Jonathan Tisch on (not) running for mayor, big business and the Giants in 2017

Jon TischPhoto Credit: Scott McDermott

Jonathan Tisch loves New York so much he says he would do just about anything he could for it—except run for mayor. It’s not as if the powers-that-be haven’t asked. They have, and continue to  do  so. While Tisch, one of the city’s most respected business leaders, would seem to be an ideal candidate (a Bloomberg 2.0)—independently wealthy, a skilled corporate leader with enormous civic and philanthropic cred—he’s committed to his family’s businesses as co-chair of the multibillion-dollar Loews Corporation, chairman and CEO of Loews Hotels, and co-owner of the New York Giants. Being mayor might almost seem like a vacation for Tisch, who, in addition to his responsibilities at Loews, sits on the boards, or is a benefactor, of numerous educational institutions like Tufts and NYU, and has long been one of the travel industry’s most visible and passionate advocates. He is chairman emeritus of the United States Travel Association, a nonprofit whose goal is to increase tourism in the U.S. and underscore its importance to the American economy. He has also led NYC & Company, the city’s marketing and tourism agency, and New York Rising, a group that was tasked with bringing visitors back to the city after the events of 9/11.

Beyond the boardroom, Tisch and his fashion executive wife, Lizzie, play a prominent role on the city’s charity circuit. (And stylish ones, too; both have been on Vanity Fair’s Best Dressed List.) Despite his position at the pinnacle of New York’s business and social worlds, Tisch himself is exceptionally approachable and down-to-earth. He arrived early for our cover shoot, and despite the fact that the images on these pages were photographed at his Loews Regency New York Hotel where there are bellmen aplenty, Tisch insisted on carrying his own garment bag.

We recently sat down with him for a wide-ranging conversation that covered everything from politics to the future of Loews Corporation, Loews Hotels, and the Giants to why he never has unanswered emails at the end of a business day.

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon recently said in a TV interview that before Trump’s campaign, he assumed a very successful businessman couldn’t run for president without first serving in lower posts such as governor or senator. Have you ever thought of running for higher office?

In the past many people have asked, cajoled, and pushed me to throw my hat in the ring for mayor of New York City and other elected roles. It’s extremely flattering and gratifying to think that someone would even put forward such a suggestion, but it’s something that I am just not interested in. I’m extremely committed to my mission at Loews Hotels and to working with my cousins, as it relates to Loews Corporation. I am also really fortunate to have what I believe is a proper balance between work and family. While I would do anything for this town that I love so much, I am not interested in running for elected office.

What good—if anything—do you think will come out of the very tumultuous 2016 presidential race? 

Certainly we have never experienced a campaign with such divisive rhetoric and an election season like the one we have endured this year.  The new president will have a steep hill to climb in terms of bringing us together as a nation, but I am very confident, because of our shared goals in ensuring America continue its greatness, that we will thrive as a country.

In the last mayoral election, Mayor de Blasio campaigned with the slogan “a tale of two cities.” Do you worry that New York may become a “tale of one city,” that is, it’s so expensive only the rich can live here?

I love using former Mayor David Dinkins’s description of New York as the gorgeous mosaic. This is a city built on diversity. It is one where opportunity is always available to those who work hard, are disciplined, and have great ideas. The divide between those in different economic strata is evident, but as New Yorkers, we need to work together to find ways of creating jobs to ensure that people want to move here and work and raise their families here. Elected officials need to understand that it’s the private sector that creates jobs. It’s important for government not to over-regulate, not to make day-to-day businesses impossible to run, and also to provide an environment for small businesses to incubate.

The Jonathan M. Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism at NYU is widely recognized for its thought leadership in those sectors. What do you feel is the most important conversation to be having about travel today?

What we have come to understand is that travel and tourism, being the largest industry in the world, is so vital for many economies. Even if you’re a business leader in a sector not directly connected to travel and tourism, you still have a responsibility to work to keep these sectors strong, because they create jobs. We’re in a world with many challenges, so it is essential that people today have the means to travel, because travel helps educate us about other lifestyles and ways of thinking; it makes us embrace diversity. Over the past 25 years, I have been very fortunate to assume roles with various industry organizations that have missions to promote and recognize the power of travel and discuss with elected officials how, when properly supported, our industry is a vehicle for job creation and economic development.

Does Washington always respond to that need for support?

With the keen understanding of the Obama administration, we have made tremendous strides in certain areas: the expansion of the visa waiver program; the passage a few years ago of the Travel Promotion Act, which led to Visit USA (a public-private partnership to promote U.S. tourism). We still have our work cut out for us, and hopefully the next administration will want to meet with industry leaders on a regular basis to talk about how a strong travel industry is in the best interest of the United States.

