Loews Hotels Chief Promotes Citizen Activism

Jonathan Tisch is an author, a TV host, a media mogul, an NFL team executive and one of the hardest-working and most passionate supporters of many causes, especially tourism and his hometown, New York City. That brand of citizen activism he exemplifies is the focus of his third book, Citizen You, which will be released next month by Crown Publishers, a unit of Random House.

“There’s a sentiment crossing our country and the world about the need for everyone to become involved,” says Tisch, who’s also chairman and CEO of Loews Hotels and co-chairman of parent company Loews Corp. “I felt it was the right time to put some of these ideas in writing so people can incorporate them into their own lives.”

In addition to his personal philanthropy and activism, Tisch promotes his philosophies in several ways. Loews Hotels recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of its Good Neighbor Policy, believed to be the hotel industry’s first chain-wide community outreach program. He is also the benefactor of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at his alma mater, Tufts University.

Based on the success of his previous business books (The Power of We: Succeeding Through Partnerships and Chocolates on the Pillow Aren’t Enough: Reinventing the Customer Experience), his new work will be released as a general interest book. As busy as he is, we were able to spend some time with Tisch on the phone to discuss the new book:

Where did you get the idea for the book?
The themes in the book are ideas my family has focused on for many decades. To watch the evolution of my parents and my aunt and uncle in their understanding of one’s role in community, and then have that thought process filter down to the seven offspring in my generation, is something I’ve been able to witness for decades. The ability to put it into a book has come about due to the success of the first two books and also the ideas that are being taught at the Jonathan Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University.

Who was most responsible for instilling this attitude in you?
It was four people—my father and my uncle and my mother and my aunt. Bob, my father, and Larry, my uncle, were two guys who grew up in Brooklyn who were able to use their intelligence and guts and little bit of luck to grow a few hotels into what is today Loews Corporation. From a very early age, I was able to see how a life is completed by the ability to help others in the community.

Any examples?
There was always so much giving. I remember when my father and uncle built the Americana on 7th Avenue [in New York City] that is now the Sheraton. Every Thanksgiving we would hold a dinner for those who were physically disabled. Also, my maternal grandfather would bring disabled World War II vets to Giants games.

Given the current economic situation, can’t it be a challenge motivating people to activism?
The stark reality is when government has fewer assets to offer then it becomes the responsibility of the private sector to find ways to make a difference. It’s sad but true that many people can’t find a job in the field in which they have historically made a living, but many of them are now turning their free time and capabilities into service to community-based organizations. That’s a positive result out of these difficult times. There are so many challenges, but governments simply can’t do it all. So instead of sitting back and trying to not take stock of where we are, we’re seeing this movement toward active citizenship.

How is this trend manifested across generations?
The Millennials, the kids coming out of college now, were raised with the expectations that they must constantly demonstrate that they care. They see a planet where potentially their children and grandchildren will not have the same access to the resources we had in our generation. They’re being pressed into service out of need, but also out of desire. They grow up and leave college and they don’t like what they see and want to make it better.

What is the hotel industry’s role?
When I look at various businesses and industries, I’m very proud of what we do in the lodging industry. About every major hotel company—as well as smaller chains and independent properties—does something in the community. We need a tremendous number of people to be our co-workers, and our co-workers tend to live in the communities in which we operate our businesses. As hoteliers we’re very good at showing that we care about these communities.

Talk about your writing process.
This will be the third collaboration with my co-author Karl Weber. I come with the ideas for the books and do some of the research and find some of the people we want to profile. He does the writing and I do editing.

How long did it take to write this one?
From the moment it was a go until it is published will be about nine months.

How are you able to juggle so many tasks and interests at once?
I surround myself with very good people. Whether at Loews or my entertainment company or the book writing or the TV show, I have people who understand where we can take the potential of each operation. I’m a believer in giving them the tools and letting them do the job.

How do you view the state of the hotel industry?
The recovery is fragile. It’s not across the board or even. That said, if we can continue to grow the overall economy the travel and tourism piece will naturally follow.

There are still great concerns about credit and concerns about the debt overhang in our industry. Until you see unemployment come down and housing prices stabilize, I worry about robust recovery like we we’ve seen coming out of other recessions.

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