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A. Alfred Taubman - Biography

Adolph Alfred Taubman (born January 31, 1924) is an American real estate developer and philanthropist from Michigan. He pioneered the modern shopping mall concept and was described by CBS News as a "legend in retailing" who became wealthy developing upscale shopping malls. He built shopping mall developer Taubman Centers into a retailing powerhouse. He wrote Threshold Resistance: The Extraordinary Career of a Luxury Retailing Pioneer in 2007.



Taubman was born in Pontiac, Michigan, to Jewish immigrants Philip and Fannie Taubman, who came to the United States from Bialystok, in northeastern Poland. His mother was his father's second cousin. Philip took a job with the Wilson Foundry Company in Iowa, transferred to Pontiac in 1920, became a fruit farmer, then began developing commercial real estate and custom homes.

Taubman's parents lost everything in the Depression of the 1930s, and Taubman at age 9 had to find work to help support the family. He has said of that time in his life: "I really wanted to make some money."

Shopping mall development

Taubman studied architecture at the University of Michigan where he was a member of Zeta Beta Tau Fraternity and Lawrence Technological University, but graduated from neither. He wondered where middle-class families moving to the suburbs would shop. "Demographically, I looked at the numbers, and as far as I was concerned we couldn't miss. And we didn't," he said. Taubman chose upscale areas for lavish shopping centers, offering fountains and prestigious anchor stores like Neiman Marcus. Taubman is famous for his attention to detail such as choosing terrazzo tiles at Short Hills. He said: "|The only point that the customer actually touches the shopping center is the floor. They've got traction as they're walking. Very important. Some of our competitors put in carpet. Carpet's the worst thing you can have because it creates friction." Real estate developer and partner Louis Dubin spoke glowingly about Taubman: "He is the most knowledgeable person I have ever met with the planning and design of real estate ... He's an incredible adviser. There's not a building we build that we don't ask him to look at the plans. He critiques everything–the parking, the closets. He's very meticulous. He has the best eye I've ever seen in my life.

Taubman's hard work and business acumen paid off. Developments such as the Mall at Short Hills in New Jersey continue to be ranked among the most profitable shopping centers in the country. Since the early years, he made a fortune which Forbes magazine estimated at $2 billion. He married Judith Mazor who was the 1962 Miss Israel. He was on the list of Forbes 400 Richest Americans for two decades.

Taubman bought A&W Restaurants in 1982. He said, "There is more similarity in a precious painting by Degas and a frosted mug of root beer than you ever thought possible." He sold A&W to Sagittarius Acquisitions in December 1994.

From 1983 to 1984, Taubman was the majority owner of the Michigan Panthers of the United States Football League. Although the Panthers acquired a fairly loyal following and won the first USFL title in 1983, the USFL's decision to move from the spring to the fall led Taubman to merge his team with the Oakland Invaders for the 1985 season, with himself as majority owner of the Invaders. That team folded along with the rest of the USFL after the 1985 season.

In October 2003, his real estate firm Taubman Centers survived a hostile takeover bid by the Simon Property Group and Westfield America.

He also invested in the real estate investment firm of his stepdaughter's husband, Louis Dubin, in the 1990s and early 2000s.


Taubman bought the ailing British auction house, Sotheby's, in 1983, acting as a white knight when the company was threatened by a hostile and unwanted takeover by Marshall Cogan and Steven Swid of General Felt. Many in the snobby art world "scoffed," according to CBS News. He said: "We were just merchants ... shopping mall guys." But he turned around the floundering auction house by redesigning the New York headquarters with such additions as luxury boxes for clients' privacy as well as escalators. "I wanted to create an open feeling where all the goods were available to everyone," he said. He revived the fortunes of Sotheby's, which had been slumping in the eighties; he took the company public in 1988. His family divested controlling interest in Sotheby's by September 2005.

Antitrust Conviction

In the early 2000s, an investigation into alleged price-fixing between Sotheby's and rival auction house Christie's led to a confession by Sotheby's CEO Diana Brooks of an elaborate price fixing scheme with her counterpart at Christie's, Christopher Davidge. In a plea bargain arrangement, prosecutors offered to keep her out of prison if she agreed to implicate Taubman. She did, and thereafter Taubman was convicted in a jury trial of price fixing. He was fined $7.5 million (USD) and imprisoned for ten months in 2002 for anti-trust violations. Taubman was released in 2003.

Taubman insisted on his innocence in his autobiography Threshold Resistance, which appeared in 2007. He has said that Brooks "lied many times" under oath and said "If she discussed it with me I would have thrown her out of my office in five minutes." According to Taubman, Brooks was just protecting herself from going to jail.


Taubman has donated large sums to the University of Michigan, and many buildings there are named after him, including the A. Alfred Taubman Biomedical Science Research Building, the Taubman Health Sciences Library and Taubman Health Care Center. A school within the university is also named for him: the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. Taubman is also a major sponsor of disease research: his latest donation, a gift of $5 million to support the University of Michigan's Dr. Eva Feldman's and Dr. Yehoash Raphael's research, was aimed at the development of new treatments for Lou Gehrig's Disease and deafness, respectively. In 2011, Taubman donated $56 million to medical research. These donations brought his lifetime giving to Michigan to $141 million, making him the largest donor in the school's history.

He also donated to the Taubman Center for Public Policy at Brown University, and The Taubman Center for State and Local Government at Harvard University. The A. Alfred Taubman Student Services Center at Lawrence Technological University was completed in 2006.

The A. Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education at the College for Creative Studies was completed in 2009, in which Taubman contributed $15 million to the $145 million restoration and remodeling of what once was the General Motors Argonaut Building.

Taubman has led an active social life which includes parties attended by Lightyear Capital's Donald Marron, Donald Trump, and Henry Kissinger.

Further reading

  • Mason, Christopher. The Art of the Steal: Inside the Sotheby's-Christie's Auction House Scandal. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. 2004. ISBN 0-399-15093-5
  • Taubman, A. Alfred. Threshold Resistance: The Extraordinary Career of a Luxury Retailing Pioneer. New York: Collins. 2007 ISBN 978-0-06-123537-5

See also

  • Woodward & Lothrop
  • May Department Stores
  • Wanamaker's
  • Michigan Panthers
  • François Pinault
  • Louis Dubin
  • Shopping mall
  • Taubman Centers

External links

A. Alfred Taubman website

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