The rest of the business world may be glaring with concern at its bottom line, but for Italian eyeglass king Leonardo Del Vecchio, it has been another banner year. Del Vecchio's Luxottica Group (LUX ), the world's No. 1 designer and maker of eyeglass frames and sunglasses, boosted net profit 24% last year, to $290 million, on sales of $2.8 billion. Luxottica's New York Stock Exchange-listed shares advanced 18.7% in 2001, bucking the 10.2% decline in the NYSE Composite index.
One of the highlights of Del Vecchio's year was his $653 million acquisition of SunglassHut, a U.S. chain with 1,734 outlets. The purchase has pumped up sales of Luxottica's popular shades, which are sold under a number of brand names, including Ray-Ban, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Persol, Giorgio Armani, and Killer Loop. Together with earlier acquisitions of eyeglass retail chain LensCrafters and the eyewear division of Bausch & Lomb Inc., the deal has bolstered Del Vecchio's lead in the $87 billion world market for eyewear.
Ranked 43rd in Forbes's latest listing of the world's richest men, Del Vecchio built his eyeglass empire from scratch, starting in 1961 with a one-room factory and 12 workers. Today, Luxottica employs 35,000 workers worldwide and produces 65,000 pairs of glasses a day.
The 67-year-old entrepreneur earned his success the hard way. Born into an impoverished Milanese family in 1935, Del Vecchio lost his father five months before his birth. Unable to make ends meet, his mother entrusted him to the care of nuns at age seven. Del Vecchio began working at 14 and has never stopped. He still clocks 14-hour workdays, whether at Luxottica's headquarters in Agordo, in the Italian Alps, or at one of the company's myriad offices around the world. One rare indulgence: occasional visits to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art to admire antiques and paintings from medieval Europe. Del Vecchio runs his own museum. Located near the original Luxottica factory in Agordo, it houses one of the world's oldest collections of--you guessed it--spectacles.