Leonardo Del Vecchio: out with the new, in with the old? (Photo: Paolo Bona)
I’m annoyed with Leonardo Del Vecchio, founder of Luxottica, the sunglasses and spectacles-maker. By retaking the executive reins at 79, he has undermined a recent column in which I contrasted his enlightened approach with the benighted version of family ownership and management practised by Rupert Murdoch. Worse, his decision looks like a step back for the company itself.
Mr Del Vecchio apparently has no intention of installing any of his offspring as chief executive, now the well-respected Andrea Guerra has stepped down. That is good. But when you give yourself the title of executive chairman and you own two thirds of the company, it is hard to say that you have kept the operational and shareholder aspects of your business separate, which I still consider to be the best model. As I wrote in March, “maintaining both ownership and management of a large family business more often than not leads downhill into further confusion, uncertainty and internecine conflict”.
As the FT’s Milan correspondent in the 1990s, I used to be a regular visitor to Palazzo Mezzanotte – the headquarters of the Italian stock exchange – an imposing 1932 building that its own website describes as “one of the architectural symbols of the Fascist era”. Given that history, if I were running Moncler, I probably wouldn’t have used this photo to publicise the first day of trading in my company’s shares – unless, of course, it is a deliberate Benetton-style attempt to shock.
Les Echos, the French financial journal, begins its tribute to Antoine Bernheim, who died this week aged 87, by describing him as a “véritable Talleyrand” of business. So it’s worth asking, as Metternich reputedly did when news of the wily French diplomat’s death reached him: “What do you think he meant by that?”
Bernheim had been entrenched at the centre of a network of French and Italian finance for so long and with such influence that it is tempting to assume that his passing means the whole edifice is in jeopardy. Tempting, but, alas, wrong.
Italians like to wear their qualifications where everyone can see them. Accountants style themselves Ragioniere, architects are always Architetto, and so on. Corporate chieftains whose business successes have long since overshadowed their academic achievements hang on to the handle: so Fiat’s Gianni Agnelli was always l’Avvocato, Carlo De Benedetti is still l’Ingegnere. I used to be rather proud to receive letters addressed to “Egregio Dott. Hill”, when I worked in Milan, until I realised protocol dictated that every university graduate was a Dottore or Dottoressa.