Alfred's Blog

Alfred's Blog

Alfred Taubman’s Eye for Art

October 31st, 2015

A. Alfred Taubman assembled an extraordinary collection of works by the most revered artists of all time including Raphael, Gainsborough, Degas, Picasso, Matisse, Rothko, Johns, Pollock and De Kooning. Mr Taubman’s collecting philosophy was simple — he bought the works he liked — but the end result is a remarkable and diverse assemblage that reveals Mr Taubman’s architectural eye as well as his deep appreciation for the human figure, vibrant colour and above all, beauty. The Collection of A. Alfred Taubman will be offered at Sotheby’s beginning 4 November in New York.

Tribute to A. Alfred Taubman

July 1st, 2015

Speech of Honorable Sander M. Levin of Michigan in the House of Representatives

Friday, May 1, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to A. Alfred Taubman, who made immeasurable contributions to my home state of Michigan and to our nation. Mr. Taubman passed away on April 17, 2015.

Mr. Taubman, known to many of us as Al, loomed large in the business, cultural and religious life of Southeast Michigan and far beyond, but his beginnings were far more modest. The son of Jewish German immigrants, Mr. Taubman began working at the age of 9 after his father’s business went bankrupt during the Great Depression. After serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, Mr. Taubman attended the University of Michigan, where he studied architecture.

The seeds of Al Taubman’s success were watered by these experiences–his father’s construction company, his studies in architecture, and the drive to work hard from a very young age. He also had a keen understanding of the needs and wants of people in America’s postwar economy, a period in which people migrated from cities to what would become thriving suburbs. Rather than building homes as his father did, Mr. Taubman focused on the shopping needs of suburban families, and helped to pioneer the growth of shopping malls.

Over the years, Mr. Taubman’s company designed, built, and operated shopping malls throughout the country. These malls, and other investments, brought him significant wealth– wealth he decided to put to use not just in his business endeavors, but in a vast array of worthy causes. Dr. Mark Schlissel, President of the University of Michigan, quoted Mr. Taubman as having said that his father taught him that “If I make a donation, I have given once. If I then solicit monies, I gave twice. And if my contribution has inspired others to support a good cause, I will have given three times.” The University of Michigan and its missions were especially close to Al Taubman’s heart, as Dr. Schlissel and the entire U of M community would attest. While it is not possible to list each and every institution which benefited so greatly from Mr. Taubman’s philanthropy, some of those which did in addition to the University of Michigan are Lawrence Technological University (where he also studied), Wayne State University, the College for Creative Studies, Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School, Brown University, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Jewish Federation, United Jewish Foundation of Metro Detroit and the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights.

Simply listing the institutions to which Al Taubman contributed so much does not provide the full measure of the person he was. On his death I communicated these thoughts: “Al Taubman impacted the well-being of millions who never met him because of his unwavering support for the health and education needs of all Americans. He earned great wealth but never forgot his roots. He reached the top but maintained compassion for the underdog. He could be very blunt but even more sensitive about the feelings of the others. He was much beloved by all of us privileged to know him over many years.”

His commitment and active participation in the issues he cared about was on full display in the successful effort in 2008 to amend Michigan’s Constitution to legalize expanded embryonic stem cell research in my state. Mr. Taubman was not only a vital financial contributor to the campaign, but as the Detroit Free Press noted, “….. he crusaded in ways that couldn’t be measured by dollar signs, arguably providing stem cell advocates with their loudest voice during the 2008 campaign.” He organized a fundraiser with former President Bill Clinton, hosted meetings where people could learn more about the science involved, and weighed in with the press and with elected officials on the merits of embryonic stem cell research and the need for the constitutional amendment. The measure passed. There is no doubt that had Al Taubman not so fully invested his time, talents, and resources into the effort the present pioneering efforts now being undertaken at the University of Michigan would not be happening.

Mr. Speaker, the research at the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute on stems cells and beyond is a legacy of Al Taubman’s and is likely to benefit untold numbers of people in our lives facing chronic disease who will never have heard his name, but fame is not what he sought. His many endeavors have touched and will touch the lives of countless Americans. I encourage my colleagues to join in paying tribute to his many contributions to our country, and in offering condolences to his family, including his wife, Judith Taubman; his children William Taubman, Robert Taubman, and Gayle Taubman Kalisman; his stepchildren Tiffany Dubin and Christopher Rounick; and to his nine grandchildren and great-grandchild.

A. Alfred Taubman Passes Away at Age 91

May 5th, 2015

Bloomfield Hills, Mich.— Taubman Centers Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Robert S. Taubman this evening sent the following message to all Taubman employees:

I have some very sad news to share with all of you, my father passed away this evening here in Bloomfield Hills.

This company and all that you stand for were among the greatest joys of his life. Just last month he was in Puerto Rico to celebrate with us the grand opening of the Mall at San Juan. He was so proud of what this wonderful company he founded 65 years ago has accomplished. Tonight, after dinner in his home, a heart attack took him from us, ending what was a full, extraordinary life that touched so many people in so many wonderful ways around the world. Right now it is difficult for me to express our sadness. We will be informing you of our memorial plans shortly.

One thing that will never be taken from us is Alfred Taubman’s vision that will continue to guide and inspire us. Our family thanks you for all your kind thoughts and support through this very difficult time.

Robert S. Taubman

McDonald’s New Third-Pounder May Not Add Up

April 16th, 2015

The announcement last week that McDonald’s will be adding a new third-pound burger to its menu brought back some unpleasant memories for me. I don’t have anything against McDonald’s and I wish the company’s new CEO Steve Easterbrook the best of luck in revitalizing the brand. But from my experience as owner of A&W Restaurants from 1982 to 1994, I’m concerned that the American consumer may not fully understand or value the third-pound promise.

As I point out in the chapter on A&W in my memoir Threshold Resistance:

We were aggressively marketing a one-third-pound hamburger for the same price as a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder. But despite our best efforts . . . they just weren’t selling. Perplexed, we called in the renowned market research firm Yankelovich, Skelly and White to conduct focus groups and competitive taste tests.

Well, it turned out that customers preferred the taste of our fresh beef over traditional fast-food hockey pucks. Hands down, we had a better product. But there was a serious problem. More than half the participants in the Yankelovich focus groups questioned the price of our burger. “Why,” they asked, “should we pay the same amount of a third of a pound of meat as we do for a quarter-pound of meat at McDonald’s? You’re overcharging us.” Honestly. People thought a third of a pound was less than a quarter of a pound. After all, three is less than four!*

Needless to say, we recalibrated our marketing. The customer, regardless of his or her proficiency with fractions, is always right. So here’s hoping that McDonald’s is counting on the quality and taste of the new Third-Pound Sirloin Burger, rather than the size of its patties, to win market share from premium burger rivals like Shake Shack and Five Guys.


(*This anecdote was discussed last year on the website Mother Jones.)


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.