Christopher Paul Ilitch has achieved the kind of success that others can only dream of. As president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings, he presides over a company with a revenue of over $2 billion. As the owner of the Detroit Red Wings and MLB's Detroit Tigers, he’s one of the wealthiest figures in the sport. While some of Ilitch’s success has been inherited (he took over the running of both the holding company and the sports teams on his father’s death), most can be credited to his shrewd business acumen and stellar leadership qualities. To discover more, keep reading.
1. He comes from a famous family
Christopher isn’t the only Ilitch to have achieved success and recognition. As the youngest son of Mike and Marian Ilitch, the brother of Denise Ilitch, and the former brother in law of Jim Lites, he comes from a family of famous names. Mike and Marion Ilitch founded the international fast food franchise Little Caesars Pizza and owned the Detroit Red Wings and MLB's Detroit Tigers. Denise Ilitch, meanwhile, is a renowned Detroit businesswoman and lawyer, while her former spouse, famed sports executive Jim Lite, is the CEO and alternate governor of the Dallas Stars of the NHL.
2. He was a member of his high school hockey team
As a student of Cranbrook Kingwood in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Ilitch played on the school’s championship hockey team of 1983. The sport has turned into a lifelong passion, and he currently plays for the Liquidators of Detroit. Part of the reason Ilitch is so fond of the game is the camaraderie enjoyed between teammates. “I’ve never run across too many hockey players that I haven’t liked,” Ilitch told the New York Times. “It’s funny, the sport has a way of weeding out the particular type of person. The ones who are left are like Bill (William Clay Ford Jr. executive chairman of the Form Motor company) and me — we’ve played hockey for most of our lives and you are around great guys”.
3. He hasn’t always worked for the family business
While joining the family business straight out of school might have seemed a natural choice, Ilitch decided to spurn the obvious and gain some outside experience beforehand. After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in business, he served at the multinational information technology company, IBM, before joining his father at Ilitch Holdings.
4. He’s the chairman of Ilitch Charities
In addition to being a successful businessman, Ilitch is also a noted philanthropist and currently serves as the chairman of Ilitch Charities. The non-profit’s primary mission is to invest in the future of local communities by financially supporting programs in the areas of development, human services, education, and recreation. Its major benefactors are Ilitch Holdings and Ilitch himself.
5. He’s a devoted family man
When he’s not running a successful business empire, Ilitch can be found spending time in his Detroit home with his wife Kelle and his three children. In 2017, Kelle hit the headlines after reports suggested she’d been gossiping about her husband’s intentions to sell both the Tigers and the Wings due to the family’s concerns over tax issues. While the rumors proved unfounded, we can imagine there were a few harsh words shared when Ilitch found out about his wife’s indiscretions.
6. He was announced as the successor to the Ilitch empire in 2016
In 2016, it was announced that Ilitch would succeed both his parents in their respective roles within Ilitch Holdings and the family’s pizza, sport and entertainment empires upon their deaths. Ilitch, who was at the time heading up of the holding company, was the natural choice for the family head, Mike, who announced "Chris has done an outstanding job, and under his leadership, we have seen sustained growth and success."
7. He believes in a low-key approach
Despite heading up a vast business and sports empire, Ilitch’s road to success has been low key, and he continues to adopt the same cautious, methodical approach to business as the head of the empire as he did over 30 years ago as the manager of a single Little Caesar store in Walled Lake. “He’s very understated. He doesn’t have airs about him at all,” M. Roy Wilson, president of Wayne State, told the Detroit Free Press. “But he’s very, very effective. And I think he’s very passionate as his father was, passionate for his city.”
8. He had a public falling out with his sister
One of the few times Ilitch has made the news for personal reasons was in 2004, when his sister Denise resigned from her position as co-president of Ilitch Holdings after what she described as an estrangement from her mother and brother. In a style characteristic of the understated Ilitch, he refused to comment negatively on either Denise’s resignation or the so-called estrangement, telling the Detroit Press "I love all my brothers and sisters. I try to continually improve and cherish the relationships I have with them, Denise included."
9. He’s suffered a tragedy
Shortly following the death of the family patriarch Mike, the Ilitch family suffered another blow in February 2018 when it was announced that Christopher’s brother, Ron, had passed away at the age of 61. The older Ilitch brother was found dead at Troy Marriott on Big Beaver of a suspected overdose. "On behalf of my mother Marian Ilitch and our entire family, I want to express our sadness and grief at Ron’s passing," Ilitch said in the statement. "We’re devastated about this loss, and we ask for respect of the family’s privacy during this difficult time."
10. He was the Co-chairman of the 2010 NCAA Division I Men's Ice Hockey Tournament
In 2010, Ilitch demonstrated his lifelong love of hockey when he served as co-chairman of the NCAA Division I Men's Ice Hockey Tournament in Detroit. 16 schools took part in the tournament, with each hoping to claim the title champion of the NCAA Division I college Ice Hockey. After a tight battle, Boston College emerged the winner after defeating Wisconsin 5–0.
Written by Garrett Parker
Read more posts by Garrett Parker