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The Self-Made Man: Mike Ilitch

ilitch2I often eat pizza when I’m writing these columns, which is probably why I have cholesterol and blood pressure issues these days. Those can wait for another column, though, because I’m currently chomping into a slice of Little Caesar’s Hot ‘N Ready. Not exactly high cuisine, but it’s pretty good for $5.

And, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, Little Caesar’s was the brainchild of this week’s Self Made Man, Mike Ilitch.

Ilitch was born in Detroit in 1929. His parents were Macedonian immigrants, and his father made a living as a tool-and-die maker for Chrysler. Mike was born just three months before the Great Depression started, and while I couldn’t find any information on how that affected his family specifically, I can’t imagine they had an easy time of it.

After graduating high school, Mike joined the Marines, and played baseball upon returning to civilin life. He was a second baseman for the Detroit Tigers, a team he now owns, and the Washington Senators, but had to retire after blowing out his knee.

It was then that litch turned to the restaurant business, opening a pizza place in 1959 with his life savings and his wife Marian’s help. Apparently, she convinced him to name the place Little Caesar’s instead of his original name, Pizza Treat. Marian Ilitch isn’t my cup of tea, but she was right about that one.

Mike’s idea for a a carry-out only pizza shop had its fair share of doubters, but he persevered, and his eye for detail and hands-on management style helped his business grow. So did his work ethic, which is an absolute necessity in a world as unstable and cutthroat as the restaurant business. The term “sunken cost fallacy” comes up a lot with restaurant owners, but Mike had the will and the fortitude to succeed where so many others have failed.

Mike has used that money to reinvest in his hometown of Detroit. He bought the Red Wings and changed the face of Detroit hockey, turning one of the worst teams in the NHL into one of the most decorated teams in professional sports by drafting top picks and making sure the team’s management was capable of grooming and developing their talent properly. Mike also owns the Detroit Tigers, who won their third straight AL Central Division title back in September.

In addition to all that, Mike took a serious financial interest in the redevelopment of downtown Detroit, and moved Little Caesar’s HQ into the historic Fox Theatre after he bought and renovated the building.

So that’s Mike Ilitch, a hard-working guy who loves his city and contributes to it in multiple ways. Here’s a video of his speech from Steve Yzerman’s jersey retirement ceremony.

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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.

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