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”.
Spanish Crown Prince Felipe Photo: Reuters
A couple of royal handovers and a papal resignation and suddenly abdication – which used to have a near uniformly negative connotation – is all the rage.
Leonardo Del Vecchio and Rupert Murdoch have plenty in common. The chairman of Luxottica, the eyewear group, and the chairman of News Corp and 21st Century Fox were born in the 1930s. Both are billionaire patriarchs of family businesses they largely built themselves but now share with outside investors. Both have six children from different relationships, and both have wrestled with the question of succession.
Having worked in Milan in the mid-1990s, I have a soft spot for Italy’s imprenditori – the enterprising corporate leaders, often company founders, who make up the backbone of the industrial economy. They must be ashamed of the way their government is stirring up protectionist sentiment against French takeovers of Italian companies like Bulgari.