The Closing: Jonathan Tisch on power breakfasts and never winning an Emmy
Jonathan Tisch is the co-chairman of the board of Loews Corporation, a publicly traded company started by his grandparents in the 1940s that’s now worth in excess of $50 billion. The company has interests in off-shore drilling, insurance and commercial real estate with a major focus on hospitality. His family also owns 50 percent of the New York Giants. Tisch — the son of late business mogul Robert Tisch — is also chairman of Loews Hotels, a Loews subsidiary which owns and operates 19 hotels in the United States and Canada, including the Loews Regency Hotel at 540 Park Avenue. That hotel is currently undergoing a $70 million renovation, which is slated to be completed early next year. Tisch is also a co-founder of Walnut Hill Media, which invests in movies and TV projects.
What’s your full name?
Jonathan Mark Tisch.
Date of birth?
Dec. 7, 1953. Pearl Harbor Day.
Where were you born?
Atlantic City, N.J. I spent my early years in New Jersey.
Did you move around a lot as a kid?
We moved to Miami Beach for one year when I was six. Then, when I was eight, we moved to Scarsdale, N.Y., and from there it was a combination of Westchester and New York City. I went to a prep school called the Gunnery in Washington, Conn.
What was your childhood like? Were you aware that your dad and uncle were creating a business empire?
Certainly, my siblings and cousins and I were very much aware. My uncle Larry was always referred to as “the inside Tisch” and my father was “the outside Tisch.” Larry was a financial genius and my father was the one who knew everybody.… Today I run the corporation with my two cousins, Andrew and Jim. But there are seven of us — three on my side and four on my cousins’ sides. We were virtually raised as one family.
Did you ever consider staying out of the family business?
I didn’t go into Loews for many years. I graduated from Tufts University in 1976 and I was hired by WBZ, then Boston’s NBC station. I was a cinematographer and editor. I spent three years there, producing sports, public affairs and children’s shows, and was nominated for three local Emmy Awards. I didn’t win any of them. I’ve since been nominated for two more and didn’t win those either. I’m 0 for 5. I’m the Susan Lucci of my generation.
Didn’t you also have a TV show?
I had my own show for seven years [called “Beyond the Boardroom with Jonathan Tisch”]. It was the only show where CEOs were interviewed by other CEOs. I did 52 interviews in seven years.
Were you ever stonewalled by a CEO?
I’m not sure that they always gave me the answers I was hoping for. Hopefully I came back with another way of trying to get the information.
How long have you been married to your wife Lizzie?
Five and a half years. She has a business that [introduces] new designers to clients in New York City. She’s very knowledgeable about the up-and-comers of Paris and London.… She’s very attuned to what people are wearing.
How many kids do you have?
I have two kids in college from my first marriage and a step-daughter. I first got married in 1988. My ex-wife [Laura] and I are very close.
Your first wedding was a big society affair with guests like Barbara Walters. Did you go for something smaller this time around?
I’m not answering that.
Your family owns a stake in the Giants. What’s it like when they win the Super Bowl?
They’ve won twice in the last five years. It’s a truly remarkable experience. In both of our wins, the game wasn’t decided until the final seconds. When you look back at the games, you realize how much could have gone wrong, but it went right. It tells you a lot about life. For my father, a kid growing up starting with not a lot in Brooklyn, to be able to buy half of his hometown NFL franchise, it was wonderful. Until he passed away seven years ago, it brought him so much pleasure to go out to Giants Stadium on a Sunday and stand on the field.
You’re currently renovating the Loews Regency. Are you attached to that property?
It’s certainly a labor of love. The power breakfast there goes back more than 30 years to when the federal government was turning its back on New York and the city was about to go broke. The leaders of the day — including my father, Lew Rudin, Felix Rohatyn and others — would gather to talk about how to save New York. My father lived at the Regency, so they had breakfast downstairs.
There was a story a while back about whether New York hot shots would return for the breakfast after the renovation. Are you worried that they’ll find another spot?
My feeling is not only will they come back, but they will be so pleased with what they see that the fact that we inconvenienced them for 10 months will be a distant memory.
Speaking of power breakfast, are you a morning person?
I’m usually up by 5:30. I only sleep about five hours a night. Most days I’m at Soul Cycle by 6 or 7 a.m.
What are your hotel pet peeves?
I don’t think that people should be obsequious when they offer service. Don’t shout in my face that you’re giving me service.
What’s been your biggest personal gaffe?
Probably some of the dates I went on. The people I dated probably thought it was their biggest gaffe.
Who are your friends in the industry?
Billy Rudin [son of Lew Rudin] is a dear friend, Jeff Wilpon, whose family owns the Mets, and Jeff Blau at the Related Companies. I’m also fortunate to know Rob Speyer.
What’s your biggest vice?
French fries from Balthazar and Pastis.