Marian Ilitch is one of the leading entrepreneurs in the food and entertainment industry. As a first-generation American, the daughter of Macedonian immigrants raised on grit and hard work, Marian has been recognized as one of the most successful businesswomen in the country.
Early Start in Business
Marian started out in the food business early by helping out in her father’s restaurant as a young girl. Her first business skills were filling napkin containers, putting salt and pepper shakers out, and other side work. Marian graduated from Fordson High School in Dearborn, Michigan and attended Dearborn Community College where she studied liberal arts and had one accounting class.
Marian’s first paying job was at SS Kresge on Michigan Avenue in Dearborn, Mich. Later she worked as a reservation clerk for Delta Airlines (on Washington Blvd. in Detroit) before marrying Mike Ilitch. Marian was captured by the hustle and bustle of working in downtown Detroit and that excitement drove her desire for eventually doing business back in the city. Marian was a stay-at-home mom until after her third child. It’s at this point that Marian and her husband Mike opened the first Little Caesars; she was dedicated to helping her husband launch the business and has continued as his business partner to this day.
Mom-and-Pop Business to Ilitch Holdings
Marian and her husband Mike grew a mom-and-pop pizza business in a suburb of Detroit into an international company, Little Caesars, with restaurants on five continents. The rapid expansion of the Little Caesars chain in the 1970s, and the resulting increase in profits, allowed Marian Ilitch to branch out into other areas such as: food distribution, sports, arena and entertainment management, real estate development, and casino gaming.
As an avid hockey fan, Marian accepted the challenge of taking a downtrodden professional hockey team and trying to turn it into a powerhouse when she and her husband purchased the Detroit Red Wings in 1982. The challenge was successful. Under their ownership, the Red Wings have won 11 divisional championships, six President’s Trophies (for the season best record among all NHL teams), five Campbell Bowls for Western Conference championships and four Stanley Cups. The Red Wings have played post-season hockey for 17 consecutive years – the best record in all of professional sports.
Marian and her husband Mike became pioneers in the redevelopment of downtown Detroit when they purchased the Fox theatre building, renovated the theatre and adjacent office building and brought their Little Caesars world headquarters downtown.
Marian and Mike Ilitch formed Ilitch Holdings, Inc. to provide professional and technical services to their primary business interests in the food, sports and entertainment industries. Marian serves as Vice Chairwoman of Ilitch Holdings. These ventures include Little Caesar Enterprises, the Detroit Red Wings NHL hockey team, Blue Line Foodservice Distribution, Little Caesars Pizza Kit Fund Raising Program, Champion Foods, Uptown Entertainment, Olympia Entertainment and Olympia Development. Under Olympia Entertainment is the historic Fox Theatre. The total revenues for Ilitch-owned companies in 2007 exceeded $1.8 billion.
Marian invested in MotorCity Casino in Detroit, Michigan in 1999 and became its sole owner in April 2005. The purchase by Marian keeps the casino ownership within the Detroit Community and makes MotorCity Casino the largest and most successful casino in the country that is owned by a woman. A $300 million project of a hotel, spa, conference center and permanent casino that incorporates the renovation and expansion of the abandoned Wonder Bread factory originally built in 1915 is near completion. The permanent casino, hotel and spa are now open, with the conference center opening soon. Like most projects developed and owned by Marian, MotorCity Casino is actively involved in the community by contributing nearly $1 million annually to local charity groups in Detroit.
Investing in the Community
Giving back to the community is Marian’s trademark. In 1985, Marian and her husband established the Little Caesars Love Kitchen Foundation, which consists of a mobile pizza restaurant. The Love Kitchen has fed more than 2 million people, aiding the hungry and disaster victims across the U.S. and Canada. The program has been recognized by former Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton for community service.
Besides donating millions of dollars to charitable organizations, Marian and her husband have established Ilitch Charities, a non-profit organization that invests in our community’s future by supporting innovative, collaborative and measurable programs in the areas of community development, human services, education and recreation through contributions from the Ilitch companies, their colleagues and the generosity of others. The Charity has sponsored numerous programs in the Detroit area including amateur sports sponsorships for hundreds of thousands of children.
Nation’s Top Businesswoman
Marian has earned a reputation as a dynamic force in the restaurant and entertainment industry. She continues to blaze new trails and respond to the changing needs of the marketplace. Marian Ilitch has received many awards including:
- Presented with the Inaugural Neal Shine Shining Light Award for Exemplary Regional Leadership (2007).
- Named one of the Southwest Detroit region’s most influential women by Crain’s Detroit Business (2007)
- Presented with a NAWBO Top 10 Women in Business Award (2007)
- Named Crain’s Detroit Business Top Women in Business Honoree (2005)
- Named one of Detroit’s Enterprising Women by the Detroit Historical Society in partnership with the Women’s Economic Club, National Association of Women Business Owners, Greater Detroit Chapter and Crain’s Detroit Business. (2004)
- Inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame (2001)
- Named Michigan Executive of the Year by the Wayne State School of Business Administration (1999)
- Awarded the Hospice of Southeastern Michigan Council Crystal Rose Award for leadership, compassion and dedication to the community (1997)
- Recognized by the American Red Cross of Southeastern Michigan for aiding emergency services and the work of the Red Cross friends (1996)
- Recognized as the number one women business owner in the nation by Working Women Magazine (1994).
- Recognized as one of Michigan’s Top 25 women business owners by the Greater Detroit Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners (1994)
- Presented with the Roundtable for Women in Foodservice Pacesetter Award in recognition of lasting and outstanding contributions made by women in foodservice (1988)