Alfred's Blog

Alfred's Blog

Wexners Support Emerging Scholars

April 3rd, 2015

Today the University of Michigan announced my great friends Les and Abigail Wexner’s generous support for the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute’s Emerging Scholars program. Through this initiative, young clinician-scientists on the UofM Medical School faculty receive grants to advance their groundbreaking research. Abigail is a charter member of the Institute’s Leadership Advisory Board, and I am deeply grateful for the Wexner’s friendship and this extraordinary gift. Please read more here.

Newest Taubman Property Opens in San Juan

April 1st, 2015

On March 26 I was in sunny Puerto Rico to participate in the Grand Opening of The Mall of San Juan, the newest Taubman Centers property. Anchored by the Caribbean’s first Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom stores, the mall features a great selection of merchants and restaurants, 60 percent of which are unique-to-the market. The Taubman organization has developed many terrific centers in wonderful locations, and I think The Mall of San Juan may be physically our most beautiful. I’m certain the center will be a popular destination for both residents and visitors to this historic capital city. Here’s a short video from the Grand Opening and a few photos:



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Michael Graves

March 12th, 2015

Today we lost one of the most important architects of our time. My good friend Michael Graves passed away yesterday in Princeton, the town in which his architectural firm is headquartered and he taught for four decades. I had the pleasure and honor to work with him on a number of projects, including my Bloomfield Hills and New York offices and a major renovation of the Detroit Institute of Arts. Even though paralysis in his legs made it difficult for him to travel, Michael came to Detroit a few years ago to assist me with a course I was teaching at Lawrence Technological University. He presented a brilliant public lecture and took a full day to meet with students and faculty. He was an immensely talented artist and architect, and a wonderful man. He will be missed. Here are links to Los Angeles Times and New York Times coverage.

One Colorful Reason Shoppers Prefer Brick-and-Mortar Shopping

March 2nd, 2015

You’ve probably seen or heard about the image of the dress below (it’s breaking the Internet, as they say) that when viewed by different people is seen in different colors. Some see blue and black, others see white and gold. Why? Well in the article linked below, scientists give three explanations. The third, offered by Rochester Institute of Technology Professor Roy Berns, really underscores why brick-and-mortar retailing is not going away any time soon:

And a third factor is that it is a photograph and not a real dress.

“If we were in that physical space we would know what the lighting is on that particular dress. We are not getting a true sense of what the lighting is,” said Berns, whose graduates tend to go and work for companies such as Apple, helping to design better cameras.

There is no question that technology is turning out to be a positive thing for the best malls and the best retailers, who are pursuing omni-channel marketing and distribution strategies, seamlessly connecting online and brick-and-mortar shopping. But as I point out in chapter 18 of Threshold Resistance, the store still holds some important, resilient advantages:

The technical limitations of computer screens make it impossible to effectively communicate such important product characteristics as fit, color and feel. There are no fitting rooms or tailors in cyberspace. And the more expensive an article of clothing, the more critical it is to fit well. There are an infinite number of colors and shades and each works differently for each individual, depending on hair color, complexion and eye color – - even high-quality print catalogues, the four-color process cannot match the exact color of a garment.

So if you want to look your best, and most people do, head to the mall!




Grand Opening of The Mall at University Town Center

November 3rd, 2014

On October 16 I was on hand in Sarasota, Florida, for the grand opening of The Mall at University Town Center, Taubman Centers’ newest shopping center. It’s a beautiful center anchored by Saks Fifth Avenue (the first new Saks store to open in a decade), Macy’s and Dillard’s department stores. With more than half its stores unique in the market, The Mall at UTC (as they call it) fills a void of better merchandise between Naples and Tampa. I am very proud of my sons and the talented Taubman Centers people who worked with Florida-based Benderson Development Company to create this powerful new shopping destination. I had the opportunity at the ribbon cutting ceremony to express my feelings. Here’s the video of my remarks:


Brick and Mortar Experiences Still Alive in Italy

September 22nd, 2014

The New York Times last week reported that Versace would be opening a new store in a mall.

