Ira Jaffe
Ira Jaffe

On Dec. 31, at age 81, Jaffe retired from the now more than 100-lawyer firm he founded 52 years ago — and transitioned to the next stage of his life with a new venture.

In the play Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye the milkman’s famous mantra was, “Tradition, Tradition!”

But in the world of newly “retired” lawyer Ira Jaffe, his focus is “Transition, Transition!”

“Some people look at retirement as a chance to do nothing other than sit in the sun, play golf, read a book or walk,” Jaffe said.

“For me, that would be like hell.”

In his more than half-century as a prominent business and real estate attorney, Jaffe advised many of the top local Jewish entrepreneurs as they established and grew their enterprises. In their later years, Jaffe counseled these same influential clients as they transitioned to retirement and beyond.

At his Southfield law firm, Jaffe Raitt Heuer & Weiss, Jaffe assisted a whole generation of Jewish philanthropists establish foundations to ensure their legacies and strengthen the future of the Jewish community.

On Dec. 31, at age 81, Jaffe retired from the now more than 100-lawyer firm he founded 52 years ago — and transitioned to the next stage of his life with a new venture.

Jaffe has set up a consulting firm, Ira Jaffe Consulting LLC, to advise established businesspeople on how to transition their businesses to the future, similar to work he did for so many at his law firm. He will have offices in both downtown Birmingham and his winter locale of Naples, Fla. Most of his clients are Detroit-based, although many of them are Florida residents now.

Jaffe said as entrepreneurs build successful businesses, there comes a time to step back and eventually step away from running things to ensure the continuity of the company.

“If you love the place you’re leading, and you want it to go on after you’re gone, then plan for a transition,” he said. “If you don’t end up making a separation, then you really have not completed the transition.

“There are a lot a people who are clients of the Jaffe firm and others who have their own attorneys of longstanding,” he said. “People will want me to take a look at things — as a new set of eyes or to work out a plan.”

Jaffe said one area he will offer his expertise in is the transition of family foundations. Should they spend down? How do they get the next generation involved?

Often when considering the transition plan for entrepreneurs, family issues are a major concern, Jaffe said. A good business lawyer often has to be part psychologist and part social worker.

“I try to talk to business owners about the potential curse of their success,” Jaffe said.

“You have a private plane, a big house and a vacation home, but what does that do for your children? Your most serious possession are your children and grandchildren.”

Lasting Legacies

Jaffe had a long relationship with the late real estate developer Robert Sosnick and still serves as chairman of the board of REDICO, the firm Sosnick founded.

“I worked with Bobby when, on behalf of the Jewish community, he led the establishment of the Jewish Fund, created from the sale of Sinai Hospital to the DMC,” Jaffe said.

The establishment of family foundations can also leave a philanthropic legacy for entrepreneurs.

“I helped the late Norman Allan form the Norman and Esther Allan Foundation, and I’m still president of it,” Jaffe said. “Norman’s goal was to give money to Orthodox and senior Jewish causes. He also made a major gifts to Jewish day schools.

“And a lot of the foundations that are meaningful in the Jewish community were fostered through our law firm’s late clients: D. Dan Kahn, Marvin Danto, Sam Frankel and Bill Farber.”

Most of Jaffe’s more recent work at his law firm was basically consulting. That’s what he’ll be doing with his new enterprise.

“As long as I am able,” he said, he will continue. “One of my icons is Max Fisher, and he was pretty sharp into his mid-90s.”

In addition to his work at his law firm, for nearly 12 years Jaffe led The Fisher Group LLC, which handles financial affairs of the late Max Fisher and his family. Jaffe stepped down at the end of 2019 to transition to a younger successor, Mark Davidoff. “That’s doing the right thing for the organization,” Jaffe said.

“To me, that’s the mark of success.”