Taking Loews To New Heights
By harnessing the power of partnerships instead of giving in to cutthroat corporate culture, Loews Hotels Chairman and CEO Jonathan Tisch has simultaneously achieved business success and positively impacted communities.
Even as an undergraduate at Tufts University, Jonathan Tisch - now Chairman and CEO of Loews Hotels - thought big. "I was the head of the Tufts Concert Board," says Tisch, who grew up in Scarsdale, New York. "In October of 1975, we put on a concert with Stevie Wonder in Boston Garden that sold out - there were more than 15,000 people there."
But Tisch also experienced the less-thrilling aspects of being at the helm of an organization while a college student.
"For a show in Cohen Auditorium in April 1976, I'd booked an aspiring artist named Billy Joel," he says. "There were two shows, and during intermission, I had the distinct pleasure of informing him that the second show was cancelled because we hadn't sold enough tickets!" (Joel didn't hold a grudge: he returned to Tufts in 2001 for a special performance.)
Such disappointments have been rare events in Tischís career, which began to take off even before he graduated.
"My senior year, through an internship set up by the ExCollege, I was a production assistant at WBZ-TV in Boston - it was the NBC affiliate at the time; it's now CBS," says Tisch.
"I interned from September 1975 through May 1976, and then they offered me a full-time job as a producer, cinematographer and editor for children's programming, community programming and sports coverage," Tisch added. "For that, I won two local Emmy award nominations."
In 1979, after producing a show hosted by Michael Douglas on a then-up-and-coming trend (jogging), Tisch moved back to New York and put his Tufts education to work as he navigated the dynamics of the cityís various communities.
"I spent a lot of time on issues important to the travel and tourism industries in New York City and in the nation," Tisch says. "I've found that [my political science background] has been extremely helpful in understanding politics, building partnerships and positively impacting the community."
At the helm of Loews Hotels since 1989, Tisch has taken a unique approach to leadership, becoming a highly successful hotelier by making decisions with community impact in mind.
In his new book, The Power of We: Succeeding Through Partnerships, Tisch challenges business leaders to embrace a more community-centric approach to the business world.
"One only has to watch TV and read the newspaper to see CEOs of the Adelphias, Enrons, Tycos of the world being hauled off in handcuffs to know that our business ethic has been skewed by the times we live in," Tisch says.
He views the prevailing cutthroat, "every-man-for-himself" corporate climate glorified in shows like "The Apprentice" as counterproductive.
"We can't be all things to all people, but by building strategic alliances, we can accomplish much more," he says. "Much of what I've done is from an understanding of those partnerships."
In his book, Tisch describes the power of partnerships as "a simple philosophy based on putting aside our individual concerns in order to work together towards a common goal," and adds that "whenever managers employees, communities, shareholders - and even competitors - join forces in pursuit of shared goals, everybody wins."
Creativity, Tisch writes in The Power of We, is another "important element of success."
"I spent a lot of time on issues important to the travel and tourism industries in New York City and in the nation," Tisch says. "I've found that [my political science background from Tufts] has been extremely helpful in understanding politics, building partnerships and positively impacting the community."
The Tufts graduate put that philosophy to the test when he made a pitch to the Miami City Commission to build a new luxury hotel in the yet undeveloped South Beach.
"We were up against the biggest names in the hotel industry," says Tisch. Playing off David Lettermanís popular segments in which he sent his mom to interview spectators and athletes at the Winter Olympics, Tisch considered asking his mother to go to Miami to tape "person on the street" interviews for the presentation.
But Tisch ultimately decided his mother would likely refuse, so he dressed up like his mom and filmed the segments himself.
Describing the pitch in his book, Tisch recalls "strolling the streets of Miami Beach with a camera crew, interviewing passers-by about the prospects for a new hotel - decked out in a dress, high heels, lipstick, rouge, a curly wig and even a set of fake press-on nails."
The unorthodox pitch worked and Loews Hotels won the contract to build the Loews Miami Beach Hotel.
"The partnership we created has been extremely successful," he says. "Many have pointed to [our hotel] as the catalyst for the growth in South Beach."
As Loews Hotels' Chairman and CEO, Tisch oversees that hotel as well as the 19 others owned and operated by his company. Tisch is also the Chairman of NYC & Company, New York City's official tourism marketing agency and convention and visitors bureau, as well as the chairman of the Travel Business Roundtable.
"Our mission is to raise awareness of the travel and tourism industry among elected officials - how important these industries are to their communities," he says.
Tisch says some of his first jobs out of college helped him develop the skills that help him juggle all of his current responsibilities.
"One of the [pieces of advice] I offer in the book is to take a job, any job: you never know how it might help you in your future career," he says. "My years as a producer in the entertainment industry have allowed me to develop a sense that the hotel industry is another form of the entertainment industry. Itís made up of many elements: architecture, design, employee attitudes - all these things make up the business."
But most important are the people who work in and around his hotels.
"We're open 365 days a year, seven days a week, 24 hours a day," Tisch says. "We are a very labor-intensive industry, and the people who work with us often live around our hotels. We need to support them and their communities."
Accordingly, Loews Hotels introduced the Good Neighbor Policy, the first and most comprehensive community outreach program of its kind in the hospitality industry.
"It outlines how each Loews hotel need to be responsive to the needs of the community," Tisch says. "For example, making meeting rooms available to community-based organizations for their meetings and bringing left over food to local food banks after banquets."
Tisch's interest in the communities around his hotels ties into his experience with the Welfare-to-Work Partnership, a national program that urges businesses to train and hire individuals who are on welfare.
"I was Vice-Chairman of the Welfare-to-Work Partnership until recently," he says. "We looked to transitioning individuals from a life of welfare and dependence to a life of income and independence. When I started there, there were five or six interested companies; when I left, there were over 20,000."
Between his schedule for Loews, his 14-city book tour and his work for local and national organizations, Tisch rarely slows down.
"My typical day is extremely busy," he says. "I go to the gym three days a week at 6 a.m. Then, I either have a business breakfast or my favorite part of the day: staying home and making my own breakfast, watching the Today Show, and reading five newspapers! Then, itís spending time at my hotels and in meetings, and I go out for dinner every night - I donít cook."
Tisch, who has been a trustee at Tufts for 14 years and who received the Alumni Associationís 1996 "Distinguished Alumni Award," also finds time to visit his alma mater two to three times a year. When he does, heís reminded of his undergraduate years.
"I lived in Carmichael, which was right on top of the dining hall - that was important for me!" he laughs.
Tisch may have moved on from dining hall food to nightly restaurant cuisine, but on his most recent stop at Tufts, he was reminded that some things never change.
"I did a presentation at Tufts in November, and former provost Sol Gitleman was in the back of the room," Tisch says, starting to chuckle. "When I opened up the floor to the audience for questions, he immediately raised his hand and said, ĎA-minusí - he was giving me an A-minus on my speech!"
"He was one of my favorite professors some 30 years ago," Tisch says, amused. "He was grading me then, and heís still grading me now."
Profile written by Patrice Taddonio, Class of 2006
This story originally ran on Feb. 7, 2005