Monaghan an example to follow

I first met Tom Monaghan in the late 1970s or early ’80s when we both were members of the same business organization. As we got to know each other we hunted together and had many discussions about our businesses.

He was amazingly good at taking an idea and then making it a reality. I remember one day when he was out in a boat fishing with Roger Bauer and Joel Gillard and he mentioned that he was thinking about buying the Detroit Tigers. When asked by the guys how much he thought that he would have to pay for the team, he told them $50 million.

The boys were aghast at the number and when they came ashore they mentioned it to me, asking me whether I thought he could do it. His company at that time did about $35 million in sales and maybe $1 million in income and he was using every cent of that amount to grow the company. About five years later he owned the Tigers.

His company was Domino’s Pizza. He started out with partners in Ypsilanti and since the name Domino’s was already on the sign, the new partners just kept it. He outgrew that store rapidly, started another, and before long he bought out the partners.

Very early in this process I remember being at a meeting in his office on Green Road in Ann Arbor with a bunch of his business associates and his wife Margie. She ran the office and Tom the operations.

During the meeting Margie knitted while we talked. This was a real, honest to goodness, entrepreneurial startup with the family deeply involved in every aspect of the business. Tom took what seemed to the rest of us stunning risks, but at that time his goal was to have sales of over $100 million. The goal seemed to us to be unattainable but he had faith. Later, he would sell his company for $1 billion. His investment in the Tigers also was sold at a huge profit.

Monaghan is a devout Roman Catholic and a man of much faith. He’s a dreamer but not starry eyed. When he sold Domino’s he was at a crossroad of life, so he decided to move a college he had founded – Ave Maria University and its law school – to a warmer climate in Florida.

Incidentally, he started the law school because he believed there was too much lawyering and too little morality in courtrooms. Maybe some of you share this view.

A couple of days ago I went to Ave Maria, Fla. Yes, it’s a town all its own. Monaghan built the town around an absolutely beautiful Catholic church and the university. It’s a town built on Catholic precepts and faith. It’s morality and spirituality in a university setting.

His vision is something right out of the playbook for billionaires in the late 19th century when Carnegie-Mellon, Cornell, and Stanford universities, along with many others, were founded using private fortunes of billionaires of that time.

The town is surrounded by agriculture and new home sites. It’s up and it’s running. I saw shirts proclaiming “I am my brother’s keeper” and none that said “@%#$.” It was refreshing. Here there was no Spring Break drunkenness and sex shows.

I read about business folks wanting to leave a legacy. Monaghan isn’t going to be remembered for Domino’s and it’s terrific success, but something much more meaningful – a university with high moral values and principles.

Thanks Tom, we needed that! Aretha Franklin sang about R-E-S-P-E-C-T and you have mine.