A. Alfred Taubman, the self-made billionaire and philanthropist, has died at home in Bloomfield, Michigan, at the age of 91.
Taubman, born January 31, 1924 in Pontiac, Michigan to poor Jewish immigrant parents from Białystok, Poland, got his first start in business at the age of nine, when he was compelled to help out his parents when they lost everything in the Depression era.
Taubman attended University of Michigan and Lawrence Technological University but did not graduate. Instead, in post-war affluent America, he turned his attention to how the middle-class, moving in droves to the suburbs, would use their new found wealth. Noting that shopping on traditional thoroughfares hampered the easy flow of commerce and tended to decline as the sun set, he pioneered the American staple, the shopping mall. With his meticulous attention to detail, he was hugely successful, ranking on the Forbes 400 Richest Americans list for two decades.
Taubman took his experience in re-creating the American shopping experience to the venerable British Sotheby auction house in 1983, transforming the ailing auction house into a successful publicly traded company. Later, in 2002, Taubman was convicted of price-fixing, and jailed for ten months for anti-trust violations, a charge he consistently denied.
Taubman revolutionized the shopping experience and pioneered the modern shopping mall. Wikipedia summarizes his path to success:
“Taubman studied architecture at the University of Michigan where he was a member of Zeta Beta Tau Fraternity and Lawrence Technological University, but graduated from neither. He wondered where middle-class families moving to the suburbs would shop. “Demographically, I looked at the numbers, and as far as I was concerned we couldn’t miss. And we didn’t,” he said. Taubman chose upscale areas for lavish shopping centers, offering fountains and prestigious anchor stores like Neiman Marcus. Taubman is famous for his attention to detail such as choosing terrazzo tiles at Short Hills. He said: “The only point that the customer actually touches the shopping center is the floor. They’ve got traction as they’re walking. Very important. Some of our competitors put in carpet. Carpet’s the worst thing you can have because it creates friction.” Real estate developer and partner Louis Dubin spoke glowingly about Taubman: “He is the most knowledgeable person I have ever met with the planning and design of real estate … He’s an incredible adviser. There’s not a building we build that we don’t ask him to look at the plans. He critiques everything–the parking, the closets. He’s very meticulous. He has the best eye I’ve ever seen in my life.
Taubman’s hard work and business acumen paid off. Developments such as the Mall at Short Hills in New Jersey continue to be ranked among the most profitable shopping centers in the country. Since the early years, he made a fortune which Forbes magazine estimated at $2 billion. He married Judith Mazor who was the 1962 Miss Israel. He was on the list of Forbes 400 Richest Americans for two decades.
Taubman bought A&W Restaurants in 1982. He said, “There is more similarity in a precious painting by Degas and a frosted mug of root beer than you ever thought possible.” He sold A&W to Sagittarius Acquisitions in December 1994.
His philanthropy centered on education, specifically at his alma mater University of Michigan, and medical research, specifically in the areas of stem cells, deafness, and Lou Gehrig’s disease. He also donated buildings to Brown University, Harvard University and Lawrence Technological University among others. His other causes have been adult literacy as well as the civil rights movement, coming to the aid of Rosa Park when she moved to the luxury Riverfront Towers.
Taubman was married to Reva Kolodney in 1948. They had three children, and were divorced in 1977. Five years later, he married the 1962 Miss Israel, Judith Mazor Rounick. They were married for 33 years until Taubman’s death.