Your father (Preston Robert Tisch) and uncle (Lawrence Tisch) famously managed Loews Corporation for more than 50 years. What do you think made that partnership successful?

My father and uncle were two unique individuals who, along with my mother and aunt, allowed my brother, my sister, and my four cousins to have a real appreciation for hard work, discipline, managing risk, and embracing the men and women who are at the front lines of any organization. My father, Bob Tisch, was referred to as “Mr. Outside.” He was very involved in operations, sales, and marketing. My Uncle Larry was referred to as “Mr. Inside.” He could ask you five questions about your business and he would know more than you would. He just had a keen, sharp financial acumen. In my book, The Power of We: Succeeding Through Partnerships, I referred to my father and uncle as the partnership we were able to learn from. They, together with their parents, took a summer camp in New Jersey in the mid-1940s and turned it into what is today’s Loews Corporation. Their partnership has continued through the office of the president of Loews Corporation where I stand side-by-side with my cousin Jim, in his role as president and CEO, and my cousin Andrew, in his role as co-chairman of the board with me. Every day we think back on lessons learned from our predecessors and our family, to have a sense of fairness and a vision for how Loews Corporation can create shareholder value and opportunity for our team members.

Jon TischPhoto Credit: Scott McDermott

In one of your books the dedication is to your father, about whom you wrote, you can take a boy out of Brooklyn, but you can’t take Brooklyn out of the boy. What did you mean by that?

My father identified himself as a kid from Brooklyn so much, even though his incredible hard work and intelligence allowed us to have a very different childhood than he had. He never forgot his roots and his Brooklyn-ese. He went to high school at Erasmus Hall in Brooklyn, with Larry King, Sandy Koufax, and Al Davis, who became the owner of the Oakland Raiders. We would often hear stories about what it was like growing up there. When I wrote my second book, it was very meaningful to be able to dedicate it to a man who allowed me to experience so much but who started as a nice Jewish boy in Brooklyn.

You have often said that your father was your mentor. What did you learn from him that is key to your management style today?

Bob Tisch was, first and foremost, humane. It was apparent in his day-to-day interactions with the guests of our hotels, with our team members, and his commitment to the community. As a child, I would be allowed to experience many kinds of events—charity, sports, political. His ability to be the person others sought out, whether it be for just a laugh, guidance, a favor—Bob Tisch was always there. I’ve tried to lead my life in a similar manner. With the extremely fortunate roles we’ve all been able to play, and along with my wife, Lizzie, we are proud of our ability to impact peoples lives, whether it be through the arts, medicine, or education. To have Joan and Bob Tisch as role models made the learning easy.

You and your cousins are members of the second generation to oversee Loews Corporation. How are you preparing the family’s third generation to become part of the company?

We’re fortunate that in the next generation of Tisches, three have expressed interest in working with some aspect of the corporation. We hope that when we look at their expertise and experience, we see that they are taking the time to learn their trade, that they are committed to a similar path that Andrew, Jim, and I were, which is really knowing your business and putting in the time and the effort, so that when you make decisions, they are based on experience and knowledge.

As head of Loews Hotels, what has been your proudest achievement?

When we first put together our proposal to partner with the city of Miami Beach to create what is today the Loews Miami Beach Hotel. We were up against some very strong competitors and serious odds that we were not going to be chosen. This Christmas Eve the hotel will celebrate its 18th anniversary. I’m also very proud of what we’ve created with our partners in Orlando, where we have a joint venture with Comcast NBCUniversal and opened our fifth hotel in July. It’s extremely rewarding knowing that we now have some 10,000 men and women team members who take their jobs seriously every single day, are professional, and try to understand why people are staying with us and how we can exceed their expectations. We see not only the positive, financial results of this journey, but almost more important, we understand the satisfaction the travelers who stay at our hotels experience, and we create an environment for our team members (so that they can) support themselves, their families, and their futures.

Your best mistake?

Many people, including my father, thought my dressing in drag for a video—which was used in our presentation to the committee put together by the mayor and the commissioners of Miami Beach when we first pitched the idea of the city partnering with us—was a colossal mistake. For the video, I dressed like my mother and did interviews with men and women in South Beach about the possibility of Loews Hotels and the Tisch family returning. There were 500 to 600 people at the Miami Beach Convention Center when we made the presentation. For the first 60 seconds of the video, there was silence and I truly saw my life pass in front of me. But when the video was over, people were laughing hysterically. And then we unanimously won the vote.

