Threshold Resistance: The Extraordinary Career of a Luxury Retailing Pioneer

Threshold Resistance: The Extraordinary Career of a Luxury Retailing Pioneer

by A. Alfred Taubman
     
 

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In this candid memoir, A. Alfred Taubman explains how a dyslexic Jewish kid from Detroit grew up to be a billionaire retailing pioneer, an intimate of European aristocrats and Palm Beach socialites, a respected philanthropist and, at age 78, a federal prisoner.

With a unique blend of humor and genius, Taubman shows how selling fine art and antiques really isn't

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Overview

In this candid memoir, A. Alfred Taubman explains how a dyslexic Jewish kid from Detroit grew up to be a billionaire retailing pioneer, an intimate of European aristocrats and Palm Beach socialites, a respected philanthropist and, at age 78, a federal prisoner.

With a unique blend of humor and genius, Taubman shows how selling fine art and antiques really isn't that different from marketing root beer or football, and offers penetrating insights into that quintessential palace of commerce, the luxury shopping mall. Alfred Taubman may not have invented the modern shopping center but, in the words of The New Yorker, "he perfected it."

Taubman's life has been a storybook success, with its share of unique challenges. A pioneer builder and innovative real estate developer, he was also a brilliant land speculator, operator of a quick-serve restaurant chain, and owner of a major department store company. But what seemed like the pinnacle of his career, buying and reinventing the venerable art auction house Sotheby's, would lead to his conviction in an international price fixing scandal.

Despite the twists and turns, Taubman's life and business philosophy can be summed up in one evocative phrase: Threshold Resistance. Understanding and defeating that force—breaking down the barriers between art and commerce, between shoppers and merchandise, between high culture and popular taste—has been his life's work.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Unlike many successful businessmen who polish their legacy with treacly fables, Taubman has written a frank, engaging memoir with hard-earned lessons. Starting in the 1950s from humble Detroit roots, Taubman built an enormously successful property company by essentially creating the modern shopping mall. Taubman recognized that large, enclosed malls could thrive in the suburbs by providing a greater range of shops than city Main Streets and by offering a new sense of luxury. Refreshingly, he shares as many lessons about his failures as he does touting his successes. "People run businesses. Great people run great businesses," he ruefully concludes from his inability to save the famous Washington, D.C., retailer Woodward & Lothrop. In detailing his 1980s experiences with Sotheby's auction house, which he helped transform into a dynamic, profitable art world player, Taubman writes candidly if bitterly about how his role as chairman exposed him to an employee's illegal price-fixing scheme, leading to his trial, sentencing and time spent in federal prison. Unfortunately, the dreadful title (which describes consumers' reluctance to enter a store and sums up Taubman's theory of life) may create the very type of consumer trepidation the author has fought his whole life. (Apr.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061235375
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
04/10/2007
Pages:
224
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Threshold Resistance

The Extraordinary Career of a Luxury Retailing Pioneer
By A. Alfred Taubman

HarperBusiness

Copyright © 2007 Alfred Taubman
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-06-123537-5


Chapter One

From Pontiac to Ann Arbor

I was born in 1924, five years before the start of the Great Depression, in Pontiac, Michigan, to German Jewish immigrants Fannie and Philip Taubman. Talk about threshold resistance. My parents surely encountered their fair share.

The story of how my parents came to America is a little hazy, as many immigrant stories are. From what I recall, my paternal grandfather was in the hardwood business in Bialystok, a city in what is today northeastern Poland that was known at the time for its textile industry and hard-working Russian, Polish, Jewish, and German population. In the first decade of the twentieth century, the story goes, he sent my father to the United States to find supplies of wood. My father came via boat up the Mississippi River and landed in Davenport, Iowa, where he was to meet an agent who would take him to Wisconsin and Minnesota. But my father, who spoke not a word of English, arrived on a Sunday, and the agent didn't show up, so he was promptly put in jail. The agent eventually showed up, got him out of jail, and helped him get a job as a gear grinder in a factory. After about a year, his parents were concerned that he might marry a non-Jewish woman, and so they sent over his second cousin-my mother-to keep him from straying.

