Max Fisher

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Max Fisher
Born Max Martin Fisher
(1908-07-15)July 15, 1908
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Died March 3, 2005(2005-03-03) (aged 96)
Franklin, Michigan
Nationality American
Occupation Businessman
  • Sylvia Krell (1934–1952)
  • Marjorie Switow (m. 1953)
Children 5, including Mary Davis Fisher
Relatives Stephen M. Ross (nephew)

Max Martin Fisher (July 15, 1908 – March 3, 2005) was an American businessman and philanthropist. He was a benefactor/alumnus of the Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University. He spent much of his life raising money for philanthropic and political endeavors and was a supporter of charitable and civic organizations. His skill at diplomacy kept him connected to every administration since President Dwight D. Eisenhower's on Middle East and Jewish issues.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Fisher was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Russian Jewish immigrant parents and grew up in Salem, Ohio, where his father owned a clothing store. He attended The Ohio State University on a football scholarship and graduated with a degree in business administration in 1930. While a student at OSU, he was initiated into the Alpha Epsilon chapter of the Phi Beta Delta Fraternity, which is now part of the Pi Lambda Phi Fraternity.[2] In 1933, Fisher joined his father's oil reclamation business in Detroit as a $15-a-week salesman before forming his own company.[1] He grew the business into one of the largest gas station chains in the Midwest before selling the business in 1959 to Aurora Gasoline, a company Fisher would chair for 27 years.

Following the sale of Aurora to Marathon Oil for $40 million,[3] Fisher invested his fortune in real estate after retiring from business in 1963 where he sat on the board of Comerica, the consumer and investment bank, Sotheby's, and United Brands, in addition to serving as the Honorary Chairman of United Jewish Communities (UJC), Council of Jewish Federations, and the American Jewish Committee.[1] Fisher supported Jewish and general causes worldwide and played a major role in almost every major Jewish communal organization. He was also the subject of articles, debates, TV documentaries, and a biography, entitled Quiet Diplomat by Peter Golden.[4]

For decades Fisher also served as a trusted advisor to U.S. presidents and Israeli prime ministers, rallying for causes from the Six-Day War to Ethiopian Jewry. By quietly forging new ties between Washington and Jerusalem, Fisher pioneered a new era in American Jewish activism and politics and was considered the elder statesman of North American Jewry.

Philanthropic activities[edit]

In Detroit, Fisher backed the $60 million Max. M. Fisher Music Center, which serves as the home for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and includes a public high school for the performing arts center called The Max.[5] In 1977, he joined with Taubman and Henry Ford II to buy the 73,000-acre (300 km2) Irvine Ranch south of Los Angeles for $337 million; Fisher's group would sell the property six years later for an estimated $1 billion.[3][dead link]

He also leveraged around $20 million to finance The Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business for development of a new six-building business campus that opened in 1998. An additional pledge of $5 million was given to the Fisher College of Business in February 2005 to support Master of Business Administration programs.

Fisher served as national chairman of UJC's predecessor organizations, the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) from 1965–1967; president of the Council of Jewish Federations from 1969–1972; and chairman of the United Israel Appeal, Inc. (UIA) from 1968–1971; and president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit from 1959-1964.

In addition to being honorary chair of UJC, he was founding chairman of the board of governors of UJC's overseas partner, the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI). He was also active in the American Jewish Committee, B'nai B'rith International, and Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

Personal life and family[edit]

Fisher was married twice:[6][7]

In 1934, he married Sylvia Krell who died in 1952. They had one child:

In 1953, he married Marjorie Faith Switow. They had two children together:

Marjorie also had two children from her prior husband, George Allen Frehling, who Fisher adopted:

  • Mary Fisher - AIDS activist[6][7]
  • Philip William Fisher[6][7] - In 2009, he founded the charity Mission Throttle whose purpose is "to develop business tools and to brainstorm ways of creating systematic and positive change to speed the pace of assistance to underserved populations."[9]

Fisher has 15 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.

