The Loews Corp. of today is a very different company from the one founded more than 50 years ago by brothers Laurence A. Tisch and Preston Robert Tisch. Under the brothers' stewardship, the hotel company has grown to include businesses as diversified as Lorillard, the U.S. cigarette maker; insurance provider CNA Financial Corp.; Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc., which operates one of the world's largest offshore drilling fleets; and Bulova Watch. So at the end of 1999, when the co-CEOs passed the leadership of the company to their sons, Jonathan Tisch and his cousins James and Andrew Tisch, the new generation viewed it as the perfect time to hold Loews' first-ever companywide meeting.
"Some of our executives had never met," says Jonathan Tisch. "We wanted to find ways of working together, to understand the challenges that each of us faces in highly competitive industries, and to discuss new ways of thinking and assisting each other."
The other goal of the meeting was to honor "Bob and Larry," as Tisch refers to them. "There is a tremendous sense of the continuity of the company, even though they have stepped down. As co-chairmen of the board of Loews Corp., they are both still very much involved."
In fact, "The Tradition Continues" was the theme of the meeting--although it also took on the flavor of the company's new leaders. Nancy Mendelson, vice president and creative director for Production Resources Inc. (PRI), which helped to produce the event, explains: "The young Tisches respect the things that made the company great, but they also have their own ideas. With this meeting we wanted to create an environment conducive to camaraderie; an event that was both fun and serious, casual not stuffy, entertaining and informative."
How It Worked The three-day meeting for the 100 top executives and their staffs from the companies' five subsidiaries was held in October at Loews Hotels' new property, the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Studios in Orlando. The tone was set from the opening session, with an introduction of "The Three Tenors." "Since we were introducing the three Tisches, we decided to play off the three tenors," Mendelson says. "We hired three Pavarotti-type opera singers to perform a rendition of 'La Donne e Mobile' from Verdi's Rigoletto, with English lyrics that related to Loews and its subsidiaries."
The production number segued into the introduction of the three Tisches, who then took part in a "no-holds-barred" panel discussion in which attendees, who had submitted questions anonymously, got the chance to ask the co-presidents anything they wanted. "The three didn't know what the questions would be--and there were some very tough ones," says Mendelson, who moderated the panel.
The meeting included presentations by senior Loews Corp. executives in legal, finance, real estate, purchasing, taxes, investments, and human resources, as well as presentations by the heads of the subsidiaries. There also was built-in time for leisure, which capitalized on the Portofino Bay Hotel's on-site location at Universal Studios.
The planners used various techniques to put the attendees at ease and to make sure they mingled with each other instead of associating only with colleagues from their own companies. For example, tables at the business sessions were set with place cards bearing the logo and name of each Loews subsidiary. Each table had a mix of place cards, and attendees were instructed to find a seat corresponding to their company. The same practice was used at some of the meal functions.
"No one knew this would happen; the attendees had expected to sit with their own companies," says Gina Whetsell, manager of corporate meetings and special events for Loews Hotels. She also placed "little toys," such as Silly Putty or Lego blocks, at the tables used in the business sessions. "Focusing on these toys and fooling with them helped relieve a little bit of the stress of the unknown for most of these people, who had never met."
Added Benefits Many attendees made important connections during the meeting. CNA CEO Bernard Hengesbaugh, for example, asked Loews Hotels Executive Vice President of Marketing Charlotte St. Martin for her expertise on branding. And the Bulova and CNA executives, who hold a lot of meetings that aren't--but could be--held at Loews hotels, experienced the Portofino Bay Hotel and the Loews brand of service.
"These were the extra benefits from the meeting," says Whetsell. "I'm not sure anyone planned on them."
The meeting is likely to become a regular event, although probably not an annual one because of the difficulty of coordinating the schedules of 100 top executives. Right now, the Tisches envision holding it every 18 months.
Mendelson reports that her e-mail survey of attendees got an unusually high 75 percent response rate. "PRI does tons of conferences," she says, "but at this one there was a real spirit of cooperation. There was a genuine desire on the part of the executives to get to know the Tisches."
On a Growth Curve Like most of Loews Corp.'s subsidiaries, Loews Hotels is in the midst of the largest expansion in its history. The host hotel for Loews Corp.'s first-ever companywide meeting, the 750-room Portofino Bay Hotel, is one of three new properties that have opened within the past two years. The others are the 800-room Loews Miami Beach Hotel and the 367-room House of Blues Hotel in Chicago.
Another Four Hotels Planned The 585-room Loews Philadelphia Hotel, the 432-room Loews Boston Hotel, and the 650-room Hard Rock Hotel and 1,004-room Royal Pacific Resort, both in Orlando--are scheduled to open by the end of 2002. The Hard Rock Hotel and Royal Pacific Resort, along with the Portofino Bay Hotel, are at Orlando's Universal Studios Escape resort as part of a Loews Hotels joint venture with Universal Studios and the Rank Group.