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REBUILDING HISTORY Hotel magnate Jonathan Tisch talks to Washington Life about his family’s storied history in the hospitality industry and returning to Washington, D.C. to assume ownership of the Madison Hotel, now known as the Loews Madison Hotel.
LEFT: Donald R. Wilson Jr., Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Jonathan Tisch at the March 1, 2013 groundbreaking of Loews Chicago. RIGHT: Loews Madison Hotel lobby.
which was torn down later. In 1959 my father took over the Loews theaters that had separated from MGM, — not to show movies but because he was interested in the land for a potential hotel chain. We moved to New York and in 1963 opened the former Summit Hotel on 53rd and Lexington, and that was the previous site of the Loews Lexington. Later, they bought C&A Insurance and that became Loews Corp., with assets of $80 billion and five operating subsidiaries. My father and uncle were actually in the middle market fashion industry and just saw an opportunity to take over a hotel. At its core, taking care of kids in summer camp is the same as taking care of guests. WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO RETURN TO WASHINGTON? We managed the Madison before. We wanted to be in the D.C. market, and this was a positive opportunity to do that because we
knew the building already and the previous owners did a wonderful job transforming it. Our history in D.C. goes back to the 1970s when we operated the Loews L’Enfant Plaza Hotel. We were there for 25 years. We briefly operated The Jefferson Hotel. The Madison property gives us a secure position to stay in the market for years to come. THERE HAS BEEN MUCH INTEREST FROM PEOPLE IN NEW YORK WANTING TO OPEN HOTELS IN WASHINGTON. WHY DO YOU THINK NEW YORKERS ARE FASCINATED WITH WASHINGTON? Washington is the political spoke of the country. If you want to have a sense of how business works, then you need to understand Washington. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that two of the biggest names in the hotel business, Marriott and Hilton, are headquartered in Washington. Whatever your political interests, it happens in D.C.When you combine
that with New York City being the center of the world, there’s a lot of access there to get things done. It’s a very important connection that can’t be ignored. WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR THE LOEWS MADISON HOTEL? We spend a lot of time understanding partnerships and creating relationships with guests, co-workers and the community. That’s a formula we plan to follow at Loews Madison. Washington is important because it’s the nation’s capital; it’s a destination that people will always come to.As we build our infrastructure in terms of properties, if we want a national footprint — which we are actively working towards — the D.C. market is vital. We brought in Paul Whetsell as president and CEO and are now activating this strategy to be in major markets including Boston and Chicago where we’re under construction on 400 rooms built
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PHOTOS COURTE SY LO EWS HOTELS & RE SO RTS
HOW DID YOUR FAMILY GET INTO THE HOTEL BUSINESS? Back in the 1940s, my grandparents Sadie and Al Tisch, my father Bob and mother Martha took over a summer camp in Lakewood, N.J., called Camp Lincoln Laurel. A couple of years later, they leased a hotel in Lakewood called the Laurel in the Pines. That started their affinity and ability to offer hospitality in the late ’40s, expanding into Atlantic City where I was born in 1953.Their desire to do more took them to Bal Harbour, Fla., in 1957 where they opened Americana Bal Harbour, which many thought was pretty crazy because much of the hotel activity was farther south in Miami Beach. The Americana opened with 700 rooms, 2,500 square feet of meeting space and really changed the nature of how people looked at big hotels. It was quite successful right from the beginning. It was sold in 1972 and became the Sheraton Bal Harbour,
FROM LEFT: Loews Hotels & Resorts’ storied past includes famous guests Sophia Loren and President Jimmy Carter at the Loews Regency in New York City.
