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Fall 2004
Jonathan Tisch  
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The Good Neighbor

Jonathan Tisch sets an example that inspires good corporate citizenship and civic responsibility.

As chairman and CEO of Loews Hotels, Jonathan Tisch, A76, has a front-row seat on corporate America. But he’s hardly one to sit on the sidelines watching trends. His latitude as an influential leader also includes his serving as chairman of the Travel Business Roundtable, chair of NYC & Company, the local convention and visitors bureau, and on Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Economic Development Transition Committee.

Tisch’s understanding of the hospitality industry, customer service, and community relations, and his reputation for pursuing unconventional business strategies have now come together in his first book. The Power of We: Succeeding Through Partnerships demonstrates how leadership based on collaboration—and timeless values—can help both corporate and non-profit organizations achieve success by focusing on partnerships.

“We’re coming out of a moment in time when CEOs were being rewarded for being tough, for being aggressive, for doing all they could to grab every last penny and bring it to the bottom line,” says Tisch, who’s also a Tufts trustee. “It doesn’t have to be that way. You can still be successful, you can create personal success as well as business success, by being collegial, by working together.”

Partnerships may be a broad term—but that’s what Tisch finds so compelling. It encompasses just about any opportunity that brings two parties together for shared benefits. Employees, for instance, are key partners. So are customers. So are communities and neighborhoods, where corporate generosity can have a powerful impact on the social and economic health of cities and towns.

Tisch says that the “power of partnerships” is not a new idea. But in a time when cash-strapped communities struggle with budget cuts, and as the business world becomes increasingly cutthroat, the partnership model, he says, offers a radically optimistic framework for building effective businesses. Besides, it’s impossible for organizations today to achieve success without realizing their interdependence on customers, employees, and the health of their communities. “We must work with and through other organizations,” he writes. “It means . . . redefining the terms of traditional business relationships and transforming them from adversarial to cooperative. In essence, it means shifting your philosophy of relations from caveat emptor (‘let the buyer beware’) to the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

Tisch provides countless examples about how that philosophy works at Loews Hotels. It shows up in concerted research, focus groups, and innovative marketing strategies. It appears in the company’s Good Neighbor Policy, an employee community-outreach program that includes donating excess food to local food banks, shelters, and hunger-relief programs. And in numerous “Tisch’s Tips,” he describes how any company can create a situation “where the person that you’re dealing with is valued, rewarded, and derives the necessary financial or emotional rewards so that both parties are successful.” For instance: never start a paragraph with the word “I.” “That sends a message to the reader of a letter or an e-mail that you’re more important than they are,” he says. “If one party in a partnership or one party in a deal is taken advantage of, or feels that they’re being taken advantage of, then it’s not successful.”

The notion of success as mutual benefit has long been fostered at Loews Hotels, a company that started with a summer camp in New Jersey five decades ago and has grown into one of the largest corporations in the world. More important than growth itself, Tisch says, is how the company evolved around a set of principles active at Loews today.

“I’ve been fortunate in looking at the role models in my life who have always held ethics in very high esteem,” he says. “If you look at my father and late uncle, in their business careers, they always treated people fairly, they always were honest and upfront and direct. Their relationships were conducted in an honest, disciplined manner that was a great way for me to learn and create my own set of values.”

Tisch recently renewed his own appreciation for those values when he spent five days in jobs such as cook and pool boy on Now Who’s Boss? a reality-TV series that sent top executives into lower-level jobs. “Even though I’ve done all these jobs at some point in my career, I learned in a whole new way how dedicated our employees are, how tough their jobs are, how uncomfortable their uniforms are,” he says. “We instituted a ‘Now Who’s Boss Day,’ and we’re actually working on finding a new fabric for uniforms. There’s so much competition out there in today’s world, if you don’t understand and appreciate your employees, then you’re in big trouble as a senior executive in any company.”

It’s that willingness to be open, flexible, and responsive, says Tisch, that’s ultimately key to any successful partnership. It’s also an attitude that has been proven true time and again. “I don’t know anybody who’s successful who hasn’t recognized that you have to be good to people as you’re working your way up the ranks,” he says. “People just respond better to you when you’ve been nice to them.”
—Laura Ferguson