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An All-Star Tribute

20 July 2005

Like many, my first job was in the restaurant industry. Within a few years of starting to work, I had regular work as an assistant manager or manager of various Little Caesars franchises throughout the metro-Detroit area. These jobs taught me a lot. The value of work, how to go about pleasing the customer, and an appreciation for the importance of quality in even the minor tasks.

One of the greatest lessons came from simply observing, from a distance, how the Ilitch family approached life, success, and made on-going contributions to the community with a great deal of enthusiasm.

Back in the late 1970s, a new national professional softball league was created. The Detroit team, which was owned by Mike Ilitch, had generated some local excitement by signing former Detroit Tiger greats Norm Cash, Mickey Stanley and Jim Northrup. The "Detroit Caesars" had made a big splash in the local media with these players, and also had added some other very talented players, many of whom were given off-season jobs working for Blue Line Foods, distributing supplies to local franchises. As a result, those of us who worked in the local franchise stores got to know the players.

The first game for the entire new league featured the Detroit Caesars against a Chicago team, which I believe was named the Chicago Storm, and took place in a suburb of Chicago. A group from my store decided that a road trip was in order and drove to Chicago to see the game.

Besides the Ilitch family, I think our group made up all of the Detroit fans in attendance. The game was fun and entertaining.

As the numerous All-Star activities were occurring in Detroit this past week, all I could think was how far the Ilitch family has come since those days in the late 1970s. Marian Ilitch was featured in Global Gaming Business Weekly with a story stating that her management company has lined up two contracts with Indian tribes on each coast (in New York and in California). Also, last week the Michigan Gaming Control Board approved various aspects of her new ownership of the MotorCity Casino.

From a business press perspective, Detroit has always been an automotive town. The Ford family and the various top automotive executives have always enjoyed the limelight and been thought of as the most successful business people in our community. Over the past 25 years, many businesses have left town, many jobs have been outsourced, and many families have struggled.

While most business people were cutting and running, the Ilitch family took the opposite approach. They moved into the City, and time and time again invested, reinvested and believed in our City and the capability of the people of our City to get the job done. When former Detroit Tiger owner John Fetzer sold the ball club to rival Tom Monahan, the Ilitches became even more committed to the City, rather than wallowing in self pity. Within a few years, Mike Ilitch was able to fulfill his dream of owning the Tigers. Over the subsequent years, they brought us a new ballpark, many Red Wing championships, a renovated Fox Theatre, and countless Olympic Entertainment options for fun. For four decades, they have also helped fund various athletic leagues to allow our kids to experience the thrill of athletics. This reinvestment in the community strategy has proven successful, and has allowed the Ilitch empire to quietly grow into an international entertainment powerhouse, all headquartered here in Detroit.

Although they tend to shun recognition to preserve their privacy and family bond, the Ilitches exemplify the best business practices and the strongest community loyalty any city could ask for. When Mike Ilitch hung up his baseball cleats in the 1950s to start a pizza business in Garden City, his family seemingly left behind a world of home run derbies and 6-4-3 double plays. The glorious All-Star events in Detroit this past week brought this full circle. The Ilitches have come a long way in the past 30 years. Thankfully, those of us in this community have been blessed to be along for the ride.

David Waddell
David Waddell is an attorney for Regulatory Management Counselors, P.C. (RMC), which assists businesses in navigating the legislative, regulatory and licensing systems governing Michigan’s commercial and tribal casino industries. He is the co-author of The State of Michigan Gaming Law Legal Resource Book and one of the founders of The Michigan Gaming Newsletter.

David Waddell Websites:

www.michigangaming.com
David Waddell
David Waddell is an attorney for Regulatory Management Counselors, P.C. (RMC), which assists businesses in navigating the legislative, regulatory and licensing systems governing Michigan’s commercial and tribal casino industries. He is the co-author of The State of Michigan Gaming Law Legal Resource Book and one of the founders of The Michigan Gaming Newsletter.

David Waddell Websites:

www.michigangaming.com