from scratch, and San Francisco. We are very aware of the role that technology plays in the travel experience today so we’re making sure the lobby experience both from a social and technology understanding meets the guest’s needs. We also want to make sure it’s an environment where people can be social and have a “power breakfast,” a term born at Loews Regency in New York City, but without being overbearing. THE LOEWS MADISON WAS KNOWN FOR ITS CONNECTION TO CELEBRITIES LIKE FRANK SINATRA AND FORMER PRESIDENTS. HOW DO YOU PLAN TO RECLAIM THAT HISTORIC GLAMOUR? We’ve been in the hotel business close to 75 years. We know how to put on events and attract people, and we’re comfortable making sure all of our guests, whether bold name or not, are comfortable. Once we get the rhythm of the property, we’ll be bringing in bold names from politics and Hollywood.We’ll be organizing events with various business segments that Loews is connected to like the NewYork Giants, which I’m hesitant to mention because of the Redskins, and my brother who is a movie producer in L.A. Or this could be another spot for power breakfasts.We still feel that we can create a climate at the Loews Madison that will
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reclaim a bit of history, but also look to the future for people making news today. AS HOST OF “BEYOND THE BOARDROOM,” YOU INTERVIEWED THE BEST IN THE BUSINESS. WHAT HAVE YOU GLEANED FROM THESE INTERVIEWS? Here was a chance to create a show that hadn’t been done before: CEOs being interviewed by a CEO. I tried to have a conversation with the 56 interviews I did over the seven-year lifespan of the show. We were able to discuss aspects of life and pivotal moments about our next roles. Dick Parsons was head of Time Warner, at the time the largest company in the world with 270,000 employees, and I thought it was interesting to get his perspective with questions from someone facing similar issues like capital allocation. If you asked about compelling issues that came from their experience, to a person, they said they couldn’t do it by themselves. You need to build strong organizations around you, make sure that people with a direct line to you understand the message. Because the air gets a little thin up there, you want to make sure you’re getting an honest read on a situation, and that people working with you are articulating a vision that everyone can buy into. It was fascinating to
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hear stories of how they got started. No one starts at the top. HOW HAS YOUR BUSINESS PHILOSOPHY EVOLVED OVER THE YEARS? I’ve learned from people I respect in the industry, like Bill Marriott in Washington, the notion that our industry has become so fractured in terms of product offerings, with so many subsets of different levels of hospitality. One room costs $500 a night, and then another next door at a smaller, boutique hotel costs $150 a night. But at the core, they’re doing the same thing at every hotel: respecting that people want to feel safe and secure, are getting value for what they’re paying for and feeling like they’re not being taken advantage of. YOU’VE BEEN VERY ACTIVE IN NEW YORK’S PHILANTHROPIC CIRCLES. DO YOU PLAN TO CONTINUE THAT IN WASHINGTON? It’s going to take some time to understand where we can make a difference. We have a not-for-profit called Donors Choose, which is a fantastic organization and website that allows coworkers and guests to make a difference in the lives of students all over the country. We’ll continue to pursue programs with them and we’ll see what other groups we can work with. It’s too
early to make any announcements now, but community is very important to us; it’s one of the tenets of our company. YOU’VE ACCOMPLISHED SO MUCH IN YOUR CAREER. WHAT OTHER GOALS DO YOU HAVE, PERSONALLY AND PROFESSIONALLY? We will continue the growth plan at Loews Hotel under the leadership of President and CEO Paul Whetsell, by continuing to look at other properties and as hotels become part of Loews. I turn 60 in December, and between my commitments to the corporation and hotels, the Super Bowl coming to Met Life Stadium, my other responsibilities here in New York and my family, every day is different. But it’s very enjoyable. I’m very fortunate to have fantastic partners in my wife and cousins, and children who understand my craziness and hopefully learn from me. HOW DO YOU LIKE TO SPEND YOUR DOWN TIME? I go to Soul Cycle and spin class sometimes at 6 a.m. and work out with weights a couple times a week. No golf, no tennis; Soul Cycle is 45 minutes of very intense exercise and you’re done.
Published on Apr 3, 2013
REBUILDING HISTORY: Hotel magnate Jonathan Tisch talks to Washington Life about his family’s storied history in the hospitality industry and...