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Meet Denise Ilitch, one of our 2020 Role Models. Ilitch is the President of Ilitch Enterprises, LLC. She previously served as president of Ilitch Holdings, Inc. from 2000 to 2004, a privately held business that manages Little Caesar Enterprises, the Detroit Red Wings, the Detroit Tigers, Olympia Entertainment and Olympia Development. Through her extensive involvement and various leadership roles within the diverse portfolio of Ilitch Holdings companies, she has developed a very broad range of business skills, including expertise in executing large scale real estate developments. Ilitch earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and her Law Degree from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. She is being recognized for her outstanding professional accomplishments and demonstrated leadership throughout her career at this year’s Role Model Dinner.
Here are some clips from her recent conversation with AFG
Alternatives For Girls (AFG): For many of the women we serve, AFG provides the support system for them to help them make positive choices. Was there anyone in your life/career who helped guide you in making important decisions?
Denise Ilitch: My father was my greatest support system, cheerleader and motivator throughout my life. He was a superb listener and listened without judgment (which made him a safe harbor) and while he was not a big talker, he always gave sage advice. And he set a great example by every action he took.
AFG: Clearly, you have felt inspired to give back to the community. Is there any part of your personal story that has led to this?
Denise Ilitch: As a young girl my father, Mike Ilitch always taught the importance of giving back to the community. Most importantly, he always illustrated this in his actions, not just his words. He truly ‘walked the walk’. I can cite numerous examples of this. One that comes to mind is one day he told me that Judge Damon Keith came to him and said Rosa Parks needed to move to a safer apartment. He told me he was going to pay her rent so she could move to a safer place. He never said another word about it. Many years later when my Dad died it was reported in the news. I was struck by the fact that he never mentioned it again, just continued the gesture until Rosa Parks died.
AFG: Who are your role models?
Denise Ilitch: Jesus is my earliest role model and the Book of Proverbs is my favorite. My father is my role model for all of the principles he taught me and lived throughout his life. Julie Fisher Cummings is also a role model to me for her huge and generous heart and constant philanthropic giving. Sandy Pierce is a role model to me for her ‘joie de vivre’ and how she treats people by making everyone feel valued and important.
AFG: Which of your accomplishments are you the most proud of?
Denise Ilitch: I am really proud of this honor from Alternative for Girls. I am honored by the lives I have been able to impact in a positive way.I am proud of the moments when I haven’t known the impact I had on someone’s life.
AFG: What advice would you give to the young women that AFG serves?
Denise Ilitch: Be confident and protect your confidence. Be with people who build you up not tear you down. Don’t let anyone steal your confidence. Be determined in the life you want. There is a saying; When one door closes, another opens. I say, if that door is also closed, kick in a window. Self-improvement is a lifetime job. Don’t be so hard on yourself. We sometimes are our own harshest critics. We don’t need anyone else piling on. Seek help when you need it. No one on this planet escapes adversity. It is not a moral weakness to ask for help. You deserve to be cherished. And lastly, there is a saying that “Behind every great man is a great woman. I say, “BEHIND EVERY GREAT WOMAN IS HERSELF.”
AFG: Why do you believe that it is important to empower girls and young women?
Denise Ilitch: It is important for many reasons. As I learned in law school women were at one point ‘chattel’ or property and as we know we were unable to vote until August 18, 1920. (We will be celebrating the 100th anniversary this year). Girls and young women need advocates so they can reach their greatest potential.
The 2020 Role Model Dinner is Thursday, March 26th at Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center. Click here to learn more or to purchase a ticket.