Chris Ilitch took low-key road to top leadership

With the passing of his father, Mike, on Feb. 10, Christopher Ilitch seems likely now to emerge even more as a public figure in Detroit and as the next-generation face of his family’s efforts. Today, the Ilitch companies employ 23,000 full-time and part-time colleagues worldwide and posted revenues of $3.4 billion in 2016. The Ilitch companies include Ilitch Holdings, Little Caesars Pizza, Blue Line Foodservice Distribution, the Detroit Red Wings, the Detroit Tigers, Olympia Entertainment, Olympia Development, Little Caesars Pizza Kits Fundraising Program and Champion Foods. Those efforts center more and more on the District Detroit, the real estate development on the northern edge of downtown that includes the new Little Caesars Arena, an expanded Little Caesars corporate headquarters, and Wayne State University's Mike Ilitch School of Business. Christopher has been the leading driver behind the vision to create the district. “I think Chris is every bit as visionary as Mike was,” said M. Roy Wilson, president of Wayne State. “He’s very understated. He doesn’t have airs about him at all. But he’s very, very effective. And I think he’s very passionate as his father was, passionate for his city.” In November 2014, just before Thanksgiving, Ilitch sat down with Wilson to discuss projects each had in the works. At the end of the conversation, almost as an afterthought, Wilson mentioned that he might like to see WSU establish a new business school in the downtown area. Christopher didn’t comment, Wilson recalled, but he seemed to tuck away the idea for further thought. A week later, Ilitch called Wilson and astonished him by offering to build the new business school in honor of his father. Within several weeks the terms of the family's $40-million gift were finished. The Mike Ilitch School of Business is now under construction. “Even though the gift was approved by Michael and Marian, this was all Chris’ doing. It was his vision,” Wilson said. “Within a month or so, things were pretty much settled. It was really that fast.”

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