- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 8, 2007

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. (AP) — A. Alfred Taubman, ignoring all of his instincts, stayed silent during the price-fixing trial that would end with a prison sentence for the former owner of Sotheby’s auction house.

It was a decision that the luxury mall developer and philanthropist sees as a critical mistake as he reflects on a career in retailing that began as a discount-store salesman and eventually put him at the center of an art-world scandal.

“I should have gotten on the stand,” the 83-year-old billionaire said in his office at the suburban Detroit company he founded in 1950.

In 2001, a federal jury in New York convicted the former Sotheby’s chairman of plotting with his counterpart at fellow auction giant Christie’s to fix the commissions paid by sellers of fine art, jewelry, rugs and furniture. He served 9 months in prison before being released in May 2003.

In a memoir being published tomorrow by HarperCollins titled “Threshold Resistance: The Extraordinary Career of a Luxury Retailing Pioneer,” Mr. Taubman takes aim at the former executives at both auction houses. He blames them for the scandal that cast a shadow over his accomplishments, as well as federal prosecutors and the judge who oversaw his case.

“I had lost a chunk of my life, my good name and around 27 pounds,” he writes of his time at the low-security Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Minn. “I had served my time for others; people going about their lives … who had initiated, executed and lied about a serious crime for which they would receive little or no punishment.”

Mr. Taubman said in the book that he took a polygraph to prove his innocence and passed.

The memoir, he says, was written for his nine grandchildren, ages 3 to 27. He wanted the explanation of his career and the Sotheby’s scandal in his own voice, from his own perspective.

“I don’t have to convince my children or my friends about anything,” he told the Associated Press. “They know and they know me, and they know I wouldn’t have done such a stupid thing. I’m not going to send someone to break the law. It’s like, you send someone out to do a robbery for you? It’s ridiculous.”

Former Sotheby’s Chief Executive Officer Diana Brooks, who pleaded guilty in 2000 to fixing commission prices and fees with London-based Christie’s, served as the government’s star witness in Mr. Taubman’s trial. She testified that Mr. Taubman and former Christie’s Chairman Anthony Tennant had agreed to the plot secretly in 1993.

Mr. Taubman said Miss Brooks acted without his knowledge.

Mr. Tennant, who lived in England, was charged along with Mr. Taubman but refused to come to the United States for trial. By law, he could not be extradited.

As a developer, Mr. Taubman helped make the enclosed mall a staple of American life. Over the years, he dabbled in a broad range of businesses, including owning the A&W; restaurant chain. But buying Sotheby’s in 1983 raised the international profile of the longtime art collector.

“Everything that excited me, that I got interested in, I did,” Mr. Taubman said. Dressed in a sharp three-piece suit, Mr. Taubman lights up as he recounts highlights of his career.

The title for Mr. Taubman’s 200-page book comes from the term he used throughout his career to describe the physical and psychological barriers that stand between potential buyers and the merchandise in stores. While his mall designs aim to lower those barriers, he says, parallels exist in all aspects of life.

“It’s always there, in business and in life,” he writes. “And it’s not just about store design. Every day, we encounter psychological, physical, cultural, social and economic barriers.”

His sons now run Bloomfield Hills-based Taubman Centers Inc., but Mr. Taubman remains active with his philanthropic efforts. Among them, he has long been involved in the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) — both as donor and leader of its building committee, key in the museum’s six-year renovation and expansion. Mr. Taubman’s knowledge of how shoppers negotiate malls was tapped to help reconfigure the flow of the museum.

“Throughout the years, Alfred has been one of our most dedicated supporters,” Graham W.J. Beal, director of the DIA, said after Mr. Taubman recently donated Raymond Duchamp-Villon’s “Le Cheval Majeur” (“The Grand Horse”) sculpture to the museum. The renovated DIA will debut in the fall.

In his book, Mr. Taubman also offers a glimpse of the attention to, and obsession with, detail that was a hallmark of his career.

In one example, he describes his efforts to improve the quality of hot dogs sold at A&W; restaurants.

He said Hungary, in his opinion, produces the best sausage in the world, so he traveled to Budapest to visit several sausage makers, learn their secrets and take them back for A&W.;

“You might be wondering if flying off to Budapest to meet with sausage gurus is the best use of an entrepreneur’s time,” he writes. “You bet it is. … Why should your customer be excited about your business and its offerings if you’re not?”

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