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Business News/ Companies / News/  Billionaire Ray-Ban owner Leonardo Del Vecchio dies at 87

Billionaire Ray-Ban owner Leonardo Del Vecchio dies at 87


The Italian industrialist was the architect of the mega-merger between sunglasses juggernaut Luxottica and lens maker Essilor

Leonardo Del Vecchio. (AFP File photo)Premium
Leonardo Del Vecchio. (AFP File photo)

Leonardo Del Vecchio, the Italian industrialist who built an eyewear empire that spanned from Ray-Ban to some of the biggest fashion brands, has died. The billionaire was 87.

EssilorLuxottica SA, the eyewear giant for which Mr. Del Vecchio served as chairman, announced his death Monday without disclosing a cause. The company added that its board of directors would meet to determine next steps.

Mr. Del Vecchio was one of Italy’s last captains of industry. He was an indefatigable presence in European boardrooms and the architect of the 50-billion-euro merger—equivalent to around $53 billion—of his sunglasses juggernaut Luxottica with French lens maker Essilor. He served as executive chairman of the combined company until December 2020, when he handed over day-to-day operations to a chief executive.

The firm is the world’s biggest eyewear maker, with a market value of some €65 billion and more than 180,000 employees. Mr. Del Vecchio was the company’s single largest investor with a more than 30% stake.

Mr. Del Vecchio’s empire grew from a shop he set up in 1961 in Northern Italy, where he was born and raised in an orphanage.

Initially, his company made glasses on contract for bigger eyeglass companies. He later launched his own brands and then embarked on a number of big acquisitions and licensing pacts through the 1980s and 1990s. He bought retail chains in Italy and struck licensing pacts with some of Europe’s biggest luxury fashion brands, including Giorgio Armani, Chanel and Prada.

Mr. Del Vecchio also pushed deep into the U.S., snapping up retail giants Lenscrafters and Sunglass Hut. Luxottica dual-listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1990, where it traded under the ticker symbol LUX.

In 1999, Mr. Del Vecchio bought Ray-Ban owner Bausch & Lomb. At the time, the American brand that Audrey Hepburn and Tom Cruise made a household name was languishing. Luxottica turned it around, improving the quality of its frames and restricting sales to higher-end retailers.

In 2007, Luxottica made another big splash, buying Oakley, a California-based maker of sports glasses, after a bitter contractual dispute.

In the early 2000s, Mr. Del Vecchio took a step back from the business, delegating power to a chief executive, Andrea Guerra. But Mr. Del Vecchio grew tired of watching from the sidelines.

In early 2014, he bristled at Mr. Guerra’s decision to partner with Google on its high-tech Google Glass. Mr. Guerra resigned that year, and Mr. Del Vecchio returned to a more active role, naming co-CEOs to run the business.

He turned heads with his own assessment of the ill-fated Google Glass: “It would be okay in the disco, but I no longer go to the disco," he said. Later, the company said that he was making a joke about his age.

Management turmoil and questions about succession followed Mr. Del Vecchio’s return. His answer turned out to be the 2018 merger with Essilor.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text

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