Mike Ilitch

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Mike Ilitch
Mike Ilitch.jpg
Ilitch presenting No Hitter Awards in 2011
Born(1929-07-20)July 20, 1929
DiedFebruary 10, 2017(2017-02-10) (aged 87)
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
OccupationOwner of Detroit Tigers & Detroit Red Wings, founder of Little Caesars Pizza
Net worthUS$6.1 billion
(February 2017) [1]
Spouse(s) Marian Ilitch
Children7, including Christopher and Denise
Parent(s)Sotir Ilitch
Sultana Ilitch

Michael Ilitch Sr. (July 20, 1929 – February 10, 2017) was an American entrepreneur, founder and owner of the international fast food franchise Little Caesars Pizza. He owned the Detroit Red Wings of the National Hockey League and Detroit Tigers of Major League Baseball.

Fast food food prepared and served in a small amount of time

Fast food is a type of mass-produced food designed for commercial resale and with a strong priority placed on "speed of service" versus other relevant factors involved in culinary science. Fast food was originally created as a commercial strategy to accommodate the larger numbers of busy commuters, travelers and wage workers who often did not have the time to sit down at a public house or diner and wait for their meal. By making speed of service the priority, this ensured that customers with strictly limited time were not inconvenienced by waiting for their food to be cooked on-the-spot. For those with no time to spare, fast food became a multibillion-dollar industry.

Detroit Red Wings hockey team of the National Hockey League

The Detroit Red Wings are a professional ice hockey team based in Detroit. They are members of the Atlantic Division in the Eastern Conference of the National Hockey League (NHL) and are one of the Original Six teams of the league. Founded in 1926, the team was known as the Detroit Cougars from then until 1930. For the 1930–31 and 1931–32 seasons the team was called the Detroit Falcons, and in 1932 changed their name to the Red Wings.

National Hockey League North American professional ice hockey league

The National Hockey League is a professional ice hockey league in North America, currently comprising 31 teams: 24 in the United States and 7 in Canada. The NHL is considered to be the premier professional ice hockey league in the world, and one of the major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada. The Stanley Cup, the oldest professional sports trophy in North America, is awarded annually to the league playoff champion at the end of each season.


Ilitch was at the center of Detroit's downtown redevelopment efforts; he purchased and renovated the Fox Theatre and relocated his business headquarters (Ilitch Holdings) there. He also owned Olympia Entertainment. A first generation American of Macedonian descent, [2] [3] he was married to Marian Bayoff Ilitch.

Fox Theatre (Detroit) theater and former movie theater in Detroit, Michigan, United States

The Fox Theatre is a performing arts center located at 2211 Woodward Avenue in Downtown Detroit, Michigan, near the Grand Circus Park Historic District. Opened in 1928 as a flagship movie palace in the Fox Theatres chain, it was at over 5,000 seats the largest theater in the city. Designed by theater architect C. Howard Crane, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989 for its architecture. The area surrounding the Fox is nicknamed Foxtown. The city's major performance centers and theatres emanate from the Fox Theatre and Grand Circus Park Historic District and continue along Woodward Avenue toward the Fisher Theatre in the city's New Center.

Ilitch Holdings, Inc. is an American company established in 1999 to provide all companies owned by Marian Ilitch with professional and technical services. Her privately held businesses include Little Caesars Pizza, the National Hockey League (NHL) Detroit Red Wings, the Major League Baseball (MLB) Detroit Tigers, Olympia Entertainment, Olympia Development, Blue Line Foodservice Distribution, Champion Foods, Little Caesars Pizza Kit Fundraising Program, and a variety of venues within these entities. Ilitch Holdings subsidiaries manage Detroit's Fox Theatre, City Theatre, Comerica Park, and the Little Caesars Arena.

Olympia Entertainment

Olympia Entertainment is an American sports and entertainment company headquartered in the Fox Theatre in Downtown Detroit, Michigan. Olympia is a division of Ilitch Holdings, and owned by Marian Ilitch. It owns or manages the Detroit Red Wings, the Detroit Tigers, the Fox Theatre, Joe Louis Arena (management), Comerica Park (management), Cobo Arena (management), City Theatre, Hockeytown Café, as well as the new Little Caesars Arena, home of the Red Wings and Detroit Pistons. Starting on December 1, 2007 Olympia began managing the entertainment venues at the Detroit Masonic Temple after the Detroit Masonic Association ousted the previous management company Halberd.

