Tisch, Preston Robert (“Bob”)

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Tisch, Preston Robert (“Bob”)

(b. 29 April 1926 in New York City; d. 15 November 2005 in New York City), billionaire businessman and philanthropist who, with his brother, Laurence Alan Tisch, made Loews Corporation into one of the nation’s largest diversified financial conglomerates; served as the U.S. Postmaster General; and co-owned the New York Giants football team.

Tisch was born in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn into a traditional, middle-class Jewish family. His parents came from Russia. Tisch’s father, Abraham Solomon Tisch (originally Tischinsky), owned a garment-manufacturing company and two summer camps in New Jersey, which he operated with his wife, Sayde Brenner Tisch. As teenagers, Tisch (called “Bob”) and his only sibling, Larry, worked at the camps, valuable experience for the career paths the two later followed. Tisch spent his first year of high school at DeWitt Clinton in the Bronx and then transferred to and graduated from Erasmus Hall in Brooklyn. After briefly attending Bucknell University, he joined the U.S. Army in 1943, serving in World War II. Tisch enrolled in the University of Michigan after his discharge in 1944, earning a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1948. That same year he married Joan Hyman, also a Michigan graduate, and went into business with his brother.

In 1946 Larry Tisch, then a student at the Harvard Law School, persuaded his parents and a family friend to finance the purchase of Laurel-in-the-Pines, a resort in Lakewood, New Jersey, that had not been financially successful. The Tisches refurbished the hotel, adding amenities such as a swimming pool, and quickly turned the business around. By the time Bob Tisch joined the company in 1948, the resort was thriving and soon became the source of capital for similar ventures.

Building on their success with Laurel-in-the-Pines, the Tisch family began investing in small hotels in the Atlantic City, New Jersey, area. Success spawned expansion, and soon the brothers were buying into Manhattan hotels, always using the same business plan: identify underachieving but promising properties, improve them physically, market them heavily, and eventually turn them into prosperous concerns. In 1956 the brothers decided to build their own hotel, the Americana in Bal Harbour, Florida. They financed the $17-million project themselves and did $12 million in business the first year, in large measure because of Bob Tisch’s marketing acumen in attracting convention business.

With capital generated from their flourishing hotel holdings, the brothers began to acquire an ownership stake in Loews Corporation, which was in the process of separating its theaters from its filmmaking unit according to an antitrust decree. The brothers were not interested in the Loews theaters but rather in the prime real estate locations many of the theaters occupied. In the early 1960s they gained control of Loews and then tore down the old Loews Lexington theater to build the eight-hundred-room Summit on the site, the first hotel erected in Manhattan in thirty years. They followed this success in 1962 with construction of the Americana—at fifty stories the world’s tallest hotel at the time. More hotels followed, and by the late 1960s the brothers sought to recast Loews Corporation into a diversified financial conglomerate.

Over the next quarter century the brothers acquired, in whole or in part, a variety of companies, including Lorillard Tobacco, CNA Financial Corporation, the watchmaker Bulova, the oil company Diamond Offshore Drilling, and the gas-transmission company Boardwalk Pipelines. By 1980 Loews had revenues in excess of $4.5 billion and earnings of more than $200 million. Its success was largely responsible for Tisch’s accumulating a net worth of $2.7 billion, ranking him 186th on Forbes 2004 listing of the world’s richest people.

At the height of his business career, Tisch took a sabbatical of sorts, accepting in 1986 President Ronald Reagan’s nomination to serve as the U.S. Postmaster General. His appointment was based more on ability than politics, for Tisch, being the crafty businessman, had made contributions to both major parties over the years. Among those who benefited from his largesse were the Democratic senators Paul Simon (Illinois) and Al Gore (Tennessee), the Republican senator Arlen Specter (Pennsylvania), and the Republican member of the House of Representatives Jack Kemp (New York).

The wisdom of the Reagan appointment was apparent almost immediately. Tisch quickly brought his considerable marketing skills to bear, creating a separate department of philatelic affairs. By issuing colorful and expressive stamps that were theme focused or carried the likeness of well-known personalities, the department turned the arcane pastime of stamp collecting into a popular hobby, creating in the process an important source of revenue for the postal system. Other innovations involving the sales of prepackaged stamps followed. During his brief tenure, Tisch was noted for restoring confidence in the integrity of the postal service on Capitol Hill and with the public. He returned to the Loews Corporation in 1988 as president and chief executive officer to resume his career as a consummate hotelier and a giant in the hospitality industry.

Widely admired for his business savvy, Tisch also had his critics. Some questioned the Loews acquisition of Lorillard, noting that the Tisch brothers considered the take-over just another business deal and had no qualms about the public health implications of the company’s principal product, cigarettes. In Three Blind Mice: How the TV Networks Lost Their Way (1991), a detailed analysis of the inner workings of the three major television networks, the author Ken Auletta noted that many directors of the board of the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) were suspicious of the Tisch brothers, who in the 1980s acquired a 25 percent stake in the company. Some directors considered the brothers—Larry was the chief executive officer of CBS for a time, and Bob was appointed to the board—entrepreneurial businessmen who were more interested in turning a profit than in improving the nation’s premier television network and acknowledged leader in network news. Although Bob Tisch was regarded as the brother with “the more human face,” some CBS executives viewed both with contempt.

In 1991 Tisch’s career took a different trajectory when he became co-owner of the New York Giants football team. Tisch scaled back his other business activities and became a dedicated sports executive, serving as the Giants’ chairman and co-chief executive officer until his death. Wellington Mara, the other co-owner of the Giants, died on 25 October 2005, just three weeks before Tisch. As co-owner, Tisch became one of the most respected business leaders in sports. He was a fully engaged team owner who contributed his expertise to front-office management, helping streamline the Giants’ business practices. He was a regular at his Giants Stadium office and attended every home and away game as his health permitted. Of all the jobs Tisch ever held, this was the one he enjoyed most.

Tisch matched his business accomplishments with comparable achievements in philanthropy and public service. A legendary giver, Tisch made multimillion dollar contributions to numerous organizations, including the University of Michigan, New York University, Duke University, and New York City’s Central Park Zoo. He played a major role in New York’s business and civic life, serving an unprecedented nineteen years as head of the city’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and ten years as a founding member of the board and chairman of City-Meals-on-Wheels. In 2000 Tisch founded Take the Field, a nonprofit organization that built forty-three state-of-the-art athletic facilities for New York City public schools. He raised more than $130 million in public and private funding for the project. Tisch died in his Manhattan home of brain cancer, leaving his wife of fifty-seven years and their three children. David Oliver, writing for a Giants fan website, said that for all his success and immense wealth, Tisch was a caring man, a man of the people “in a way few owners of any enterprise are.”

Ken Auletta, Three Blind Mice: How the TV Networks Lost Their Way (1991), discusses in some detail the Tisch brothers’ involvement with CBS. Obituaries are in the New York Times (16 Nov. 2005) and Washington Post (18 Nov. 2005).

James Cicarelli