James S. Tisch

Like father, like son: A Tisch family story (Fortune, 2004)

June 17, 2012: 9:30 AM ET

Editor's note: Every Sunday, Fortune publishes a story from our magazine archives. In honor of Father's Day, this week we turn to a 2004 feature on the father-to-son CEO succession story within the Tisch family, managers of the conglomerate Loews Corp. 

When he died last year, Larry Tisch left behind a great family fortune, a troubled company, and a long shadow over his admiring family. Now it's up to his son Jimmy to fix the company -- and step out from under the shadow.

By Katrina Brooker

FORTUNE -- Early on the morning of Aug. 15, 2002, Laurence Alan Tisch told his family that he was dying. He was sitting at his desk on the seventh floor of Loews Corp. headquarters in New York City, as he did most mornings. His office was sparse -- beige walls, a sensible gray carpet. There was little evidence of his legendary career as one of the great business tycoons of his day. Here and there -- on a windowsill, in a corner -- a smattering of items hinted at it: a CBS Sports baseball bat, a matchbook from the Laurel-in-the-Pines hotel, a Loews human resources manual. On the couch across from his desk, oddly out of character, were two teddy bears. No one could remember where they came from.

That morning Larry Tisch came into the office early with Billie, his wife of five decades, and summoned the rest of his family: his brother, Bob, and his four sons, Andrew, Danny, Jimmy, and Tommy. No one except his wife knew why they'd been called. But they all knew it was serious; they'd never been summoned like this before. Now gathered, they waited for him to speak.

Larry did not say the words. He sat upright behind his desk, his eyes closed, as Billie uttered the technical terms: "metastasis," "chemotherapy," "secondary tumor." Tisch had gastroesophageal cancer. It was inoperable.

When Billie finished talking, the room was quiet. The news was an unexpected blow. Though 79, Tisch had seemed quite healthy. He'd gone to the doctor's the day before because he had a slight pain in his side. He thought he'd cracked a rib.

For decades Larry Tisch had been his family's patriarch, the dominant figure in the lives of everyone in that room. At the age of 23, Larry had started a business with his 20-year-old brother, Bob. Over the next six decades, the Tisch brothers built one of America's great family fortunes, estimated at more than $4 billion. Two of Larry's sons, Jimmy and Andrew, along with Bob's son, Jonathan, had spent their careers at Loews (L), working side by side with their fathers. Members of the younger generation at Loews regularly popped their heads into Larry's office to solicit his advice or bounce an idea off him. It was hard to imagine what life would be like without Larry Tisch.

Not that Larry was about to let anyone dwell on that. When he finally opened his eyes and looked around at his family, he said very simply, "Okay. Let's go." That had always been his way: terse, concise, abrupt. Without much else said, his family trooped out of his office and did what he expected them to do: get back to work.

Larry Tisch died last November. He left behind a reputation as one of the greatest value investors and dealmakers ever, as well as a staggering philanthropic legacy: There must be a dozen buildings in New York with the Tisch name on them, including the Tisch Hospital at New York University, the Tisch Galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Tisch Children's Zoo in Central Park. And to his everlasting credit, he left behind a family that has none of the friction and strife that so often divides wealthy families. Larry Tisch's values -- both in business and in life -- appear to have been completely embraced by the next generation of Tisches.

But Larry Tisch also left behind a company -- Loews -- that the next generation now runs and that has some real problems. Last year Loews lost more than $600 million (on $16.5 billion in revenues), and though it is on track to do better this year, it is far from clear that the next generation has succeeded in turning the ship around. The Loews that exists today is an unwieldy conglomerate, with a hodgepodge of assets that include Lorillard Tobacco, CNA Financial, and Bulova Corp. Most of those are companies Larry Tisch bought decades ago, and they once made the family billions of dollars. But today, almost across the board, they are struggling. Loews stock, currently around $58 a share, trades roughly where it did two years ago.

In the short term the task for Larry's heirs is to fix the immediate problems facing each of Loews' companies. Over the long haul, though, the task ahead is more difficult. They need to come up with their own vision for what Loews ought to be, separate and apart from the vision Larry Tisch laid out almost 60 years ago. If they can do that, they'll have put their own stamp on Larry Tisch's legacy.

It's a brilliant early spring morning and James S. Tisch -- known to everyone as Jimmy -- is at work. Though Larry Tisch has been dead four months, Jimmy hasn't moved into his father's old office; it sits empty beyond the wall behind him. It's not yet 8 a.m., but Jimmy is already in the thick of his workday. The phone rings. It's an executive at one of Loews' companies, calling to give him a sales forecast. More

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