Early years

Ilitch was born in Detroit in 1929 [4] [5] to Macedonian immigrants Sotir and Sultana Ilitch. His father was a tool-and-die maker. [6] [7]

Business career

A graduate of Cooley High School in Detroit, Michigan, Ilitch served in the U.S. Marine Corps for four years. [8]

Cooley High School

Thomas M. Cooley High School is located at the intersection of Hubbell Avenue and Chalfonte Street, on the northwest side of Detroit, Michigan. The three-story, Mediterranean Revival-style facility opened its doors on September 4, 1928.

After his return home to Detroit, the Detroit Tigers offered him $3,000 if he would sign to play baseball, and Ilitch had a four-year minor league career from 1952 to 1955. Ilitch played mostly second base for the Tigers', New York Yankees', and Washington Senators' organizations in the Pennsylvania–Ontario–New York League, Cotton States League, and Florida International League. [9] He was forced out of his playing career due to a knee injury. [10]

Detroit Tigers Baseball team and Major League Baseball franchise in Detroit, Michigan, United States of America

The Detroit Tigers are an American professional baseball team based in Detroit, Michigan. The Tigers compete in Major League Baseball (MLB) as a member of the American League (AL) Central division. One of the AL's eight charter franchises, the club was founded in Detroit as a member of the minor league Western League in 1894 and is the only Western League team still in its original city. They are the oldest continuous one name, one city franchise in the AL. The Tigers have won four World Series championships, 11 AL pennants, and four AL Central division championships. The Tigers also won division titles in 1972, 1984, and 1987 as a member of the AL East. The team currently plays its home games at Comerica Park in Downtown Detroit.

Baseball Sport

Baseball is a bat-and-ball game played between two opposing teams who take turns batting and fielding. The game proceeds when a player on the fielding team, called the pitcher, throws a ball which a player on the batting team tries to hit with a bat. The objectives of the offensive team are to hit the ball into the field of play, and to run the bases—having its runners advance counter-clockwise around four bases to score what are called "runs". The objective of the defensive team is to prevent batters from becoming runners, and to prevent runners' advance around the bases. A run is scored when a runner legally advances around the bases in order and touches home plate. The team that scores the most runs by the end of the game is the winner.

New York Yankees Baseball team and Major League Baseball franchise in the Bronx, New York, United States

The New York Yankees are an American professional baseball team based in the New York City borough of the Bronx. The Yankees compete in Major League Baseball (MLB) as a member club of the American League (AL) East division. They are one of two major league clubs based in New York City, the other being the New York Mets of the National League. In the 1901 season, the club began play in the AL as the Baltimore Orioles. Frank Farrell and Bill Devery purchased the franchise and moved it to New York City, renaming the club the New York Highlanders. The Highlanders were officially renamed the Yankees in 1913.

After leaving baseball, Ilitch started a pizza business in 1959. With the help of his wife, Marian, the Ilitches opened Little Caesars Pizza Treat in Garden City, Michigan. [11] As of 2017, the family's entities remain privately held. In 1999, the Ilitches established Ilitch Holdings, Inc. to provide their various enterprises with professional and technical services, and held the titles of chairman and vice chairwoman, respectively. The combined total revenues for these enterprises in 2007 reportedly exceeded $1.8 billion. Ilitch had fallen off Forbes magazine's annual list of the "400 Richest Americans", but in 2006 he returned to the list at #242. As of December 2016, he was #86 on the Forbes 400, and had an estimated net worth of $6.1 billion. [12]

Garden City, Michigan City in Michigan

Garden City is a city in Wayne County of the U.S. state of Michigan. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 27,692. The city is part of the Metro Detroit region.

<i>Forbes</i> American business magazine

Forbes is an American business magazine. Published bi-weekly, it features original articles on finance, industry, investing, and marketing topics. Forbes also reports on related subjects such as technology, communications, science, politics, and law. Its headquarters is located in Jersey City, New Jersey. Primary competitors in the national business magazine category include Fortune and Bloomberg Businessweek. The magazine is well known for its lists and rankings, including of the richest Americans, of the world's top companies, and The World's Billionaires. The motto of Forbes magazine is "The Capitalist Tool". Its chair and editor-in-chief is Steve Forbes, and its CEO is Mike Federle. It was sold to a Hong Kong-based investment group, Integrated Whale Media Investments.

