This is the grave of Bob Tisch.
Born in 1926 in Brooklyn, Preston Robert Tisch (always Bob, who would want to be called Preston except maybe for Preston Sturges) grew up in a Jewish family. By this time, it was his grandparents who had migrated; his father’s side from modern Ukraine and his mother’s from Poland. His father owned garment factories. Sure the labor conditions were fantastic in those things…….In any case, the family had money and were upwardly mobile. He and his brother Lawrence (more famous, but we will get to him soon) had to work at the summer camps their father bought in New Jersey. They were super cheap too. They moved every three years due to offers to get a few months of free rent due to offers from owners. So the kids went to a bunch of different schools. He attended Bucknell briefly, then joined the Army, then went to the University of Michigan, graduating in 1948. He was an Economics major but really he wasn’t interested in the field–he was interested in business and it just seemed like a way to make money, even if it probably really wasn’t. He was the kind of guy who would go to University of Michigan football games, not to attend, but rather to sell keychains in order to make a little money.
In 1946, Tisch’s brother Larry got his parents to buy into a New Jersey hotel that was for sale. He and Bob decided to run it themselves. They fancied it up and also tried a bunch of silly gimmicks, such as importing reindeer during Christmas for sleigh rides. It worked. They started going into hotels generally, especially in run down areas with potential, which included both Atlantic City and New York. They’d buy ratholes, fix them up, and give people a reason to stay there.
This became a very successful hotel empire. By the 1960s, this was a rapidly expanding business that was combining hotels with convention centers. In fact, Tisch and his brother were among those who really pioneered in the idea of the hotel/convention center combo, such as the Americana Hotel in Bal Harbor in 1957. This company became Loews Corporation, one of the nation’s largest hotel chains. He was the kind of guy who was extremely hands-on in the company, the way first generation corporate builders so often are before the company gets in the hands of the consultants and middle managers. In fact, at least at times Tisch personally hired the bellhops in the hotels because he wanted the best since they would be the first people that customers would see. To me, this is like Jimmy Carter spending time as president worrying about the color of the carpet in the Oval Office, but again, this kind of detail is not uncommon for a first generation capitalist. He and his brother expanded their operations over time, buying up cigarette companies, insurance companies, even watchmakers. Loews became one of those gigantic Omnicorp companies with its tentacles into everything.
Tisch was kind of an interesting guy for a capitalist, who I find inherently uninteresting group of people. He had a lot of energy and he was willing to use it for civic purposes. It started during the 1970s New York fiscal crisis, when all the major players from both capital and labor met at one of his hotels for breakfast and he found it all very interesting and thought he could contribute to solving the city’s many problems. Incidentally, some have said that Tisch came up with the term “power breakfast” when this was going on. That’s unconfirmed, but someone had to come up with it, so who knows. When David Dinkins was mayor of New York, Tisch served as his unofficial ambassador in Washington, using his wealth and connections to open lines of communication between the mayor and key DC people. He chaired committees to host the 1976 and 1980 Democratic National Convention. Later, he took on a huge project to raise money to rebuild the athletic fields of New York public schools. So these are all pretty good things for a rich guy.
Now, Bob Tisch was a Democrat, as you have gathered. And given his support of Dinkins, a pretty liberal one for a capitalist. But he was the kind of rich Democrat who was more than happy to work with pretty conservative Republicans. That very much included Ronald Reagan. In fact, under Reagan, Tisch became Postmaster General!! Why? I honestly don’t know. No one really cares about this position unless a monster like Louis DeJoy runs it, so it’s not as if there’s a lot written about these appointees, especially in the twentieth century, when the position became less important. He didn’t stick in the job very long either. He was appointed in August 1986 and he left in March 1988. He came up with the idea of buying stamps by phone. I don’t know if still exists or whether it really made sense in the first place, but it was his big legacy there. He also really pushed for the creation of commemorative stamps, which are profitable for the Postal Service since people don’t use them much and just keep them in their collections.
In 1991, Tisch and his brother bought a big chunk of the New York Giants from the Mara family. The Maras still held some parts of it. Tisch was a very active owner and the Giants were pretty successful for most of his tenure there. He was on the Finance and Super Bowl Policy committees. The Giants are one of the marquee franchises–despite recent performance that is, uh, not great. But the Giants owner does need to be a leader to make up for the indifference the league has for teams such as the Cardinals or Panthers that combine a lack of success with no one really caring about them either. But the Giants, they are always going to get viewers. So Tisch pushed forward the Giants as a leading franchise pretty successfully, including by raising ticket prices. At that time, this probably made sense since people wanted to watch the team. Today…….
Tisch died in 2005 of brain cancer, at the age of 79. In fact, he died three weeks after Wellington Mara, one of the other co-owners.
Bob Tisch is buried in Westchester Hills Cemetery, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.
If you would like this series to visit hotel capitalists, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Conrad Hilton is in Dallas and William Becker, co-founder of Motel 6, is in Santa Barbara, California, presumably at a cut-rate cemetery. Previous posts in this series are archived here and here.