Luxottica in 1988, said, "First and foremost, I lose a friend, with whom I shared a long and pioneering professional adventure.

Together, we invented a phenomenon that did not exist: we immediately realized that glasses, from simple functional objects would become indispensable fashion accessories."

He added, "Our generation lived through hard times that hardened it: the years of war and reconstruction... of Leonardo I will always remember his direct way of communicating, his practicality, his loyalty. I will miss him very much."

Giovanni Vitaloni, president of Mido, on behalf of all the leaders of Mido and ANFAO posted of Del Vecchio, former president of ANFAO and EUROM, "We lose a guide, a visionary and a pioneer. He was a symbol of Italian entrepreneurship and the greatest exponent of the eyewear sector in our country and abroad." 
 
Andrea Guerra, now an LVMH advisor and former CEO of Luxottica for 10 years, posted, "Today, for many like me is a very special and sad day. It was a day that we thought would never happen. For many, Leonardo Del Vecchio was the president but also an example and a long-term leader.

I have to say thank you. Thank you for believing and pushing all of us to make Luxottica always the best.

"Thank you for being a continuous and constant silent example. Thank you for taking that time around a new hinge or material.

An obsession to never stop. Silent, synthetic and the essence of the search for simplification. Simplicity, many talk about it, many aspire to it, he possessed it in his DNA," Guerra said.

Several other European eyewear company leaders added their thoughts. Leadership of  The Marcolin Group shared their condolences to the Del Vecchio family and EssilorLuxottica company.

Safilo Group S.p.A CEO Angelo Trocchia said, "Leonardo Del Vecchio was an extraordinary entrepreneur who succeeded in creating, from scratch, a company that became a symbol of Italian industry throughout the world and who worked with determination to innovate the eyewear market.

Today we have lost not only a great entrepreneur, but also a great man, and for this reason I would like to express my condolences both personally and on behalf of our Group to his entire family and the employees of EssilorLuxottica.

Jeff Cole, former longtime chairman and CEO of Cole National Corporation, which was sold to Luxottica in 2004, and co-founder of GrandVision, which was acquired by EssilorLuxottica in 2021,  "Del Vecchio saw things that others did not. He bet big on his own ideas and vision. He was a fierce competitor—a gladiator."

Melanie Devlyn, chairwoman of the board and CEO of Devlyn Holdings in Mexico, posted, "[Leonardo Del Vecchio] was a visionary of exception in our industry, difficult to repeat, but above all, a success story in the face of adversity.

A story of the power of determination, work and dreams of a child born without privileges and raised in an orphanage. A living legend. An honor to have known him personally. DEP Cavaliere."

Harvey Ross, now chairman of HMRoss Holdings, founder of Viva International Group, said, "Leonardo Del Vecchio was a man who made a difference. He was powerful beyond measure and he was a mogul in the optical industry.

When [Jobson's] Bob Amato called me to tell me about Leonardo's acquisition of LensCrafters, it was clear the industry had truly changed. His practical brilliance and the fire in his belly inspired me to strive for higher goals. The legacy he created took the next generation to levels we could never imagine."

Sue Downes, CEO and co-founder of MyEyeDr., said, "I am beyond saddened to hear of the passing of Leonardo Del Vecchio. He was an unparalleled visionary within our industry whose influence will continue to be felt for years to come.

He truly was the cornerstone of how our industry has been shaped and formed over the years. His personal journey should be an inspiration to us all. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and associates and all who have been impacted by his great leadership."

Added Jim McGrann, CEO of PECAA, "The industry has lost a true legend. When I joined the industry in 1999 at Marchon discussinsions about Mr. Del Vecchio and the way he executed his business strategies were a daily topic of discussion.

He was a fierce competitor and he forced many of us to have to get better at what we did in order to survive. I had the pleasure of meeting him on a number of occasions. He was charming, engaging and very smart. One of my favorite memories was a meeting I had with him just after my granddaughter was born. He personally fit her with her first pair of sunglasses. May he rest in  peace."

Reade Fahs, CEO of National Vision, Inc., said, "I feel as though I have been studying Mr. Del Vecchio for over 25 years now (since April of 1995 when he bought LensCrafters where I was working at the time). The man was utterly fascinating in all ways. And the magnitude of his vision and his guts in achieving it were beyond compare."

Said Fahs, "One of my first lessons from him as I watched from afar in the mid-1990’s was that 'millionaires think differently than billionaires.' The millionaires who were running LensCrafters at the time still thought about money.

Mr. Del Vecchio never seemed to think about money. He seemed to be thinking far more about the status of marketplace equilibrium. He always seemed to me to be thinking on a plane well beyond the rest of us.

"And the way he went about completing so much of his dream rapidly in the last few years of his life, when he was already in his mid-80s, was completely astonishing. Imagine merging with Essilor and then, seemingly as an afterthought, acquiring the world’s second largest optical retail chain. It was almost as if he had to achieve his life’s vision before he could pass."

Reade concluded, "I remember when I was visiting VisionSpring’s operations in Delhi, India. I was chatting with a very junior person in the organization and out of nowhere he asked, 'What do you think Mr. Del Vecchio’s acquisition of Essilor means for my role?’' I was astounded.

Here was a very junior fellow working in an Indian NGO trying to determine the impact of this Italian billionaire's strategic vision on his career. And I realized it was like that for tens of thousands of people around the world—constantly trying to determine the impact of Mr. Del Vecchio’s vision on their particular situation. That was the genius of the man. He impacted us all."