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“I could never get enough” multi-billionaire dies leaving succession unclear

Italian billionaire Leonardo Del Vecchio once remarked: “I could never get enough.” Sadly, now he never will. 

Del Vecchio has passed away at the age of 87, leaving behind him a fortune worth $29 billion, and the respect of his peers. His six children from three relationships each stand to inherit 12.5% of Delfin, his Luxembourg family enterprise. Nicoletta Zampillo, whom he remarried in 2010, will get 25%.

If any member of the family is best qualified to achieve change at Luxottica, it would be eldest son Claudio

Beyond the grave, Del Vecchio aims to protect Delfin against break up through a statute which requires an 88.5 % voting majority to approve a substantive change in arrangements.

Del Vecchio’ family is the second richest in Italy behind the Ferrero clan, makers of Nutella. In his time, he has shared the corporate stage with other Italian industrialists – Silvio Berlusconi, Luciano Benetton, Gianni Agnelli and Giorgio Armani – who first made their mark in the 1960s through stubborn intelligence and ruthless charm

The bulk of Del Vecchio’s wealth is tied up in a 32% stake in global eyewear company Essilor Luxottica, maker of Ray-Ban sunglasses. 

His original Luxottica business expanded by merging with Essilor, a French prescription lens business in 2018. This led to later conflict between the two divisions smoothed over in 2021. 

Del Vecchio once called his eyewear business his “factory” with a nod to his impoverished past, when he worked 20-hour days to make the grade as a metal worker.

Digital expert Francesco Milleri, chief executive, worked at the factory with Del Vecchio since 2016, following the ousting of former chief executive Andrea Guerra.

Del Vecchio went on to push online sales and later forged an association with Meta, with the aim of using Ray-Ban glasses to view the metaverse. 

Del Vecchio lately made it clear that he wanted Essilor Luxottica to become a global company with a market value €100 million, against the current €64 billion. No pressure. 

Of late, he requested acquisitions and a global profile from Italian insurer Generali, where Delfin owns a 9.8% stake. Earlier this year, it supported Francesco Caltagirone, an owner of construction businesses, in a failed attempt to shake up Generali’s board of directors.

Delfin also owns 19.4% of Mediobanca, the Italian investment bank, where Del Vecchio has been pushing for cross-border growth. Delfin lobbied for governance reform in 2021. 

Delfin owns 1.9% of Unicredit, the Italian banking group, where Del Vecchio lobbied for a new chief executive in 2021, according to media reports. 

It also has a 27% stake in Paris-based real estate company Convivio and a 13% stake in Luxembourg airline Luxair. Delfin’s debt of €2.2 billion produced a net asset value of €27.2 billion in 2021 implying a tripling of its worth in ten years.

If any member of the family is best qualified to achieve change at Luxottica, it would be eldest son Claudio, who was eased out of his board seat in 2015.

Subsequently, Claudio developed US retail interests and bought Brooks Brothers, which sought bankruptcy protection in 2020, during the pandemic. Simon Property Group bought the business out of bankruptcy soon after.

On his Linkedin page, Claudio recently applauded Essilor Luxoticca’s creation of a foundation called One Sight which supports sustainable initiatives. 

Claudio’s son Matteo is a senior vice president at Essilor Luxottica in North America. According to Forbes, Claudio’s brother Leonardo is involved in the business but the other siblings are not known to be involved in the business at this stage.

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