By Lynne R. Zacharias
Ten minutes is not enough time to discuss the countless accomplishments that Joel D. Tauber has experienced in his life. But it is enough to get a sense of who this man is and how he came to be a leader in the manufacturing industry and an unwavering philantropist who has made a world of difference. After graduating from the University of Michigan with a BBA, law degree and an MBA, he went to work at his father-in-law’s business. During his tenure as president, the company, now Tauber Enterprises, grew to a billion-dollar group of companies comprising 30 factories and 2,000 employees.
Corp!: Can you give a brief history of the company that became Tauber Enterprises?
Tauber: It was a scrap metal business started by my father-in-law in 1927. I started working there in 1960. The company expanded into fasteners for cars, plastics for car interiors and more.
Corp!: Tell us about the firm’s current direction.
Tauber: Today the company still maintains the scrap metal business as well as making plastics for cosmetic companies and other ventures.
Corp!: What challenges has the business faced recently?
Tauber: The challenges have been severe. We were fortunate to be out of the auto supply business. The cosmetics side saw a slowdown, but it wasn’t bad. The scrap metal side was extremely affected.
Corp!: Are you seeing any signs of a reversal?
Tauber: In June and July we were profitable so we are starting to see a recovery. The stock market and consumer attitudes are showing signs of improving. Everything is pointing up, but you have to understand that we were at the very bottom.
Corp!: What is your opinion on the future of the manufacturing industry in Michigan?
Tauber: Businesses have to be smaller and more efficient. There will still be a lot of cars made in Michigan, but fewer suppliers. If Michigan plays it right we could be at the center of the alternative energy industry. We have everything here-a skilled workforce, universities, automotive companies and startups already focusing on these advancements.
Corp!: Your generosity has been well documented. What are you most proud of?
Tauber: At the top of the list, helping people. I am very proud of my work that helped hundreds of thousands of Jews emigrate from the Soviet Union and Ethiopia to Israel during the late 1980s and early 1990s, a time when they faced great hardships due to changing politics and war. But I also enjoy mentoring on a personal level. The most fun thing I ever did was the refurbishing of the train at the Detroit Zoo.
Corp!: Who were some of the people who inspired you?
Tauber: My parents, who gave me a lot of responsibility at a young age; Barney Keywell, my father-in-law, who gave me a tremendous opportunity when I was just starting out in business, and Max Fisher, who taught me about philanthropy and integrity.
Corp!: What is the greatest impact the University of Michigan has had on your life?
Tauber: As a student, the university gave me a strong basic, diversified education in all aspects. As an alumnus, I found that my voice mattered. They came to me for advice, listened to me and followed through. They were open-minded to new ideas.
Corp!: What is your favorite family tradition?
Tauber: While my kids were growing up, it was going to Charlevoix for the summers. Now when my family comes home we like going to the Thanksgiving Parade, Detroit Zoo, Detroit Science Center, water skiing and Michigan football games.