The Forbes 400 or 400 Richest Americans is a list published by Forbes magazine of the wealthiest 400 American residents, ranked by net worth. The 400 was started by Malcolm Forbes in 1982 and the list is published annually around September. Peter W. Bernstein and Annalyn Swan describe the Forbes 400 as capturing "a period of extraordinary individual and entrepreneurial energy, a time unlike the extended postwar years, from 1945 to 1982, when American society emphasized the power of corporations." Bernstein and Swan also describe it as representing "a powerful argument – and sometimes a dream – about the social value of wealth in contemporary America."

In 2000, Ilitch and his wife appointed two of their children as co-presidents of Ilitch Holdings, Inc.: Christopher Ilitch and daughter Denise Ilitch, an attorney. Christopher Ilitch was named to the new post of CEO and president. Denise Ilitch later left the company "to pursue other opportunities". [13]

Sports ownership

Detroit Caesars

The Detroit Caesars were a professional softball team that began play in the American Professional Slow Pitch Softball League (APSPL) in 1977. The team disbanded after the 1979 season. Prior to formalized professional play, a major sponsor of amateur softball in the Detroit area was Little Caesar's, and with the formation of a professional league, Ilitch formed a team in his first step into professional sports ownership. [14]

The Caesars played at Memorial Field in East Detroit and featured former Detroit Tiger stars Jim Northrup and Norm Cash, along with established softball players such as Mike Nye, Ronnie Ford, Bert Smith and Tex Collins. The team was led by manager Gary Vitto, earning the team two championships before disbanding after the 1979 season. [14]

Detroit Red Wings

In 1982, Ilitch bought the Detroit Red Wings from Bruce Norris (whose family had owned the team for 50 years) for US$8 million, and turned the team into a perennial contender for the Stanley Cup. After years of drafting top picks and grooming their young players, and with proper management and leadership, the Red Wings became an elite NHL team. They made the Stanley Cup finals three times between the 1994–1995 and 1997–1998 seasons, winning the Cup in 1997 (fifteen years after Ilitch purchased the Red Wings) and again in 1998. The Red Wings added two more championships in 2002 and 2008. Prior to the 2004–05 NHL lockout, Forbes magazine ranked the Red Wings as the fifth-most valuable franchise in the NHL, despite a $16 million operating loss.

For the 2007–2008 hockey season, the team won the President's Trophy for the best record in the NHL for the sixth time—the most of any NHL team since the President's Trophy was introduced in 1985–1986. The Red Wings made the playoffs for 25 consecutive seasons through 2015–2016. The 25 consecutive playoff berths was the longest active streak of post-season appearances in all of North American professional sports, before ending in the 2016–2017 season. It is tied for third all-time in NHL history after 29 consecutive appearances by the Boston Bruins from 1967–1968 to 1995–1996, 28 consecutive trips by the Chicago Blackhawks from 1969–1970 through 1996–1997, and is tied with the 25 consecutive appearances by the St. Louis Blues from 1979–1980 to 2003–2004.

Detroit Tigers

Ilitch purchased the Detroit Tigers in 1992 from fellow pizza magnate Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino's Pizza. [15] Under his ownership, the Tigers logged losing records in twelve out of thirteen seasons before their turnaround in 2006.

After acquiring the team, Ilitch expressed interest in moving the struggling team to a new ballpark. In 2000, his expectations were realized when the team moved from Tiger Stadium into the newly built Comerica Park. He financed approximately 60% of the $350 million facility; the taxpayers of the greater Detroit-Wayne County and federal grants covered the balance. Various Ilitch Holdings, Inc. enterprises manage and operate Comerica Park and its concessions.

In 2005, the Detroit Tigers hosted MLB's 76th All-Star Game at Comerica Park. All-Star Week in Detroit produced the highest-grossing revenue in the history of the All-Star Game. Forbes magazine ranked the Tigers #22 in its 2005 list of the Top 30 most valuable sports franchises.

When the Tigers won the AL Wild Card under manager Jim Leyland and general manager Dave Dombrowski in 2006, they made the playoffs for the first time since 1987. They also reached the World Series for the first time since 1984, but the Tigers eventually lost in five games to the St. Louis Cardinals in the Series. Since Dombrowski was brought in, Ilitch has steadily agreed to bring in marquee free agents and finance a larger payroll, with the Tigers beginning the 2008 season as one of the highest-salaried teams in baseball.

