The unpublished documents on the childhood of the founder of Luxottica, ex Martinitt, in the biography
curated by Tommaso Ebhardt
: «Immediate hospitalization is urgently needed. He lives in complete abandonment “
There was a time when Leonardo Del Vecchio was about to fail. We are in 1969. If all the credit officials had behaved like the wretched director of the Banca del Friuli in Agordo – who denied a credit to the unknown eyewear entrepreneur – we would not be here talking about one of the richest men in Italy, major shareholder of Mediobanca as well as of Generali. Fortunately, a loan was granted to him by the Cassa di Risparmio di Belluno. Not from the institute of the valley that he, over the years, will benefit from work and income. But at least from the bank in the provincial capital of the Made in Italy eyewear district, which he will launch all over the world. With that credit, Del Vecchio liquidated his first partners (of Metalflex) but above all he was able to regularly pay creditors and workers. He was saved.
“Haven’t you failed?”
In the Belluno area he was an upside-down immigrant. He came from Milan. A “stranger”. They were sure that even willing subcontractor and mold supplier would not be able to compete with the already established local rivals in the eyewear industry (Lozza, Marcolin, Safilo). When the small factory reopened in Agordo after the summer holidays, the external accountant who took care of the accounting welcomed him like this. “Why, didn’t they close your account?” Haven’t you failed? ». “No, accountant, we’re still open,” the twenty-year-old Del Vecchio replied proudly. I have always remained curious to know if Del Vecchio, by applying the current sophisticated algorithms that measure creditworthiness, would have passed the exam. Luckily he was confronted at the time, at least in one bank, with savvy officials who looked him in the face. And they believed in him, in his abilities, in his spirit of sacrifice, in the desire to succeed against any contrary wind. I fear that a similar algorithm would not have financed, as luckily it did, not even Enzo Ferrari. What folly to give money to someone who wanted to build racing cars while the rubble of war was still there!
Del Vecchio and Caltagirone
In reading the beautiful biography edited by Tommaso Ebhardt (Sperling & Kupfer), written with the compelling passage of a novel and at the same time with the attention to detail of the chronicler, some simple but instructive truth is grasped. There is no limit to talent, okay. But above all, the horizons that humility and hard work can open up are unpredictable. Never give up, don’t expect anything from others. One is never satisfied, never fulfilled. While the young Del Vecchio was grinding kilometers on his Fiat 1100, relieving fatigue with simpamine, his competitors thought they were already fulfilled by building their own villa in Jesolo. And their decline began. Del Vecchio, over eighty, remains uneasy. He tries together with another
like Francesco Gaetano Caltagirone the climb to Generali. Rejected. It remains a mystery how two entrepreneurs so different in character can get along. Together they are preparing to settle accounts with the
of that Mediobanca which opposed the design of the patron of Luxottica on the European Institute of Oncology (Ieo). Curious that it was the refusal of the institute in piazzetta Cuccia to a donation of 500 million euros (you read that right) for the treatment and research that triggered the fratricidal struggle of Italian finance.
At the Martinitt orphanage
Not only in Belluno, but also in Milan, Leonardo Del Vecchio was, in fact, an immigrant. Poor. His family came from Puglia. He did not know his father, a fruit and vegetable peddler who died prematurely. When he was seven, his mother Grazia was no longer able to look after her three children and applied (we are in 1942) for the admission of Leonardo, the youngest, to the Martinitt orphanage, the same one attended by Edoardo Bianchi , the future king of bicycles, and by Angelo Rizzoli. In his file, unpublished until now, we read that “immediate hospitalization is urgent because he comes from the environment of minimal houses and spends the day in complete abandonment”. Little Leonardo passed from a very modest railing house on the Milanese outskirts of Baggio to the austere dormitories of the institute. The uniform, the alarm clock at six, the line to wash, shirtless, even in winter. When in 1949 he asked to leave the institute early, he explained that he wanted to become “an excellent specialized mechanic”. «It was my luck – he confides to Ebhardt – because the boarding school has become my family. I was fine, they taught me some rules ».
The derby with Safilo
Rules turned into habits, like going to the factory even before dawn. Accompanied by Luigi Francavilla, his alter ego, also of Apulian origins, now a stable Agordino. Another upside-down immigrant who leaves Switzerland, a land of fluvial and desperate emigration of the people of the Dolomites, to settle in valleys of rare beauty but also of age-old poverty. Today unfortunately depopulated. Neither of them speak English, but they know how to conquer the world. They choose their collaborators well. “I am fortunate to have found – says Del Vecchio – people who had the same will as me”. One day they call from New York. They received five thousand pairs of spectacles with the nose pads mounted upside down. A disaster. From Agordo they leave immediately. They come running and, in one night, put the nose pads in place. This is how customers win. Words don’t matter. Perhaps an episode like this says more than the many achievements that have marked Luxottica’s internationalization, in particular the purchase of the company that produces the legendary Ray-Bans. An all-Italian derby, from Belluno, with the other contender, Vittorio Tabacchi’s Safilo, a great player in the sector. Vince Del Vecchio and the two will not talk to each other for years. How do you argue in Veneto you do not argue anywhere else. Luxottica is listed first in New York than in Milan.
The unstoppable growth
When Italians discover that Del Vecchio is Italy’s top taxpayer, his popularity explodes. Paolo Frajese interviews him for Rai but always calls him Lorenzo. Growth is unstoppable, acquisitions are numerous – including Persol – and contracts with stylists are a decisive factor for success. He teams up with Armani who will then leave him for Safilo. But the two will meet again. Not only for business but also for solidarity initiatives. The latest major operation, with Essilor, which produces lenses, completes the dream of vertical integration. It seems, initially, a sale. Also because Essilor-Luxottica is listed and based in Paris. But Delfin, the family’s Luxembourg holding company, is the largest shareholder. And Francesco Milleri, his right hand man, will later become the managing director. Three wives, the present married twice, six children. An equally restless love life. The regret of not having devoted more time to the family. When she decided to do so – at the time she hired Andrea Guerra from Indesit – she soon regretted it. He returned to the helm. The stock market value has tripled since then. His personal fortune is around 30 billion. He says of Italian entrepreneurship that he often “often stops at the first success and stops innovating”. And that he “has always tried to improve”, each time thinking about the next step. His secret? Simple «I want to be the best at everything I do. That’s all”.
May 13, 2022 (change May 13, 2022 | 22:34)
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