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Dan Tishman

May 01, 2011 02:30PM

Dan Tishman is vice chairman at AECOM Technology Corporation, and chairman and CEO of Tishman Construction Corporation, one of the country’s largest construction companies. Founded as Tishman Realty & Construction in 1898 by Julius Tishman, the company has overseen the building of mega-projects like the original World Trade Center, Madison Square Garden and Disney World’s Epcot Center. In 2010, Tishman Construction was sold to AECOM Technology Corporation, a global engineering and design firm, for $245 million. Currently the company is construction manager for the new 3.1 million-square-foot tower at One World Trade Center, and Dan Tishman is on the board of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. A leading environmentalist, he also chairs the board of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

What is your full name?
Daniel Russell Tishman. I like to be called Dan.

When were you were born?
I was born in July of 1955, July 3 — ruined my parents’ Fourth of July holiday.

Where did you grow up?
Upper East Side. I grew up in an apartment building that the Tishman family built in the late ’40s.

Which building?
It’s called 885 Park Avenue. Tishman was the largest builder of residential real estate in Manhattan around World War II, [and] at that time, Park Avenue north of 57th Street was considered a wasteland. If you look at old newspaper articles, they predicted the demise of Tishman for making such a foolhardy decision as to build in an area where nobody would want to buy an apartment.

As a kid, you wanted to be a scientist. Did you know you would end up joining the family business instead?
I absolutely did not know. I grew up as a product of the construction industry. … Some of my fondest memories were of walking the World Trade Center site when that was being originally developed. But I was also very interested in the out-of-doors. So I went off to college and took a lot of science courses.

Where did you go to college?
Evergreen State College in Washington State. I ended up being offered a job by the National Audubon Society to help them develop educational programs.

So what changed?
I had a bit of an epiphany. … I just decided that if I didn’t, at that point in my life, take a stab at coming into the family business, then I probably wouldn’t, and I might regret that.

Did your family pressure you to join them?
My dad, who was running the business at the time, his philosophy was to go out, do your own thing, and the family business will always be there. He had been a math schoolteacher … after he came out of the Navy.

I see a Red Sox hat in one of your family photos.
Well, my wife, Sheryl, is from Maine.

How long have you been married?
This will be 27 years. We met at a ski lodge in Killington, Vt., during Christmas break. We knew each other eight years before we got married.

But you’re still a New York fan?
I am, and we’re a split family. Both of my sons [ages 14 and 19], unfortunately for me, related to the Red Sox and not the New York teams.

Where do you live?
In Westchester County, in Bedford. And we have a farm in Maine that was for a long time the largest commercial llama farm in New England.

That is quite a claim to fame. Why is it no longer the largest?
We don’t have a breeding program anymore. They’re just pets. We also grow our own organic vegetables, most of our food, [and] we raise chickens and pigs and sheep and have about 400 acres of managed forests.

Do you slaughter the pigs and chickens yourself?
No, but I love to eat them.

You are distantly related to the founders of Tishman Speyer, which spun off from Tishman Realty & Construction in the 1970s. Does it bother you when people mix the two companies up?
No, I think we’re used to it — they’ve confused us for so long.

Since selling the business to AECOM, has it been hard to give up control?
I’ve quite enjoyed getting to know the public company life.

What is your greatest career accomplishment so far?
I would say in my career, the greatest thing I’ve done is be involved for the last 10 years with the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site. You know, when the World Trade Center came down, Larry Silverstein called my father literally the next day and said, “John, we’re going to rebuild.”

What has that experience been like?
Oh, it’s been very emotional. I sat here in my office and watched the towers come down on the TV with my father sitting at my side.

Could you see it from here?
You could see the dust cloud.

Your father, John, is now 85. Is he fully retired?
We don’t use the R-word around my father. He likes to do special projects; there are usually two or three that he’s involved with.

How did your dad react to the attacks?
The World Trade Center was one of three or four projects that in a 50-year career he always went back to as one of the centerpieces of what he had done. So to see them disappear for him was very emotional. But then from that … came a real dedication to want to have as much a hand in the putting back of what was destroyed as we could, because [we] felt that was the most important thing we could do to say to the world: “Listen, you might be able to knock us down, but you can’t knock us out.”

Do you have any regrets about the way your career has gone?
There are moments when I think maybe a life as a scientist would have been a little less stressful, less responsibility. But I like running things. I probably regret not being able to say no — I tend to get myself a little overly involved in things. But I don’t really have many regrets.

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