Appropriately, Laurence A. Tisch died Saturday, Nov. 15, 2003, at Tisch Hospital at the New York University Medical Center. The Tisch brothers (his brother Preston Robert, known as Bob) gave NYU many millions of dollars, and there are several NYU buildings named Tisch, including the Tisch School of the Arts. Tisch also gave $4.5 million dollars to restore the lovely Tisch Children's Zoo in Central Park. He was president of the United Jewish Appeal for a while. You get the point. Tuxedos, cigars, money, money, money.
Now we're going to cut the crap and talk about why it's so hard to get a job in broadcasting these days, why salaries have come down since the 1980's, benefits have been slashed, and huge numbers of jobs have been lost, and people thrown out of work.
In business, Larry Tisch was a bottom feeder. He bought cheap, built value any way he could, and sold for profit. Ethics and values were words he didn't comprehend.
Larry Tisch owned a company called Loews Corp. Loews owned Lorillard, the cigarette company, and Bulova, the watch company. With other acquisitions, including a hotel chain, an insurance firm and an offshore drilling company, Tisch grew Loews' revenue from $100 million in 1970 to more than $3 billion in 10 years. Cigarettes, offshore drilling -- good stuff to lay the groundwork to destroy a broadcast network.
In 1986, CBS was subject to several hostile takeover attempts. William S. Paley, the founder of CBS, was still top dog at that time. Ted Turner took a crack at it, but was fended off. But nothing could stop Tisch. He spent $800 million to buy a 24.9% ownership position in CBS, Inc. Just think about that price. Peanuts. But this was LBO time, and CBS had been weakened by mismanagement.
Tisch somehow pulled the wool over Bill Paley's eyes, and convinced Paley that he, Tisch, was a white knight. Paley actually publicly supported what was a hostile takeover. "I respect and admire him." said Paley at the time. He must have been dropping acid.
Tisch, beaming in triumph, announced in a deliberate lie that he would only serve as chairman of CBS until he found a tiptop broadcast executive to run the place. This was meant to calm the troops, and as you must learn, most of the troops will believe anything if it allows them to retreat into their state of denial.
Tisch hung around for 9 years, and I think you can call those years a time of shock and awe at CBS. The bombs never stopped dropping.
In fall of 1987, there was a major stock market crash. The average stockholder lost 1/3 of the value of his portfolio. Businessmen like Tisch went nuts.
Most important, Tisch ripped $30 million dollars from the CBS News budget (that, at the time, was a large percentage of the budget), laid off 230 employees -- that's right, 230 -- and closed three news bureaus.
This alone was devastating to a premier news organization. Van Gordon Sauter had already been serving as CBS News president, and then Ed Joyce, under CBS chairman Tom Wyman. Sauter began the "tinkering" with the CBS Evening News that pushed it over the slippery slope away from a comprehensive report on the day's events into a folksier mess. Imagine that Sauter actually claims that Tisch was berating him for favoring journalism over ratings. The subsequent CBS News chiefs saw to it that the news division was rendered a sad shadow of its former self. During Tisch's ownership of CBS, the ratings of The CBS Evening News fell from #1 to #3.
Lots of people will have lots to say about Larry Tisch in the week ahead. Let's see who are the cowards and who are members of the no-spin zone.
Already New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, himself a billionaire, has said, "Larry Tisch made an enormous contribution to this city and he will be sorely missed. He represented what is best about New York, and his generosity will leave a legacy that we will all try to build on." Very nice. Since NYU is my alma mater, I think it's fine he gave some of those ex-CBS News employees' salaries to my old school. As far as Bloomberg is concerned, Tisch probably donated to his campaign.
In an interview with The New York Times, Alex S. Jones, an NPR correspondent, previously said "He took an institution that was important in this country, and he strangled it."
But my favorite quote since Tisch's death is from the dean of CBS News, Don Hewitt, creator and outgoing executive producer of 60 Minutes. 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." I think that sums it up. It's about Hewitt, not Tisch, but it's crap nonetheless. The only thing that gave Tisch pride was money.
Tisch once said. "Your standard of living doesn't change after the first million".
Money doesn't carry with it the requirement to deprive the country of the journalism organization that began on the radio -- the public airwaves owned by we, the people -- with correspondents like Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Charles Collingwood, Eric Sevareid, Robert Trout on down to Harry Reasoner, Morley Safer and all the rest. Don't make the mistake of thinking that organization still exists. It does not. Larry Tisch, who said he could happily live on one million dollars, had to hack up CBS News to put the money down in the vault, like Scrooge McDuck.
Now, Dan Rather's ratings are in the toilet, nobody watches the CBS morning show, and if it weren't for 60 Minutes, 60 Minutes II, and 48 Hours Investigates, they might as well pack it in.
So long, Larry.
Career Strategy: In Conclusion
Your work has to be compelling. I can't stress that strongly enough. Ratings, readers, adoring fans, money, everything -- it's all about being compelling. What do I mean about being compelling? I mean you write so well, you perform so well, you do what you do so well it's irresistible to the audience. If your work is truly compelling, you will be protected from most cutbacks and regime changes.
If your situation in your office, your relationship with your boss, is less than optimal, change it now. Or leave. When the next Larry Tisch comes into your life, or some other reign of terror, those least favored will go first. You need Job Crisis Management.
To my young readers, it's imperative that you understand that when you work in the media as a creative employee, you are a businessperson. You must learn about the business you are in, just as you hone your creative skills. In fact, as you move along, you should find that the business side is creative too. Open up to that. Don't work in a creative vacuum. Study, ask questions, get involved in budgeting. Your talent and your business acumen, which includes studying marketing (I want you to learn positioning strategy -- see my Bookstore), will propel your career on your strategic arc. People with these skills survive monsters like Larry Tisch.
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