Founder and Chairwoman, Ilitch Holdings, Inc.
Marian Ilitch is a leading entrepreneur in the food, sports and entertainment industries. 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 as a young girl filling napkin containers and salt and pepper shakers in her father’s restaurant. She graduated from Fordson High School in Dearborn, Michigan, and attended Dearborn Community College where she studied liberal arts and completed an accounting course.
Marian’s first paying job was at SS Kresge in Dearborn. Before marrying her husband and lifetime business partner, Mike Ilitch (1929-2017), Marian worked as a reservation clerk for Delta Airlines in Detroit – Mike’s hometown. She was captured by the hustle and bustle of working downtown during Detroit’s prime.
Marian was a full-time mother until after her and Mike’s third child was born. The couple then invested their family savings to open their own business – a single Little Caesars pizza shop in Garden City, Michigan.
Mom-and-Pop Business and Beyond
Working hand-in-hand, Marian and Mike grew Little Caesars into the world’s largest carry-out pizza chain with restaurants in 50 U.S. states and 19 international markets. Success in the pizza business enabled Marian to invest in other businesses in the food, sports and entertainment industries.
Avid hockey fans, Marian and Mike turned the downtrodden Detroit Red Wings franchise into a hockey powerhouse after purchasing the team in 1982. Under their ownership, the Red Wings have won 16 divisional championships, six President’s Trophies, six Campbell Bowls and four Stanley Cups.
Channeling the love she developed for Detroit as a young professional, Marian became a pioneer in the redevelopment of downtown Detroit when she and Mike purchased the Fox theatre in 1987 at a time when most businesses were fleeing the city. They restored the neglected theatre to its original 1928 splendor and a year later moved their business headquarters to the adjacent office building.
With a reputation as a dynamic force in the entertainment industry, Marian invested in Detroit’s MotorCity Casino in 1999 when the Detroit market introduced three temporary casinos.
In 2005, she became sole owner of the casino and soon embarked on a $300 million expansion and renovation project to add a luxury hotel, spa, conference center, several new restaurants, an 1,800-seat theatre and a permanent gaming area. The expanded MotorCity Casino Hotel was completed in 2008.
Today, the Ilitch organization is transforming dozens of blocks of largely underutilized land in Detroit into a special area for everyone in the community to enjoy – much like the Detroit Marian experienced in her youth.
The District Detroit will include office, retail and residential spaces, as well as the new Little Caesars Arena. To be completed in September of this year, Little Caesars Arena will be the home of the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Pistons, as well as world-class entertainment, music and community events.
Investing in the Community
Giving back to the community is Marian’s trademark, and together with Mike, they have donated millions of dollars to charitable organizations.
As the parents of children who played hockey, the couple wanted to provide other children the opportunity to play the sport as well. They established the Little Caesars Amateur Hockey Program in 1968, and it has provided opportunities for tens of thousands of young people to play hockey.
Their Little Caesars Love Kitchen program, two big-rig trucks on the road to serve pizza meals to those in need, has served more than three million people and has been recognized by three U.S. Presidents.
Ilitch Charities and its affiliates, the Detroit Red Wings Foundation and the Detroit Tigers Foundation, have given tens of millions of dollars in cash and in-kind contributions to deserving organizations across the community.
Additionally, the couple personally gifted nearly $50 million to Detroit’s Wayne State University - $8 million to the Department of Surgery and $40 million dedicated to establish the new Mike Ilitch School of Business, which will train and educate the next generation of the city’s great entrepreneurs.
Highly Applauded Businesswoman
Marian has received many awards and honors including:
- International Franchise Association Hall of Fame (2016)
- Michigan State University Honorary Doctorate of Business Degree (2011)
- Michigan Women’s Foundation Woman of Achievement and Courage Trillium Lifetime Achievement Award (2011)
- Michigan Sports Hall of Fame (2010)
- dbusiness magazine Detroit’s most powerful women (2010)
- National Management Association Hall of Fame Award (2010)
- Michigan Chronicle Legacy in Motion Family Spirit Award (2009)
- Neal Shine Shining Light Award (2007)
- NAWBO Detroit Top 10 Michigan Business Women Award (2007)
- Crain’s Detroit Business Top Women in Business Honoree (2005)
- Detroit Historical Society Detroit’s Enterprising Women (2004)
- Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame (2001)
- Wayne State School of Business Administration Michigan Executive of the Year (1999)
- Hospice of Southeastern Michigan Council Crystal Rose Award (1997)
- National Association of Women Business Owners Greater Detroit Chapter Michigan’s Top 25 women business owners (1994)
- Roundtable for Women in Foodservice Pacesetter Award (1988)