Donor spotlight: Mike & Marian Ilitch

The District Detroit is taking shape, and the Wayne State University Mike Ilitch School of Business will be its educational anchor thanks to a landmark gift from Mike and Marian Ilitch. The couple’s lead investment of $40 million — part of the university’s Pivotal Moments campaign — will be used to build a cutting-edge business school facility a stone’s throw from the new Red Wings arena and more.  

The Ilitches’ gift is the largest in Wayne State history and ranks as one of the top ten gifts ever to a public business school in the United States. It even landed them a spot on the Chronicle of Philanthropy's annual ranking of the 50 Americans who donated the most to charity last year.

“Marian and I have experienced in our own lives how entrepreneurship creates opportunity, builds community and drives philanthropy,” said Mike Ilitch. “We’re thrilled to work with Wayne State to bring those same values to the next generation of Detroit entrepreneurs in a new state-of-the-art business school.”

In recognition of the Ilitches’ generosity, the former WSU School of Business Administration has been renamed the Mike Ilitch School of Business. The new building, expected to open in 2018, will be located on the southwest corner of Woodward Avenue and Temple Street, extending the footprint of Wayne State’s campus south.

Mike Ilitch envisions the 50-block District Detroit as a walkable and livable sports and entertainment district that will link Midtown and downtown Detroit. He and his son Christopher, who is orchestrating the District Detroit’s redevelopment as president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings, Inc., were recognized by Crain’s Detroit Business as 2015 Newsmakers of the Year for their work to revitalize the area.

“Wayne State University is a cornerstone institution in Detroit’s past, present and future, and this gift is one of my parents’ most substantial demonstrations yet of their love for their hometown and its people,” said Christopher Ilitch. “The new Mike Ilitch School of Business will offer a high-profile location, an iconic building and unique programs that will help shape the leaders who will continue to move this community forward.”

The Mike Ilitch School of Business will boast a competitive entrepreneurship track with coursework in areas including sports and entertainment management. Its new home will merge the school’s programs and students with the dynamic economic growth currently underway in the city. The school is seeking additional support from successful Mike Ilitch School of Business alumni and friends to complete the new facility and naming opportunities are currently available.

In 2014, the Ilitches donated $8.5 million to the Wayne State Department of Surgery to aid surgical innovation at the medical school, including research on the pathophysiology of concussions related to sports injuries and the development of a robotic finger to be used in minimally invasive surgical procedures.

The Ilitches founded Little Caesars in 1959, and grew the company from a single storefront into the world’s largest carry-out only pizza chain. This venture laid the groundwork for the development and acquisition of numerous other businesses and sports teams. The Ilitch companies include Little Caesars Pizza, the Detroit Red Wings, Olympia Entertainment, Blue Line Foodservice Distribution, Champion Foods, Little Caesars Pizza Kit Fundraising Program, Olympia Development and Ilitch Holdings, Inc. Separately, Mike Ilitch owns the Detroit Tigers, and Marian Ilitch owns MotorCity Casino Hotel.

The companies collectively employ over 22,000 people and have a total combined annual revenue of $3.3 billion. With the completion of The District Detroit, the Ilitch investment in Michigan will reach nearly $2 billion in brick and mortar projects.

The Ilitch companies make contributions of time, money and resources to the community through Ilitch Charities, the Detroit Red Wings Foundation, the Detroit Tigers Foundation, Little Caesars Love Kitchen, Little Caesars Veterans Program and Little Caesars Amateur Sports. Charitable giving by these groups and other Ilitch company entities total more than $34.5 million since 2005.

The couple’s unfailing love for Detroit has garnered them significant recognition for their generosity and vision for the city. The Ilitches have received numerous honors, including the key to the city of Detroit, presented to the family in 2008, as well as the National Preservation Award for the restoration of the Fox Theatre, a National Historic Landmark.