Thursday, March 7, 2013

Adolph Alfred Taubman

It's been cold and rainy in Seattle so I've been reading much more than usual.  I'm lucky because I'm finding some awesome books.  Here's another suggestion for you.

THRESHOLD RESISTANCE is the autobiography and personal memoir of real estate legend A. Alfred Taubman, one of the greatest developers of the 20th century.

Taubman literally invented the modern shopping mall and all the tricks and tips which made them the retailing powerhouse of the postwar era.  A dyslexic Jewish kid from Detroit, Taubman would become a billionaire through real estate investment and also one of the most prominent socialites and philanthropists in America.

But a disastrous investment in the auction house Sotheby's would ultimately lead to a different type of notoriety.  A Federal conviction for price fixing and, at the age of 78, a stint in Federal prison.

Many celebrity real estate memoirs (such as Donald Trump's) take a "Gee Whiz" approach to success, something Horatio Alger would have written about a century ago.  It's not just about working hard and paying your dues, but having some intangible sense of the market others do not have or recognize.  Lots of people can work hard.  The successful few work hard in ways others are not.

Taubman's background was in retail, literally selling shoes.  He could see how real estate design could assist in the sales process---or detract from it.  His approach to retail real estate development was (and incidentally, still is) far more scientific.  He thinks how the customer acts and builds a shopping mall around these movements.

The two story shopping mall was his idea.  Read THRESHOLD RESISTANCE to understand why. The photo above is of Taubman's famously profitable mall at Short Hills, New Jersey.

This book is filled with Taubman's observations and advice on real estate.  I like the focus is on how he made his money rather than how he spent it or gave it away, another weakness of some business memoirs.  Taubman shares his theories and experiences and they make wonderful sense to me.

One of the best proofs of Taubman's legacy and timeless advice is he is the real estate designer of Apple's famous retail stores.  When Steve Jobs wanted to put Apple stores in Taubman's malls, the mall owner and designer said yes if only they would change the design.  The original Apple floor plan had a "waiting area" or reception space in the front of the store.  Taubman himself said the design made no sense and retailing should start the moment the customer enters the space.  Visit any Apple store today and see what he meant and why.

I highly recommend this book.  An interesting and informative read filled with how-to and DIY advice for investors and developers, including unfortunately Taubman's cautionary tale of what happens when business gets ignored and things go wrong.  Here's the link to THRESHOLD RESISTANCE on

1 comment:

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