NY1's Budd Mishkin continues his new series, "One On 1," with a profile of Jonathan Tisch, the CEO of NYC and Company, and the man charged with reviving tourism in New York City in the aftermath of 9/11.
“The Sheraton New York used to be the Americana of New York — my father and uncle built this hotel," says Jonathan Tisch as he strolls down Broadway. "The Bertelsman Building used to be our offices. This was 1540 Broadway, and when my father and uncle in 1961 took over Loews Theaters, the offices were right here.”
Walk through Midtown Manhattan with Tisch, and his family history is all around. He is the chairman and CEO of Loews Hotels. That's the day job. The part-time volunteer job is chairman of NYC and Company, the city's official tourism marketing organization.
But don't confuse Jonathan Tisch's appreciation for the past with living in it.
"There are so many memories,” he says. “We’re right on the edge of Times Square, and now when I come down Seventh Avenue or Broadway and the lights hit you at this point, you realize what we have come through as a city, and you realize why we're the number one tourist destination in the world."
Yes, Tisch's love for New York is part business. But it's also personal, and passionate.
He grew up as a child of a family that owned hotels and movie theaters here and around the country. But he also saw his father volunteer his time to help the city, and donate his money to various causes.
"Growing up we didn't have a clear sense of any of this,” Tisch says. “We knew that Bob would go to work early in the day, that he would come back, and he knew a lot of people. Nobody could work a room like him. He would shake hands, he would schmooze, he would really enjoy talking to people. That's how we were brought up. That's what we came to understand, that this is just what you do. You work hard, you treat people fairly, and you understand your responsibility to the community."
Jonathan Tisch started working in the business while still in high school. He schlepped bags, cleaned rooms, and worked behind the front desk of the old Americana.
"On my nameplate, I used my middle name as my last name - Jonathan Mark - so nobody knew me as a Tisch," he says. “People would walk up and tell me all these stories. We'd be sold out and they'd say, ÎI know the Tisches - I need a room.’ The funny story would be when someone would walk up, and my father's name is Preston Robert Tisch, and my uncle is Larry, people would say, ÎI know the Tisch’s. I know all three Tisch brothers: Preston, Robert and Larry.’"
Some 35 years later, Jonathan Tisch runs the company his father and uncle helped build. He meets with presidents and members of Congress, and is considered a prominent national voice for the travel and tourism industry.
"What I learned from my father and uncle was a very simple lesson: be honest and don't look back,” he says. “We all make mistakes. Not everything you do is going to be successful, but look forward and look to the next time you can turn a situation around and make it work for you and for the company."
“Jon learned it very well. He's done a very good job with it,” says Preston Robert Tisch. “The innovations that they've made, the promotions - we didn't have any of that. We just figured out how to take in money."
Through the years, Loews became a multi-billion dollar corporation. Robert Tisch became the co-owner of the football Giants, and Jonathan is the treasurer of the team.
The Tisch family has been very generous. Among the donations were millions of dollars to New York University. But a $$30 million donation to NYU Medical Center in 1989 led to questions about a hospital receiving money from a corporation that includes the tobacco company Lorillard, which Loews took over in 1968.
"Loews Corporation is a public company,” says Tisch. “We're made up of a lot of investments, and some of them are rather new, and some are rather historic. A lot of times in corporate America, you can't always agree on certain things. You make investments for a variety of reasons. We have a financial and fiduciary responsibility to our shareholders and try to understand that responsibility."
Like his father, Jonathan Tisch has taken on the responsibility of promoting New York City tourism. Robert Tisch served as chairman of the old Convention and Visitor's Bureau. They both are credited with bringing big events like the Grammys back to New York.
“I remember when Mayor Koch called me and said, ÎYou’ve got to put together this committee and you’ve got to get the Grammys back.’ I said, ÎMayor, what committee, and what do you want me to use for money?’ He looked at me as only Ed Koch could do and said, “Your problem, you figure it out.’"
More recently, Tisch has served on the host committee that helped bring next year's Republican convention to New York. This, from a Democrat well known for contributing to Democratic candidates.
“This is an event that is too important to pass up, because it means jobs,” Tisch says. “This is a chance to show the world that all the things there are to do in New York. This is an opportunity for us to say, ÎI don't agree with you politically, but I do agree with you being proud of our hometown and what we mean to the rest of the country and the world.’"
But how does Tisch entice the big events to come here? Is there any mystique to the art of the deal?
"It's not that mysterious,” he says. “We are not doing brain surgery here. We are sending a message that New York City is the number one city in the world."
Jonathan Tisch is known to enjoy the entertainment element of his business, often choosing creativity to make a pitch, even playing the clown for charitable causes. But what makes him run? What makes this member of the next generation of Tisch’s work several jobs and work out with an athlete's discipline?
Perhaps part of the answer is that Tisch was 80 pounds heavier when he was in college in the mid-1970's.
"To see myself go from one person physically to a different type of image of myself has been very important in keeping me focused on things that I still want to get accomplished," he says. “I think when you can make that kind of physical transformation in one's life, then you pretty much can also say to yourself, ÎI can accomplish a lot.’"
Tisch's personal accomplishments include concert promotions during his college years at Tufts, television production in Boston, and cameo appearances in films such as “Funny About Love” with Gene Wilder.
Eventually, Tisch settled in New York to work in the family business. Loews used to own and operate several hotels here. Now it has one - a pretty powerful one - The Regency.
The Regency recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. It is the home of the now famous "power breakfast," where political, business and entertainment leaders meet to do deals over a bagel and coffee, a tradition that began during New York's fiscal crisis in the mid-70's.
"A group of us headed by Lew Rudin, myself, Felix Rohatyn, Victor Gottbaum, and Harry Van Arsdale of the labor union started to meet to help the city to come out of its problems, and this became the spot for breakfast,” says Preston Robert Tisch. “We'd meet at eight o'clock in the morning, and then it carried forward. We came out of the fiscal crisis, and the power breakfast carried forward from that day on."
"I guess it was Jonathan Tisch, some years ago we were getting together to have breakfast, and I said, ÎWhere?’ And he said, ÎThe company cafeteria.’ That has always been the way I refer to The Regency, as the company cafeteria," said former Mayor David Dinkins.
Tisch's power and influence were never more crucial than in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. He served as chairman of New York Rising, a task force established to revive the city's tourism industry. Tisch called on leaders in business and entertainment to send the message: visiting New York was never more important.
“With the media now on our side, the media understanding what we're doing, it was easier to send the message to business leaders, ÎYou’ve got to support us. You’ve got to help us spend a few bucks to tell people why they want to come here,’" he says. “Also, New Yorkers missed the tourists. They missed the people in their community where they would help them give them directions, that were eating in restaurants - they missed that. And they missed it because we wanted to be hugged. We wanted that collective moment to say we're going to be ok."
The elder Tisch was one of many who helped New York come back from the economic brink in the mid-70’s. The younger Tisch did the same some 25 years later, simply the latest chapter in a family's long and loving relationship with the city.
"I think about the unbelievable opportunities that were given to me by my family, and the responsibility inherent in that, and I try every day to show that I deeply care about that responsibility,” Tisch says. “I will do everything I can to not only take this company and move it forward, but always look back and say, ÎThis is where we came from, this is where we are, this is where we're going, and who can we help along the way?’"
- Budd Mishkin