March 8, 2019

Marian Ilitch: The Pizza Queen Who Conquered the Taste Buds of An Entire Nation

Marian Ilitch comes of age in the pizza world Marian Bayoff Ilitch was born on January 7, 1933. She is an American billionaire entrepreneur who, along with her late husband, Mike Ilitch, co-founded the “Little Caesars Pizza” chain of pizza parlors. As of March 2018, Marian Ilitch was widely recognized to be one of the world’s seven richest (almost entirely) self-made women, as per Bloomberg.

Mrs. I, as she’s is more popularly known these days, now owns the pizza chain completely. And its annual revenue is in excess of $4 billion, on average.

Apart from the world renowned pizza chain, she also owns the Detroit Red Wings as well as the Motor City Casino Hotel. Furthermore, Marian is also helping to build a more than $1 billion sports and entertainment district in the city of Detroit. This will also include her ‘all new corporate headquarters’ with pizza shaped windows.

o   Her Early Life

Marian was raised in Dearborn, Michigan, and her parents were Macedonian immigrants. In fact, she met her husband, Mike Ilitch, for the first time on a blind date that his Macedonian immigrant father had set up. They hit it off very well, so much so that they got married within a year. The couple had a total of seven children in the time that they were together.

o   Her Business Interests

The Ilitches had gone on to create the Little Caesars Pizza parlor chain in 1959, which they subsequently expanded into a massive franchise. But this was only the first rung in the ladder of success, and the Ilitch name has now expanded. It includes not just restaurants but also entertainment, sports and gaming.

Ilitch was also one of the original investors in Detroit’s large scale Motor City Casino project. Showing great financial acumen, Ilitch basically saw a great opportunity to purchase near total interest in the huge casino resort complex. Keeping in mind its tremendous potential, she purchased all the shares in the property from various major and minor stakeholders back in 2005.

The $600 million Motor City Casino, which Ilitch owns, is widely reckoned to be the largest independently owned casino enterprise that currently exists in the United States today. And it is most probably the largest woman entrepreneur owned casino in the whole country.

o   (Marian) Ilitch Holdings, Inc.

Ilitch was also the vice chairwoman as well as the secretary treasurer of virtually all of her family’s extensive holdings until 1999. That was until Ilitch Holdings, Inc. was formed. This company was the overall parent company formed to take care of her family’s many interests.  She took over as the chairwoman after her husband’s untimely demise.

As of now, the consolidated Ilitch Holdings includes the following:

  • Little Caesars Pizza
  • Champion Foods
  • Blue Line Foodservice Distribution
  • Little Caesars Pizza Kit Fundraising Program
  • Detroit Red Wings
  • Detroit Tigers
  • Olympia Entertainment and
  • Olympia Development along with various other food services as well as entertainment venues that exist within these core business groups

o   Marian’s Investments in the Community

The Motor City Casino has regularly contributed close to $1 million to local charity groups that currently exist in Detroit.

Ilitch, with the help and encouragement of her husband, initiated the “Little Caesars Love Kitchen Foundation” in 1985. This is basically a mobile pizza restaurant for the destitute. The Love Kitchen has to date managed to feed around 2 million people. It has been instrumental in aiding the hungry and disaster victims not just across the U.S. but also Canada. As a matter of fact, no less than three presidents viz., President Ronald Reagan, President George Bush Sr, and President Bill Clinton, have also recognized the fine work conducted by Marian through her ‘Love Kitchen’ initiative.

Apart from donating literally millions of dollars to various charitable organizations, Ilitch has also successfully established the ‘Ilitch Charities for Children.’  This is a a non-profit organization that has been dedicated to the amelioration and the improvement of the lives of poor and the destitute children. It works in the areas of education, health as well as recreation. Over the past few decades, this charity has been instrumental in the sponsorship of numerous programs in the greater Detroit area. These include amateur sports sponsorship’s for literally hundreds of thousands of children.

o   Her Legacy and Honors

  • Marian received the “Roundtable for Women in Foodservice Pacesetter Award” in 1998.
  • The owners of the “Greater Detroit Chapter of the National Association of Women Business” recognized Ilitch as one of Michigan’s Top 25 women entrepreneurs and business owners of 1994.
  • She was recognized by the American Red Cross of South-eastern Michigan for helping to aid emergency services as well as the work of the “Friends of the Red Cross”
  • “Council Crystal Rose Award” by the Hospice of South Eastern Michigan in 1997
  • “Michigan Executive of the Year” award by the Wayne State School of Business Administration in 1999
  • Inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 2001
  • In 2004, she was named one of Detroit’s “Most Enterprising Women” by the Detroit Historical Society in partnership with the National Association of Women Women’s Economic Club, Business Owners, Greater Detroit Chapter and Crain’s Detroit Business.
  • Recognized as Crain’s Detroit Business Top Women in Business Honoree in 2005
  • She was elected to the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 2008 and inducted in the same in 2010.
  • She was recognized as the “number one woman business owner in the nation” by the Working Women Magazine.

What a great woman to study and write about on International Women’s Day.  Cheers to Mrs. I!

by Bobby J Davidson

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