What’s your daily routine like?

I get up at 5 A.M., and most mornings I’m at SoulCycle by 6. A couple days a week, I will have breakfast at the Loews Regency New York Hotel. Then I’ll come into the office. My time, on any given day, is divided between Loews Hotels, Loews Corporation, a little bit of New York Giants, then community and the various boards I sit on or institutions I work closely with (Tufts University, where the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life is located; the Jonathan M. Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism at NYU; The Shed, a new cultural center in Hudson Yards, among others). Also, I get tremendous pleasure watching my wife, Lizzie, run her business, Suite1521, a highly experiential shopping concept with a salon on Madison Avenue. We enjoy trying new restaurants with our children. We are somewhat creatures of habit, and go back to many places like The Polo Bar, Jean-Georges at the Mark, ABC Kitchen, and Lure Fishbar. I try to be in bed before the 10 o’clock news.

You must be asked out everywhere.

We are. While we enjoy going out, we also like to stay home with our children. A perfect night is having a 7 o’clock dinner with the kids, maybe trying a new restaurant, then being home for the 10 o’clock news.

In terms of media consumption—do you prefer print, digital, or both?

I often say I was born on the wrong side of the digital divide. I am still very much a print guy. I need to hold a newspaper and have a little ink on my hands when I’ve consumed the news. I read five papers every morning.

Are you digitally savvy?

I certainly know how to email. I try to get back to people immediately. My goal when I go to bed is not to have unanswered emails in my inbox. I think it just shows curiosity and respect that if somebody has written to you, you answer them. I am not on social media. We have a very robust team at Loews Hotel that represents us well in terms of Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, but it is just not an area where I choose to spend my time. I will say that I enjoy and get many laughs from experiencing my wife’s social media. Her friend Kelly Ripa calls her the “Queen of Snapchat.”

How much of  your  workday do you spend on Giants matters in season?

Before our father passed away 11 years ago, he requested that my older brother, Steve, who lives in Los Angeles, take over his role and responsibilities as it relates to our partnership with the Mara family and subsequent interactions with the NFL. Steve is chairman and executive vice president of the New York Giants. My sister, Laurie, and I are on the team’s board. We are fortunate that we have first-class partners in the Maras, who have been living and breathing the NFL since 1925. John Mara is the CEO of the New York Giants. He is highly respected by his co-owners, the league, and by the Tisch family. On any given week, I will think whether I can be helpful to the team in my role as a board member. I was very honored to be co-chair with Woody Johnson (owner of the New York Jets) of the host committee for Super Bowl XLVIII. That brought a lot of visibility to New York and New Jersey and $500 million of economic activity leading up to the game.

What’s your take on the current Giants season?

We remain optimistic that we will be in the playoffs in January, in the Super Bowl in February, and that Ben McAdoo, as a rookie coach, will have demonstrated that he has the chops to allow the team to be winners.

How many Giants games do you attend?

When you are chairman of a hotel company, you travel quite a bit. So when we play night games on the road, it makes it hard to schedule those in. But for the majority of the home games, I’m there.

What are your plans for Loews in 2017?

Over the last couple of years, we’ve doubled the size of the company, in terms of the number of properties and rooms. We continue to be opportunistic as it relates to possible acquisitions and new construction, and at the same time, commit capital to upgrade our facilities to ensure that they are current. I mentioned earlier our partnership in Orlando, where we are committed with Comcast NBCUniversal to recognizing future opportunities for expansion down there.

Since writing your book, Chocolates on the Pillow Aren’t Enough: Reinventing the Customer Experience (2009), do you feel what hotels guests want today is different?

Consumers today are incredibly knowledgeable and have tremendous choices. With one click, they have the ability to stay anywhere they want. As hoteliers, we are continually finding ways to enhance our offerings and ensure our guests have expectations that not only have been met but have been exceeded, so they will stay with us again.

Your family has been very active in philanthropy. Which causes are most important to you?

Spending 25 years trying to articulate how jobs in the lodging and travel sectors are good jobs, and how they are often the first bite of the American Dream for many men and women, has been a real passion, hence the work over the past two and a half decades with various industry associations. Education is also very important to me. I have been on the board of Tufts University for the past 25 years and work closely with NYU. My wife, Lizzie, and I made a commitment to the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and endowed a gallery where visitors can see that fashion is, in fact, an art form. Being able to support Lizzie and her efforts is incredibly meaningful to me. She is an amazing partner, and I am very lucky to have her in my life.

Jon TischPhoto Credit: Jerry Pinkus