Theymarried, settled down in Davenport, and started a family. My oldest sister, Goldye, was born in 1913 followed by two boys, Sam and Lester, in 1915 and 1920. My father worked for the Wilson Foundry Company, and after World War I he was transferred to Wilson's Pontiac plant on Saginaw Street. My father had a good job with Wilson. The company thought highly enough of him to transfer him to its growing Michigan operation. But my father never felt satisfied or safe. He never fit in with the top executives, who certainly were not Jewish immigrants and were not about to invite him to join their country clubs. My father had dreams, ambition, and a desire to provide the best for his family. Call it entrepreneurial intuition: he knew there were at least as many barriers to his success at Wilson as there were opportunities.

Blessed with true entrepreneurial guts and spirit, my dad left the relative safety of the corporate world to start small fruit farms in nearby towns like Rochester and Orion. Later, he built modest commercial real estate projects and custom homes, including the comfortable four-bedroom Tudor-style home at 300 Ottawa Drive in which I was born. He also built the first synagogue in Pontiac. Both the house and the synagogue still stand.

The region was booming in the 1920s, as companies like Pontiac Motor, Oakland Motor, and Ford built plants that created thousands of well-paying jobs. A guy from New York named Shutzie had talked my father into building houses on some land just north of Pontiac, so he and my father borrowed money from the bank and put up a bunch of homes. Then the crash came, bringing widespread unemployment. In those days, the name of the original home builder remained on a mortgage even after the house was sold. If the home owner stopped making the mortgage payments, the bank looked to the builder for the funds. (Later, legislation was passed to include exculpatory clauses in mortgages to limit the builder's responsibility to the bank once the house was sold.) So when people who were unable to pay their mortgages walked away from their homes, the bank looked to my father for repayment. Shutzie left town and went to Los Angeles.

My father was stuck with these vacant houses, which he couldn't sell or rent out. But he refused to abandon his financial obligations. For a period, he tended his orchards in northern Oakland County and moved us into a modest cottage on Sylvan Lake. Though it took him many years, my father made good on every precrash debt he owed, even though dozens of clients had left him holding the bag. It was a big lesson to us all. I remember those years as a very difficult period. I recall visiting a friend of mine-his father was an architect-and seeing him burning furniture in the fireplace for heat because their gas had been cut off.

School was not easy for me, either. To the best of their ability, my siblings helped pave the way for me. Back then, dyslexia, which I have struggled with all my life, was diagnosed as slowness or stupidity. As a kid I also stuttered. Add the fact that I was always big and a bit awkward for my age, and you get the idea that I was not a model student.

There were two things we always had in abundant supply at home during those challenging years: our love and our faith. In Pontiac we were part of a small but tightly knit Jewish community of about sixty families. My parents would send my sister to the West Side of Detroit once a week to get kosher meat. Most years at school, I was the only Jewish kid in my class. My parents spoke German at home. And with my name-I was called Adolph Alfred after my two grandfathers, who were both named Avram-I definitely had the sense of being an outsider. I was a big kid, though, which helped keep me out of a lot of fights. And thanks to some gifted, dedicated teachers in the Pontiac public schools, I never lost my sense of curiosity and desire to learn. Where others saw challenges, my teachers saw potential. I think that's why I so respect the teaching profession and have made education a major focus of my philanthropy.

Even at a very young age I was aware of the barriers-threshold resistance-I would have to overcome to enjoy the level of success I could only dream about. Early on, I discovered that hard work broke through a lot of those hurdles. If it took me all night to read a simple chapter in a textbook, I put in the time. For spending money I caddied at local golf courses when I was nine years old. You could make $1.10 for eighteen holes.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Threshold Resistance by A. Alfred Taubman Copyright © 2007 by Alfred Taubman. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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