Metro Detroit's Most Powerful Women in Business
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When Marian and Michael Ilitch opened their first Little Caesars Pizza store in 1959, the mother of three handled the company’s finances from her dining room table. “I had an accountant who was teaching me, and I spent a year at home before we leased an office,” Ilitch recalls.
Whether or not she realized it at the time, Ilitch, who raised seven children, was a harbinger of a changing employment landscape that saw more women balance their home life with a career. “We’ve had our hand in innovation, expansion, and success, but through that whole time we never lost sight of the fact that the customer always comes first,” she says.
Although today Ilitch owns and operates the MotorCity Casino in Detroit, she remains active at Little Caesars. Along with other finance committee members, she reviews franchise applicants, site operations, and expansions, and oversees accounting and financial management.
“I think the biggest thing for us is that we’re a family that works hard,” she says. “Our employees are our biggest asset, and when everyone sees your work ethic and commitment, it rubs off.” Ilitch also credits her success to a knack for paying attention to detail. “We look to hire people who are very qualified and talented,” she says. “It just makes your company that much stronger.” — R.J. King
Before she started a family or owned a company, Irma Elder worked as an assistant to an auto dealer in Miami. “Everything about the business operations of the dealership came across my desk, so I learned a great deal,” she recalls. The experience proved to be serendipitous.
After her husband bought a Ford dealership in Troy in 1967, the couple had three children. “During that time, I was strictly a housewife taking care of the kids. I also was in charge of our savings,” she says. “But my husband had cardiac arrest and passed away in 1983. There were some big decisions coming my way.”
Given her dealership background, along with support from family and friends, Elder took over the operation of Troy Ford in January 1984. Two months later, her general manager said he was going to retire — but Elder says he really went to work for a competing dealership, and he recruited the bulk of her sales staff. “I was left with two rookie salesmen,” she says. “I wanted to get out, but my family said to stay in. It was a lot of trial and error, but we made it work.”
Focusing on customer service, Elder says sales quickly recovered. As opportunities for other dealerships came along, she took on the most promising deals and changed the organization’s name to Elder Automotive Group. Today, Elder owns 10 dealerships between Michigan and Florida. “Honesty and integrity are the cornerstones of our business,” she says. “We would be nowhere without them.”— R.J. King