Why is that news?

The new boutique will be debuting in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan’s enclosed multi-level mall built in the mid-19th century adjacent to the city’s Duomo.  And Versace, along with Prada, will be contributing millions of dollars to a major renovation of the center. (In Chapter 4 of Threshold Resistance, “Evolution of the Mall,” I focus on the Galleria to support my argument that the enclosed shopping mall was invented long before the 1960s and to highlight one of the best early examples of this historic building type.)

The story also reports on other examples of Italian luxury merchants helping to fund restoration and renovation work on the Colosseum, the Spanish Steps, Rome’s Trevi Fountain, and Milan’s La Scala opera house.  It is interesting, but not surprising to me, that retailers are embracing and investing in distinctive destinations and physical space.

A recent study by A.T. Kearney, confirming the continuing competitiveness of brick and mortar retailing, concluded: “Physical stores are clearly customers’ preferred shopping channel and a place where the most significant consumer and retailer value continues, and will continue, to be created.”

The study found that, “90 percent of all retail sales are transacted in stores and 95 percent of all retail sales are captured by retailers with a brick-and-mortar presence.”

This is not to say that Versace is ignoring its opportunities online. Like all good retailers, they are pursuing an integrated “omni-channel” marketing and distribution strategy. Customers are still human, and as it has been for centuries, shopping in physical environments as inviting as Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is as much a part of life as enjoying a live performance at La Scala or tossing a coin into Trevi Fountain.

Leukemia Researcher Wins 2014 Taubman Prize

June 4th, 2014

The Taubman Prize for Excellence in Translational Medical Science is awarded each year by the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute at the University of Michigan to a non-UofM clinician-scientist who has transformed laboratory discoveries into successful clinical treatments for patients. I am delighted that the recipient of the 2014 Taubman Prize is Carl June, M.D., a physician-scientist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.

Dr. June will receive the award’s $100,000 prize for his development of a personalized treatment for leukemia using the patients’ own immune cells to fight the disease. Leukemia patients are in remission today thanks to this innovative work, which is a perfect example of what the Taubman Institute was created to promote and reward.

Congratulations, Dr. Carl. We look forward to welcoming you to Ann Arbor and hearing your keynote address at the Taubman Institute’s annual symposium on Oct. 10, 2014.

To learn more, please click here to read the Taubman Institute’s public announcement.


Moving New Video Positions Taubman Medical Research Institute

April 9th, 2014

I am thrilled to share with you the new video produced by the  Detroit-based Doner advertising agency for the Taubman Medical Research Institute at the University of Michigan. The great folks at Doner donated their services in creating this moving 90-second introduction to the Institute. The powerful theme they came up with is “We Can’t Wait.” And I think that effectively captures the way the researchers at the Institute think about the groundbreaking work they’re doing every day. Please take a look at the video, and thank you, Doner!





My Birthday Toast

March 20th, 2014

I turned 90 on January 31 and my family outdid themselves with wonderful birthday celebrations over the last several weeks. My wife planned spectacular gatherings in London and New York, and my children and their spouses threw a party to remember at the Detroit Institute of Arts on February 22. I feel pretty good for 90, and seeing so many friends from all over the world was truly special.

Several people have asked if I could share my toast from the Detroit party, so here it is:

I want to thank my wonderful children for planning this terrific party . . . and the DIA for allowing us to be in this historic space.

As you know, Detroit is my home, and I love being in this museum . . . at my age, it feels great to be surrounded by things that are older than I am.

I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by family, friends and wonderful food at most of my first 89 birthday parties . . . except for a couple during World War II when I was serving in the Army Air Corps, and the year I took off to study the criminal justice system in Rochester, Minnesota.

And now I’m 90. Wow, that’s old.

If I were a side table, I’d be close to being an antique.

If I were a fine wine, I’d have a cracked cork and taste like vinegar.

If I were an automobile, I’d been running well past my warranty.

