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March 10, 2005 - Image 22

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2005-03-10

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

FOR THE AGES

Max M. Fisher, 1908-2005

BUSINESS ACUMEN

from page 21

applied that principle in his philanthropic
work, but in business as well. He was never
aiming for the short-term dollar. He always
looked at the long-term goal in any of his
business dealings."

Six years later, the group sold the property
for an estimated $1 billion.
Taubman and Fisher had previously built
the Riverfront Apartments in downtown
Detroit and subsequently were principals in
Sotheby's Holdings, Inc. Taubman controlled
Business Sense
the venerable Sotheby's auction house and
Fisher first met A. Alfred Taubman, who would
Fisher served as vice chairman.
later become a Bloomfield Hills-based shop-
"But Max also got me involved in some
ping center magnate, at the same party where deals that didn't work out," said Taubman,
he met his wife, Marjorie. Fisher
"such as certain downtown Detroit
residences. I invested $30 million
hired Taubman to create conven-
ience stores for the Speedway 79
and never got it back. But, by and
large, we did very well on business
discount gas stations.
Taubman said Fisher was
deals. Max was a real 'brain' —
shocked by the Speedway gas
very intelligent, and he honed a
sharp knife. That's what made him
stations he had bought. Most
were just gas pumps and a
a smart businessman.
booth for the attendant.
Taubman asked Fisher to serve on
Cohn
the board of Sotheby's although,
Although Taubman was most
interested in remodeling stores,
Taubman admitted, "Max probably
he created a separate division
really wasn't interested in that type
of his fledgling construction
of art. But he agreed to be on the
business to remodel Speedway
board and advise me because I
stations.
owned the place."
The true test of their friendship
Adding service bays and
using exterior and interior light-
came when Taubman was convicted
of conspiring to fix commission rates
ing and colors led to the "brand-
Fischer Ne wman with rival Christie's auction house.
ing" — and interchangeability
— of gas stations. Taubman
Fisher helped mediate a class-action
civil lawsuit by disgruntled Sotheby's
believes it was a major factor in
Marathon's purchase of Aurora.
patrons, although Taubman had to pay $186
million out of his own pocket "or the firm
But he adds a new twist: "The deal
became really profitable for Marathon. The
would have gone broke," he said.
oil reserves in Max's Scipio fields were
While Taubman served 10 months in a
Federal facility in Rochester, Minn., Fisher,
worth more than the total purchase price
they paid [for the gas stations, refineries
then age 93, flew there three times to visit
him, once with Marjorie. "It was great to see
and Scipio].
"But that can happen on both sides of a
him; it showed what a wonderful friend he
deal. Max had still made good money on
was," Taubman said.
the sale."
"Max also was a unique role model. He
Fisher served on the board of Marathon
taught us that, with success comes respon-
until 1963, when he retired from the busi-
sibility, and that loyalty — to people, places
ness. Marathon Ashland today perpetuates
and ideals — is a precious virtue. He
the Speedway name in the service stations
showed us how much we can accomplish if
it operates in Ohio.
we break down the barriers between city
And the Taubman-Fisher friendship blos-
and suburb, black and white, conservative
somed into several profitable business
and liberal. By example, he made us proud
deals.
to be part of the Detroit community."
Fisher's other board memberships includ-
High Finance
ed Comerica Bank; Owens-Illinois, the
cisher had an uncanny knack for spotting
Toledo-based glass manufacturer; Michigan
business opportunities and sharing them
Consolidated Gas Co. and Michigan Bell
with his friends and associates. And his
Telephone Co. At one point, he owned the
friends gratefully reciprocated the favor.
Fisher Building in Detroit's New Center dis-
He was one of the 12 shareholders, along trict where he had his office on the 27th
with Detroit's Henry Ford II, in the group put
floor. But the building was not named after
him; the Fisher Brothers of automotive
together by Taubman for the purchase of
the Irvine Ranch in Orange County, Calif.,
fame, who were Catholic, built it.
south of Los Angeles. Fisher, who was then
Fisher played a key role with Henry Ford II
chairman of United Brands, owned approxi-
in spearheading the development of the
Renaissance Center. Joseph L. Hudson, Jr.,
mately 5 percent of the shares.
The consortium purchased the 73,000-
former president and CEO of the Detroit-
acre Irvine Ranch for $337 million in 1977.
based J.L. Hudson Department Stores, is

3/10

2005

22

one of the few survivors of the group of
Detroit leaders — Fisher, Ford, Hudson,
Peter Stroh and Mayor Coleman Young —
who helped turn Detroit around in the after-
math of the 1967 riots.
"He was a great friend and he was a
mentor, as he was for many people,"
recalled Hudson. "When I think of Max
Fisher, I think of a true leader, a man with
vision who was persistent, persuasive and
compassionate. He accomplished a tremen-
dous lot for this community and left us a
challenge to continue his efforts."