He died about 11:30am in his home in Franklin, Michigan surrounded by family.[10]

Max financed the schooling of his nephew Stephen M. Ross,[11] who called Max, "the most important role model and inspiration for me in life".[12]


In 2004, Max Fisher had amassed a net worth of $775 million. At 96, he was the oldest member of the Forbes 400.[13]


Historical documents[edit]

Max Fisher's papers are available for public research at the Walter P. Reuther Library in Detroit, Michigan. The library's website explains that, "This large collection documents Fisher's life and career as a successful Detroit industrialist and investor, influential Republican Party fundraiser and power broker, Jewish community leader, and major philanthropist. It includes correspondence, documents, speeches, interviews, photographs and other media, and documents from his biographer."[14]

B'nai B'rith Youth Organization (BBYO) Involvement[edit]

In March 2006, a male chapter of BBYO was founded by 12 young men from the state of Michigan with the name of Max Fisher AZA (AZA standing for Aleph Zadik Aleph, the male sector of the organization). Following the foundation, the chapter was officially recognized by the Fisher Foundation in early April. The chapter's charter number is #337. Since Fisher's charter in 2006, the chapter has flourished at the chapter, regional, and international level. Four times has a member from Fisher AZA served as the President for all of Michigan Region BBYO; even though the chapter has only been around for 10 years, an International President has already hailed from Fisher. Fishermen always set the standard for how to behave in BBYO; in fact, they have won the Sportsmanship award at Michigan Region's Regional Convention many times since its founding. Each year several members represent Michigan Region by attending BBYO's International Convention in February, and by attending countless summer programs around the globe each summer, many of which focus on building leadership skills. Fisher has won several awards, including the Henry Monsky award which recognizes the most outstanding chapters across the International Order. On a more local level, each year several Fishermen apply for individual awards including the Bronze and Silver Stars of David (recognizing outstanding participation) and the Tree of Life Award (recognizes those individuals who bring more members into the order via recruiting). Additional awards are available for those who excel in community service as well. Recently, Fisher has received publicity for starting a Platform Database which hosts several hundred platforms of individuals' candidacy for office from around the world. The platforms range from the chapter level, to the regional and international levels as well.[15]


  1. ^ a b c "Max Fisher, 96, Philanthropist and Adviser to Presidents, Dies", New York Times, March 4-2005.
  2. ^ Makio. Columbus: The Ohio State University. 1929. p. 211. 
  3. ^ a b "Max Fisher: A lifetime of power and passion", Detroit News, March 4-2005.[dead link][dead link]
  4. ^ "Quiet Diplomat: A Biography of Max M. Fisher (Hardcover)",, June-1992.
  5. ^ "The Max Rocks", Metro Times, December 3-2003. Archived November 13, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ a b c d e f New York Times: "Max Fisher, 96, Philanthropist and Adviser to Presidents, Dies" By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS March 4, 2005
  7. ^ a b c d e f Detroit Free Press: "Max Fisher, Detroit benefactor, dies at 96" BY BILL MCGRAW March 4, 2005
  8. ^ Crain's Detroit Business: "Carrying on Max's vision: Fishers continue legacy of giving" By Sherri Welch March 14, 2010
  9. ^ Detroit Jewish News: "Phillip Fisher’s Mission Throttle is breaking new ground in the world of giving" May 31, 2012
  10. ^ "Max Fisher: A lifetime of power and passion", Detroit News, March 4-2005.[dead link][dead link]
  11. ^ Murray, Tom (June 4, 2015). "Family Ties: Stephen M. Ross parlayed two family loans into a multibillion-dollar enterprise". dbusiness. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  12. ^ "Ross’ connections with Michigan". michiganross. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ Ergas, Aimee. "Collections Spotlight: Max M. Fisher Papers". Walter P. Reuther Library. Wayne State University. Retrieved 24 June 2015. 
  15. ^

External links[edit]