- Thousands gathered in the historic Fox Theatre to honor the trailblazing businessperson
- Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer proclaimed May 8, 2024 ‘Marian Ilitch Day’ in honor of the first Little Caesars store opening, marking a significant milestone in entrepreneurism in Michigan
- National Hockey League proclaimed Marian Ilitch “The most impactful woman owner in the league”
Marian Ilitch, a powerful force in business, sports, public service and philanthropy for decades, was recently honored for her lifetime achievements and contributions to business and community. During a private event at the Fox Theatre – the national historic landmark that Marian and her late husband Mike lovingly restored – state, city and community leaders, colleagues, local students, family and friends gathered to celebrate Marian’s impact of the lives of so many.
“Mom, for over 90 years, it has been your nature to work hard, stay in the background, and humbly support others,” her son and CEO, Ilitch Companies, Chris Ilitch said to open the celebration. “Today, it is our honor to shine the spotlight on you and acknowledge and celebrate all you have accomplished over your lifetime to help your family, friends, franchisees, colleagues, and community.”
Born in Dearborn to Macedonian immigrants, Marian, a first-generation American, was raised on hard work, which she used to become one of the most successful businesswomen in the country.
During the event, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer declared May 8, 2024 ‘Marian Ilitch Day,’ explaining that the date represents the day in 1959 when Marian and Mike co-founded a small business, Little Caesars Pizza Treat. Through years of hard work, Little Caesars is now the third-largest pizza chain in the world.
“To honor Marian, I encourage every Michigander to shop at a small business on Marian Ilitch Day. There is no better way to honor the impact of Mrs. I than by uplifting the small business owners who are the backbone of our state’s economy,” said Whitmer. “Today, and every day, let’s work hard to follow in Marian’s footsteps and build a Michigan where everyone can succeed.”
Always entrepreneurs at heart, Marian and Mike expanded their interests over the years to include food, sports, entertainment, gaming and other industries. Today, under the leadership of their son Chris, the Ilitch Companies have grown to represent 12 businesses under common private ownership that employ thousands of people in the Detroit area and around the world.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan noted that Marian and Mike’s passion for and belief in their hometown was the catalyst for tremendous growth in Detroit. “I don’t know that there is another organization driving more new construction here in Detroit, creating jobs for thousands of Detroiters and transforming our city’s skyline,” Duggan said.
In addition to Marian’s entrepreneurism and business acumen, she was a sports pioneer. As a hands-on owner of the Detroit Red Wings, Marian was the fourth woman to have her name engraved on the Stanley Cup. Today, there are just 18 women recognized with a Stanley Cup inscription. Marian’s name appears for those four championships, along with her daughters.
Longtime National Hockey League (NHL) Commissioner Gary Bettman took the opportunity to proclaim Marian as “the most impactful woman owner in the league,” acknowledging the role that she played in strengthening the league, the growth of youth hockey throughout the United States and improving the lives of the residents of her community.
Since 2000, Marian and Mike, the Ilitch Companies, and charitable affiliates have provided more than $250 million in grants and giving, with most of it directed at impacting the city of Detroit with impactful charitable platforms and support for more than 500 Detroit-based organizations.
In 2018 Mike and Marian made a $40 million gift to Wayne State University, and the Mike Ilitch School of Business opened. This gift remains the largest in the university’s history and demonstrated their continuing commitment to the city.
“These were not just gifts to Wayne State, they were gifts to Detroit and its residents and have an impact for generations,” said M. Roy Wilson, president of Wayne State University.
Wilson was joined on stage by Virginia Kleist, dean of the Wayne State University Mike Ilitch School of Business, as well as a collection of Mike Ilitch School of Business students.
“As president of Wayne State University and a member of the Detroit community for the past decade, I can say I have encountered few people as remarkable as Mike and Marian Ilitch. They are among the most generous, reinvesting in their community in meaningful and impactful ways for decades,” said Wilson. “It has been my distinct honor to call Marian a friend.”
Mike Ilitch School of Business two-time graduate Samantha Tirakian said, “The Mike Ilitch School of Business creates opportunities for all,” before speaking directly to Marian: “It is through your contributions to this business school that I and so many other Wayne State students have accessed opportunities that would have been unthinkable otherwise, and we cannot thank you enough.”
Inspired by Marian, commitment, service and longevity was also honored at the Ilitch Companies. Chris Ilitch pointed out that across the Companies, 2,051 colleagues have worked at least 10 years; 1,312 for more than 10 years; 943 for over 20 years; and 19 whose careers have spanned more than 40 years.
“From the very beginning, she set an example to follow…lifting others up, providing them with opportunity, and cheering them on as they flourished. And as a family company, she was right there alongside them, rolling up her sleeves, working hand-in-hand. Their success was her success, and vice versa,” Chris added.
In addition to her extensive professional success, family has remained paramount to Marian. She is the proud mother to seven children, and “baba” to 21 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren. Throughout the event, Marian’s children and grandchildren shared personal stories and memories about how she made them feel loved throughout their lives.
“Thank you, mom, for setting an example that inspires all of us, and challenges us, to bring out the best not only in ourselves, but in and everyone we encounter. You have laid an incredible foundation for your family, your colleagues, and your beloved Detroit, to continue building on your kindness and your legacy,” said Chris in closing.