On September 16, 2011, the Tigers won the Central division title—their first division crown since Ilitch's purchase. On January 24, 2012, Ilitch signed Prince Fielder to a nine-year, $214 million contract, the fourth-largest contract in baseball history. The 2012 Tigers went all the way to the World Series, but were swept by the San Francisco Giants. Prior to the 2013 season, Ilitch agreed to sign starting pitcher Justin Verlander to a seven-year, $180 million contract extension, at the time the highest single offer ever tendered to a major league pitcher. [16]

Detroit Drive

Ilitch was one of the early team owners in the Arena Football League, starting up the Detroit Drive in 1988. The Drive were one of the most successful teams in the early days of the AFL, both on and off the field. They generally had strong attendance (although much of that was due to discounted or giveaway tickets), and the Drive were in the ArenaBowl in every year of their six-year existence, going 4-2 in the title games. [17]

After Ilitch bought the Tigers in 1992 though, he decided he didn't want to own another franchise that would take away fans from the Tigers, so he sold the team and they moved to Worcester, Massachusetts. [18]

Hockey Hall of Fame

Ilitch was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003 as well as the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004. [19]


One of Ilitch's first philanthropic efforts was the Little Caesars Love Kitchen, established in 1985. The traveling restaurant was formed to feed the hungry and assist with food provisions during natural disasters. [20] The program has been recognized by former Presidents Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, and has served more than 2 million individuals in the United States and Canada.

In 2006, inspired by a veteran returning to civilian life after losing both of his legs in war, Ilitch founded the Little Caesars Veterans Program to provide honorably discharged veterans with a business opportunity when they transition from service or seek a career change. [21] Ilitch received the Secretary's Award from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for this program in 2007; it is the highest honor given to a civilian by the department. [22]

The Little Caesars Amateur Hockey Program, established by Ilitch in 1968, helped thousands of children. [23] Additionally, Ilitch Charities for Children was founded in 2000 as a non-profit foundation dedicated to improving the lives of children in the areas of health, education and recreation.

In 2008, the charity was renamed Ilitch Charities and its focus was broadened. The new charity invests in the community's future by supporting innovative, collaborative and measurable programs that promote economic development and spur job growth, as a means to address social issues such as poverty, unemployment, homelessness, and hunger.

As a result of his philanthropy, the School of Business for Wayne State University in Detroit is named the "Mike Ilitch School of Business". [24]

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, reports required by the Federal Election Commission from 2002 to 2005 indicate Ilitch Holdings, Inc. members and business partners have contributed more than $500,000 to political campaigns and PACs. [25]

From 1994 until her death in 2005, Ilitch paid Rosa Parks's rent to enable her to live in a safer part of Detroit. [26]

Personal life

Mike and Marian Ilitch had seven children: Christopher (born June 1965) is CEO and president of Ilitch Holdings, Inc.; daughter Denise (born November 1955) is an attorney. Other children are Ron Ilitch; Michael Ilitch Jr.; Lisa Ilitch Murray; Atanas Ilitch; and Carole Ilitch. Each child has his or her name engraved on the Stanley Cup of 1997, 1998, 2002, and 2008, since they each own shares in the Detroit Red Wings.[ citation needed ]

The family was presented the key to the City of Detroit by Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick in February 2008, [27] and were the fifth recipients of this award. [28]


Ilitch died on February 10, 2017, at the age of 87 in Detroit, Michigan. [29] The Red Wings wore a patch on their right shoulders in his memory, which featured his nickname "Mr. I" in a rectangle, for the remainder of the season; in addition, the nickname was featured on the ice at Joe Louis Arena, being painted on the center section of the rink, facing the Red Wings' bench. The Detroit Tigers also wore a black patch with his nickname "Mr. I' in a circle on the right sleeve of their home and away jerseys. [30] In the aftermath of this death, his son, Christopher, took control of Ilitch Holdings and its properties.

See also

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Marian Bayoff Ilitch is an American billionaire businesswoman, and the co-founder of Little Caesars Pizza with her late husband, Mike Ilitch. As of March 2018, Ilitch was one of the world's seven richest women, according to Bloomberg.

Christopher Paul Ilitch is president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings, Inc., a privately held entity with total revenues reported to be over $2 billion. Through Ilitch Holdings, he is the owner of the NHL's Detroit Red Wings and MLB's Detroit Tigers, taking over ownership of both teams upon the death of his father Mike in 2017.

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