My Mentors 4: Claudio del Vecchio. The Power of Modesty
During my years in New York, I discovered I have a great passion for people’s stories; every story possesses its own intrinsic lessons. The variety and the richness of these stories make the United States a unique place. Some of my most precious memories of those years are linked to the people I have met. You never really know whom you will meet in New York or how an event will turn out. This is a lesson that I learned quickly. That is how I became more attentive and curious. There are some stories that shaped both my personal and professional growth.
I had met Claudio Del Vecchio several times on official and formal occasions. He was always
extremely polite and kept a low profile. We never had a real conversation at these events, one of many for both of us. Yet, I remember one event particularly well. On July 2012, the Group of Italian Representatives (GEI) presented him with the friendship award.
I remember very vividly the speech that Claudio gave on that occasion. He humbly approached the podium and very modestly talked about his story and his beloved job.
His father’s legacy
I was very touched by Claudio’s words. He recounted the story of Luxottica, a company founded by his father Leonardo in 1961 in Agordo, a small town near Belluno. He spoke of his father’s childhood, spent in an orphanage, and of his early years working on a factory floor.
He recalled when his father worked unflaggingly in the evenings on a drum made with skin and filled with sand, inlaying aluminum parts to make glasses. In a very simple way, Claudio managed to effectively convey how his father’s sincere passion for his job led him to start a great business.
The continuous search for better solutions led Luxottica to industrialize eyewear production, and turned eyeglasses from a solely medical device into a glamorous and fashionable object. The turning point for the company came in the eighties when Luxottica acquired Lens Crafters and SunGlass Hut. Thanks to this strategic decision, Luxottica has become one of the few international Italian companies and a worldwide leader in the eyewear industry.
This happened precisely when Claudio was in charge of Luxottica’s US market. Together with Lens Crafters, Luxottica also acquired Casual Corner, a women’s-apparel chain in serious financial difficulties. Claudio took over the company and after some years managed to turn things around. After this experience, he decided to run a business on his own and become an entrepreneur himself, acquiring the iconic American brand Brooks Brothers in 2011.
I barely knew the story of Luxottica, but what struck me most while listening to Claudio was the simplicity of this powerful story and his visible and incredible respect for his father, as well as his loyalty to the company. Claudio moved to the United States in 1982 and undoubtedly played a very important role in the internationalization of the company. Nevertheless, he never mentioned himself. He never personally appeared in his tale. He always used the pronoun ‘we.’ That day, I learned a very important lesson about entrepreneurship, vision, courage, humility and love. Love as a secret to true success.
I was so inspired by his speech that the next time I saw Claudio, I asked him if he would be willing to speak to the students at La Scuola d’Italia. I have always been very committed to the Scuola d’Italia in New York and I had already invited other luminaries to speak to the students.
I know from personal experience how much one person can influence and change a young person’s life, and Claudio’s words were so inspirational to me, that I wanted the students to share in my experience. He immediately accepted my offer and even changed his schedule in order to talk to the students. When I think about that day, I like to imagine that at least one student was captivated by that illuminating conversation and managed to find his own vocation and inner passion, and just maybe he/she will follow a path to become a wise entrepreneur. As Claudio said that day, “the true secret of real success lies in following your own passions. Don’t set money as a goal in your life. If you follow your passions and work hard, money will follow.”
Claudio has lived in the US for many years, and although he has adopted the core values of American culture, he has not forgotten his origins and feels very much part of the Italian community. He is deeply aware of the importance of being part of the community and giving back to society. Yet he always keeps a low profile, never mentioning his contributions to numerous philanthropic organizations; he is one of the most humble people I have ever met.
He is very down-to-earth and never assumes everybody knows who he is. He may be the CEO and President of Brooks Brothers, but he behaves as though he were just another company employee. He simply loves what he does. The secret to true happiness is being aware of what really matters, and Claudio knows what matters to him. That is the essence of Claudio Del Vecchio: a very successful businessman and a modest person.
All the power that lies in modesty
His incredible commitment and strong work ethic made him the ideal candidate for the Cavaliere del Lavoro, the most prestigious Italian honor, bestowed upon those who have distinguished themselves through their commitment as entrepreneurs. I am very glad that the Consulate proposed his name to the President of the Republic and made the dream of any Italian entrepreneur come true for him.
Over the years, he has proved to be an exceptional businessman, silently contributing to the international expansion of Luxottica first, then saving Brooks Brothers (a company almost on the verge of bankruptcy) and turning it into the flourishing company we know today. He really deserved this recognition!
I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to get to know Claudio. He showed me how much power lies in modesty. He leads by example, an extraordinary, modest and powerful example.
*Former deputy-consul in New York Lucia Pasqualini continues her collaboration with i-Italy with a series of portraits of people who have taught her important lessons.