Tisch The Younger Takes His TurnBruce Hager
There are few things Bob Tisch loves more than working a crowd. So the gregarious co-chief executive of Loews Corp. was beaming as he marched into Washington's Convention Center on June 13. The event was a black-tie fund-raiser for President Bush, a gathering of more than 4,000 movers and shakers. Never mind that Tisch is a Democrat; he knows everyone. But after scanning the room for a familiar face, his grin suddenly turned to chagrin. "I've never seen these people before," he groaned. "They're all new." A few moments later, as Tisch walked by a small knot of guests, a fellow partygoer called out: "Hiya Larry!"
Preston Robert Tisch, 65, has always been the "other" Tisch, friendly second fiddle to his steely brother Laurence. Although they built Loews into a $12.6 billion-a-year conglomerate together, Larry's financial wizardry has long overshadowed Bob's achievements in operations. While Larry became a household name when he took over as chief executive of CBS Inc. in 1986, Bob's closest brush with fame was an undistinguished stint as Postmaster General.
MAJOR CRISIS. But now, at an age when many executives think about retiring to the links, Bob Tisch has begun stepping out of his older brother's shadow. This spring, he paid more than $75 million for 50% of the New York Giants pro football team. Not long before, New York Mayor David N. Dinkins appointed him the city's Ambassador to Washington, a fluffy-sounding job that actually carries some heavy responsibility. With his hometown in a major fiscal crisis, Tisch is lobbying hard to increase federal aid for New York. As chairman of the New York City Chamber of Commerce, a job he took last summer, he is also busy trying to stem the tide of companies exiting the city.
Tisch's new activities have led New York gossips to suggest that the two brothers have had a split. But they both deny it. "There's never been a conflict between Bob and myself," says Larry, 68. "But that doesn't mean we have the same enthusiasm for everything we do."
A lifelong football fan, Tisch has been trying to buy a team for years. He looked at the New England Patriots in 1988 but balked at the estimated $80 million asking price. More recently, he tried to land a franchise in Baltimore. "It was an emotional buy," he says of the Giants, adding: "I wanted something for my kids to enjoy." How much he will enjoy it remains to be seen. In mid-July, the Giants start defending their Super Bowl championship with 13 unsigned veterans, a quarterback quandary, and a rookie head coach. But Tisch is optimistic. "We'll have a very good team, good enough to make the playoffs," he promises.
Like Larry, who has his hands full with CBS, Bob Tisch is taking a less active role at Loews these days. Responsibility for daily operations belongs mainly to Larry's sons James and Andrew, as well as Bob's son Jonathan. But Tisch's schedule isn't getting any lighter.
A typical week in June begins with him attending the Persian Gulf war parade with Mayor Dinkins, sitting down for a big Convention & Visitors Bureau luncheon, and joining scores of screaming kids at a children's museum party.
On Wednesday, Tisch heads to Giants Stadium for a caucus with co-owner Wellington Mara. He and Mara mainly use this weekly meeting to sign checks and discuss ways to boost the club's income. Although the Giants make their home in the nation's largest market, they are "about in the middle" of the league in terms of profitability, Tisch says. The Giants have already found one way to raise their income: They recently decreed that season-ticket holders must buy $52 worth of pre-season tickets as well. Tisch and Mara are holding off on other options until next year.
POPPING CASHEWS. Once he and Mara are finished, Tisch hops back into a chauffeured car for a ride over to Teterboro Airport, where his Canadair Challenger 601 is waiting. Tisch paces about the cabin in his stocking feet, popping unsalted cashews against his diet doctor's advice. "I lost 24 pounds but gained 10 back," he says, explaining why he hasn't returned the doctor's recent calls.
Tisch is on his way to Washington to put in some good words for New York. With AIDS, homelessness, crack, and a $3.5 billion budget gap, it's even worse off than during the 1970s' fiscal crisis. He knows there's only so much he can do--and even that probably won't be enough. "The whole Northeast is in bad shape," he says. "But New York . . . ." He finishes by shaking his head.
Tisch takes his nonpaying "ambassadorship" seriously. Thursday morning, after breakfast at the Loews L'Enfant Plaza, he stops by the New York lobbyist's office for a 45-minute chat with Director Judy Chesser. They discuss funds to repair New York City's bridges as well as money for AIDS services. Next he's off to see House Speaker Thomas S. Foley. With a transportation bill pending, Tisch reminds him that New York desperately needs bridge-repair money. "Bob is a soft sell," says Foley aide Thomas R. Nides. "He won't come in with a laundry list. He can get the message across without it."
Later, Tisch dazzles a couple of hotel guests with his nice-guy routine. Leaving for the Republican fund-raiser, he meets Tim and Nancy Haley in the elevator. Since Tim is wearing a tux, Tisch guesses they're going to the same party and offers a lift. The Haleys' eyes widen when they see a stretch limo waiting outside. "Um, who are you?" asks Tim, a Colorado rose grower. "My company runs the hotel," Tisch explains nonchalantly as they climb in. "Tell me what you do."
HELPING FATHER. After dinner, Tisch jets back into Teterboro, arriving at 11:30 p.m. There is no rest for the party-weary. The next day, he's up to give an 8 a.m. breakfast speech for the New York City Chamber of Commerce. Exhausted, he calls it a day at 3 p.m. Tisch and Joan, his wife of 43 years, head for their weekend home in Harrison, N. Y.
It's a long way from Flatbush, the middle-class section of Brooklyn where Tisch grew up. Back then, Bob and Larry helped their father at his Manhattan clothing factory on Union Square. By Bob's senior year at the University of Michigan, Larry had persuaded their father and a business partner to buy a New Jersey hotel called Laurel-in-the-Pines. Spruced up, the hotel became a success, and the Tisch brothers were in business. They built or bought other hotels in Atlantic City and Miami before turning to New York City in 1960.
Since then, they have added tobacco, insurance, watches, oil rigs and tankers, and a TV network. While Larry concentrates on buying assets, Bob oversees them and makes sure they run smoothly. The one exception is CBS, where Larry has taken the reins from the start.Until now, Bob Tisch's lone experience in Washington was two years as Postmaster General in the mid-1980s. The reviews are mixed. Tisch says he improved morale and negotiated a union contract without having to arbitrate. Critics contend he caved in too easily to labor demands instead of seeking needed concessions. "I think the unions cried many tears when he left," says Gene A. Del Polito, executive director of the Third Class Mail Assn., a trade group.
Now, on the eve of his first football season as an owner, Tisch is hoping to keep Giants fans happy. First task: winning the preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills, the team they defeated last January in the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, as Tisch well knows, that will be a whole lot easier than putting New York City back on its feet.
BOB TISCH: FROM HOTELS TO HUDDLES
BORN Apr. 29, 1926, Brooklyn
EDUCATION B.A., University of Michigan
FAMILY Wife Joan; three children
POSITION President and co-chief executive of
Loews Corp., which includes hotels, CNA Insurance, and Lorillard cigarettes. His 14% share is worth $966 million
OWNER 50% share of New York Giants football team, worth an estimated
CURRENT OUTSIDE ACTIVITIES INCLUDE:Chairman, New York City Partnership Chairman, New York Chamber of Commerce New York City's Ambassador to Washington