Fortunately, I exercise every day, have a few new parts (including two new glass corneas), and my mechanics – - otherwise known as doctors – - work hard to keep me on the road.

But I sleep wearing an oxygen mask . . .

When I wake up I have to swallow a tray full of pills . . .

I use a cane to steady myself . . .

My candy has no sugar in it . . .

And I constantly worry about the batteries in my hearing aids.

Sometimes I feel more like a science project than a human being.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many great things about getting old.

I just can’t remember them!

Old age is just another fact of life . . . And I cope with it.

For example, I’ve learned to be an accomplished sculptor . . . arranging my remaining strands of hair in just the right position to cover my scalp.

All things considered, reaching 90 is an extraordinary personal milestone. It must be, because people keep asking me for my secrets to living a long and healthy life.

And just in case I don’t make it to the century mark . . . here are three recommendations to consider:

First: get a good doctor. They have a big impact on the length and quality of your life. In the 90 years I’ve been alive, nothing has changed more dramatically than health care. Be sure you have a doctor who can take advantage of the breakthroughs.

Second: avoid aggravation as much as possible.

Make a list of all the things that aggravate you in your life . . . study it . . . then tear it up before your wife or children see it. And stay off the golf course. I’m convinced the frustrating game was invented to shorten lives and control population growth.

And third: stay curious and connected to people.

My wife, children and nine grandchildren keep me young . . .

Working with brilliant doctors and researchers at the University of Michigan keeps my brain alive . . .

Traveling around the world and learning about different cultures broadens my mind.

So that’s my advice: Get a good doctor . . . avoid aggravation . . . and stay curious and close to people.

To hell with the warranty.

So please join me in a toast to Detroit, to my family and to at least a few more birthdays!

 My children: Robert, Gayle, and William


My wife, Judy, and me


Yo Ho Oy!

January 7th, 2014

I love a good history book, especially when the author reveals something new and surprising. That’s why I’m recommending a book by Edward Kritzler titled Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean – - How a Generation of Swashbuckling Jews Carved out an Empire in the New World in their Quest for Treasure, Religious Freedom and Revenge.

We learn in American History class that many of the earliest European settlers came to our shores in search of religious freedom.  But while our textbooks focus on Puritans, Pilgrims and Quakers, Kritzler documents the central role played by Jews in the exploration and colonization of the Americas.

It makes great sense that the crews of many expeditions to the New World included Jewish sailors fleeing the intense persecution of the Spanish Inquisition, which began in the late 1400s. Non-Christians in Spain and Portugal at the time had three choices: convert to Christianity, leave the country or be burned at the stake. Given those options, getting as far away from home as possible must have seemed like a good idea.

As Kritzler explains, this desire for escape also motivated young Jews to develop essential nautical skill sets. “Outlawed in the civilized world and vulnerable in the Diaspora, Jews became skilled in ways to find and explore new lands. They were the era’s foremost mapmakers, and also perfected the nautical instruments and astronomical tables the early explorers sailed with. When Jewish expertise was needed, prejudice took a backseat to expediency, and Jewish pilots, adept at reading maps and using navigational instruments, were recruited to interpret those tables. Had they not, many an explorer would have been lost in the vast oceans.”

Kritzler makes a strong case that Christopher Columbus, his financial backers and many of his crew were “secret Jews,” surviving as converted Christians or “conversos.” So we learn that in addition to finding a new trade route to Asia for the Spanish crown, Columbus was seeking a safe new home for his people. And while he didn’t live long enough to see it, a thriving Jewish community – - for the most part out of the reach of the Inquisition – - developed in Jamaica, where Columbus first came ashore in the New World.

As you might guess, not everything would always go as planned on the high seas. Prejudice and betrayal followed the Jewish explorers wherever they went. In response, some turned to the risky but lucrative life of pirating. Kritzler introduces us to many of these colorful, fiercely independent characters who have been lost to history.

Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean is a fascinating read for history buffs and anyone interested in the powerful role exclusion plays in motivating people to create their own futures – - no matter how high the risk.

Happy New Year!