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Tuesday 24 April 2018

Billionaire A Alfred Taubman dies

Real estate mogul and Michigan billionaire A Alfred Taubman, who has died aged 91 (AP)
Real estate mogul and Michigan billionaire A Alfred Taubman, who has died aged 91 (AP)

A Alfred Taubman, the self-made Michigan billionaire whose philanthropy and business success - including making the enclosed shopping mall part of American culture - was clouded by a criminal conviction late in his career, has died at the age of 91.

Mr Taubman, who donated hundreds of millions of dollars to universities, hospitals and museums, died at his home of a heart attack, according to his son, Robert S Taubman, president and chief executive of Taubman Centers Inc.

"This company and all that you stand for were among the greatest joys of his life," Robert S Taubman wrote in a message to the company's employees. "He was so proud of what this wonderful company he founded 65 years ago has accomplished."

Mr Taubman's business success spanned from real estate and art auction houses to the hot dog-serving A&W restaurant chain, for which he travelled to Hungary to discover why the country's sausage was so good. He also became a major backer of stem-cell research.

But it was his rearrangement of how people shop - car park in front, several stores in one stop close to home - that left a mark on American culture. Taubman Centers, a subsidiary of his Taubman Co, founded in 1950, currently owns and manages 19 regional shopping centres nationwide.

"Everything that excited me that I got interested in, I did," he told the Associated Press in a 2007 interview.

Born on January 31 1924 in Pontiac, Michigan, to German-Jewish immigrants, Mr Taubman worked at a department store after school near his family's home, which was among the custom houses and commercial buildings developed in the area by his father.

He was a freshman at the University of Michigan when he left to serve in the Second World War, around the time he stopped using his first name, Adolph. He returned to Ann Arbor to study art and architecture,and then transferred to Lawrence Technological University near Detroit to take night classes while working at an architectural firm as a junior draftsman.

Recognising the booming post-war growth of the middle class, he launched his first real estate development company in 1950. His first project was a freestanding bridal shop in Detroit - but he had his eyes on something bigger. He had noticed shoppers responding to the convenience of a "one-stop comparison shopping opportunity", he wrote in his autobiography.

So when a friend suggested a shopping plaza in Flint, Mr Taubman's company did something radical for the time: stores were pushed to the back of the development and parking spaces were put in front. It was a success, and his young company took on larger-scale developments in Michigan, California and elsewhere in the 1950s and early '60s.

Mr Taubman served as chairman of Sotheby's Holdings, parent company of Sotheby's art auction house, from 1983 to 2000, and was a partner in the international real estate firm The Athena Group before he became caught up in a price-fixing scheme.

He was convicted in 2001 of conspiring with Anthony Tennant, former chairman of Christie's International, to fix the commissions the auction giants charged. Prosecutors alleged sellers were cheated out of as much as 400 million US dollars in commissions.

Mr Taubman was fined 7.5 million US dollars and spent about a year in a low-security prison in Rochester, Minnesota, but continued to insist he was innocent and expressed regret for not giving evidence in his own defence.

"I had lost a chunk of my life, my good name and around 27lb," he recalled in his book, saying he was forced to take the fall for others.

The case cast a shadow over Mr Taubman's accomplishments, but it diminished over the years - and his philanthropy continued unabated. He pledged 100 million US dollars to the University of Michigan's A Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute and its stem-cell research. He also financed public-policy programmes at Harvard, Brown University and the University of Michigan.

Mr Taubman "had one of the biggest hearts in America", former Detroit mayor Dennis Archer told WWJ-AM.

On Wednesday, two days before his death, Mr Taubman smiled and lifted his hat during a groundbreaking ceremony in Ann Arbor for a campus building project.

Mr Taubman donated millions and spoke passionately in support of the 2008 ballot initiative in Michigan which eased restrictions on embryonic stem-cell research and enabled his namesake institute to conduct major research for diseases - including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease.

After turning over control of Taubman Centers to his two sons, he made sustaining the Detroit Institute of Art a priority. He helped guide the DIA as president of the Detroit Arts Commission through chronic financial problems.

Press Association

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