Laurence A. Tisch, who took control of CBS in the face of a hostile takeover but whose tenure was marked by accusations that he had tarnished the network’s reputation, died Saturday. He was 80.
TISCH, A self-made billionaire who also helped found the Loews Corp., was suffering from cancer, said Candace Leeds, a Loews spokeswoman.
From 1986-95, Tisch served as chief executive officer and chairman of the board of CBS Inc., a period when the “Tiffany Network” saw its nightly newscast fall to third place and lost NFL football to the upstart Fox Network.
CBS Inc. was the target of several hostile takeover attempts in 1986, and Tisch was then praised for stepping in to seize control by spending $800 million for a 24.9 percent stake of the company.
At the time, he said it would be temporary until he found a good broadcast executive to run the network. Instead, he stayed on, his nine-year tenure marked by cost-cutting and criticism that the network had lost its way.
At CBS, Tisch instituted massive cuts in the network’s news division, laying off 230 employees, closing three news bureaus and slashing $30 million from its budget.
Despite those rocky times, Tisch was remembered fondly Saturday by “60 Minutes” executive producer Don Hewitt. “During his years as chairman of CBS, I don’t think anything gave Larry more pride than the fact that ’60 Minutes’ was the flagship broadcast of his network,” Hewitt said.
Westinghouse Electric bought CBS in 1995, and Viacom bought the network in 1999.
At Loews, Tisch oversaw a financial corporation with assets of over $70 billion, including a hotel chain, a tobacco company, an insurance firm and an offshore drilling company.
TISCH GAINED CONTROL OF LOEWS IN 1961
Tisch was 23 when he made his first investment, purchasing a 300-room winter resort in Lakewood, N.J. Two years later, his brother Bob joined him in the business, launching a lifelong partnership between the pair.
Bob was the gregarious front man, dealing with the day-to-day chores, while Tisch — known to friends as Larry — tended to handle the finances. Once, at an employee function at Loews headquarters, Tisch was introduced this way: “For those of you who have never been to the 17th floor, this is your chairman.”
As the first hotel took off, the Tisch brothers bought hotels in Atlantic City and the Catskills. Their hotel empire continued to expand, generating millions of dollars, and the Tisch brothers began investing in Loews Theaters.
In 1961, Tisch gained control of Loews and became its co-chairman with his brother. The pair soon diversified the business, successfully venturing into a variety of areas.
Tisch was born in Brooklyn on March 5, 1923. He graduated from college when he was just 18, and five years later made his New Jersey hotel purchase.
After he and his brother took over Loews, the company moved in a variety of directions. Loews acquired Lorillard, a tobacco company, and the Bulova Watch Co. Through shrewd acquisitions, Tisch built Loews’ revenues from $100 million in 1970 to more than $3 billion by a decade later.
In 2002, the corporation had revenues of more than $17 billion and assets of more than $70 billion.
Tisch was also known for his philanthropy, with major donations to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York University, the NYU Medical Center and the Wildlife Conservation Society. His $4.5 million gift to the latter created the Tisch Children’s Zoo in Central Park.
“Larry Tisch made an enormous contribution to this city and he will be sorely missed,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement. “He respresented what is best about New York and his generosity will leave a legacy that we will all try to build on.”
Tisch served as chairman of the board of trustees at NYU from 1978 to 1998. He was also a former president of the United Jewish Appeal of New York.
Tisch was survived by his wife, Wilma; four sons, Andrew, Daniel, James and Thomas; and his brother. There was no word on funeral arrangements.
James is the current president and chief executive officer of Loews, a position he assumed from his father in 1999.
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