Behind The Scenes

Fisher's concern with the welfare of the
community led him to a long-term relation-
ship with United Way Community Services.
Fisher served on the board since 1957,
most recently holding the position of hon-
orary chair. He helped create United Way's
Capital Fund Division in 1964 and was the
founding member of the Alexis de
Tocqueville Society in 1991. Three years
later, he received United Way of America's
Alexis de Tocqueville Award recognizing him
as United Way's top volunteer in America.
Over the years, Fisher contributed more
than $1.2 million to United Way.
Michael J. Brennan, president of United
Way, remembers Fisher not just for his "visible
services, but the invisible work that Max did
that isn't always recognized. There were
things he did behind the scenes to make sure
we always had the right leadership in place
and that the organizations were happy."
Fisher also helped develop Somerset Mall
in Troy, working in tandem with Bloomfield
Hills-based real estate developer and phi-
lanthropist Samuel Frankel. The two men
also played key roles in the turnaround of
the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Frankel
said Fisher was "sincere and conscientious
about Judaic causes, and he worked
aggressively to improve those situations."
Among those who Fisher called a friend
was U.S. District Court Judge Avern Cohn of
Detroit. The judge cut short his vacation to
return to town for Fisher's funeral.
Judge Cohn said one of his earliest mem-
ories of Fisher stemmed from a 1961 law-
suit filed over the opening of the Jewish
Community Center of Detroit on Saturdays.
Said Cohn of Fisher, "Ultimately, he settled
it. He brought all of the competing factions
together. It was his strength and persuasion
that resolved it ... The Orthodox respected
him, the Conservative respected him, the
Reform respected him.
"His foremost concern was his love for
the State of Israel. He obviously was born
into a family that put Zionism at the very
top. All of his activities, no matter whatever
direction they went, were driven or motivat-

ed by his love of Israel ... All his activity in
support of the Republican Party was in
some degree motivated by his effort to
maintain a favorable view for Israel," said
Judge Cohn.
Among those Fisher mentored was
Andrea Fischer Newman, now the
Washington, D.C.-based senior vice presi-
dent-government affairs of Northwest
Airlines and a member of the University of
Michigan's Board of Regents.
Newman remembered Fisher as "a
unique individual, because he asked nothing
of you, and yet he was incredibly loyal to
those who were around him. He jump-start-
ed my entire political career. He supported
me and he told people wonderful things
about me," said Newman, who at one time
found herself in a distinct minority of Jewish
Republican females. (The election of Linda
Lingle as governor of Hawaii has increased
their visibility within the party.)
"I would always go to Max for advice, but
our world was political and fund-raising. I
was always learning and asking, 'How do I
do this? How do I do that?' He taught you
how to behave and he taught you how to
interact with people. It was always an honor
to be in his presence.
"When I first had the opportunity to go to
Northwest, he told me it was a good oppor-
tunity. He was very supportive. He meant so
much. He was just a good person," says
Newman.

Honoring Roots

But Fisher remained loyal to more than just
his friends. Throughout the years, he never
forgot his roots in the Ohio heartland.
Always a true Buckeye, Fisher donated $20
million in 1993 to his alma mater, Ohio
State University, to establish the Max M.
Fisher College of Business. The six-building
complex was completed in 2001.
According to Joseph Alutto, dean of the
college, Fisher once described his alma
mater as "a place that provided him with
opportunities to take risks, shape his own
future and develop a base to leave a signifi-
cant impression on the world of business."
Ohio State University President Karen
Holbrook, in comments posted on the Fisher
College's Web site, said Max Fisher's "gen-
erosity enabled the university to reach the
top tier of business schools nationwide.
Today, the Fisher College of Business cam-
pus is a beautiful state-of-the-art complex
that will continue to benefit our students for
years to come. It serves as a permanent
reminder of Fisher's extraordinary philan-
thropy." IVF

Special Writer Bill Carroll contributed to
this story.

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