A. Alfred Taubman: The Vision, the Legacy
Taubman’s extraordinary $100 million commitment vastly expands transformative medical research at Michigan and ranks Taubman as the U-M’s most generous benefactor.
In the 1940s, every fellow taking a gal to the J-Hop needed a corsage. And every young woman needed a nice pair of shoes to match her ensemble. Most students at Michigan back then would have been thinking of where to buy those things. A. Alfred Taubman, a young U-M student himself, had different thoughts. How about being the one who sells the corsages and the shoes to the students?
Get the flowers, fresh and beautiful, at the Eastern Market in Detroit. Find a good shoe retailer and get sorority house mothers to let you display the shoes outside their dining rooms. Make sure the shoes are the shoes the young women want.
For Taubman, a native of Pontiac, Michigan, who had watched his father’s business struggles through the Depression, such thinking was second nature, even at age 18. The beginnings of the career of one of the world’s 20th century retailing pioneers might not have been totally obvious, but the signs were there.
Throughout the decades of his entrepreneurial success, Taubman has maintained an insatiable and abiding curiosity about life and how to improve it. “I always wonder what it could be,” he says. Medical science in particular has intrigued Taubman: If you gave very bright minds the money they needed to chase their wildest, smartest ideas, he wondered, what would happen? What discoveries might they make that would save people’s lives? “The highest reward of success,” Taubman says, “is the opportunity to make a difference for other people.”
At the University of Michigan, which he first grew to love as an architecture student in the 1940s, Taubman has made his vision real — and lasting. With the latest component of his $100 million commitment to create and endow the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute, Taubman has created in perpetuity a resource for discovery-seeking of the kind that is possible these days only with private funding. His commitment to the institute brings his total giving to his alma mater to $141.6 million and makes him the largest donor in the 194-year history of the University of Michigan.
In recognition of Taubman’s landmark commitment, the Medical School’s Biomedical Science Research Building, within which the Taubman Institute is housed, will be named the A. Alfred Taubman Biomedical Science Research Building. At more than 470,000 square feet, it is the largest research facility on campus, planned around scientific themes rather than traditional academic disciplines.
The institute embodies the powerful vision that Taubman has for the future of human health, a vision not unlike that which honed his business acumen and guided his long and successful career. “I’m funding risk,” he says about his gift, succinctly reflecting his own core values of hard work, respect for knowledge and a desire, always, to look into the future and see it.
The Taubman Scholars at Michigan, past and future, are those physician-scientists whose scientific vision is modeled on the kind of knowledge-driven risk that helped Alfred Taubman become one of the great success stories of his generation in retail and real estate development.