Book Review: The Power of We: Succeeding Through Partnerships

Add Loews Hotel’s Jonathan Tisch to the list of high-profile CEOs who have published books on the secrets of their corporate success.

Real estate mogul Donald Trump, in between TV takes training his next apprentice, promises to show readers of his latest book “How to Get Rich”. Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch recommends leaders of tomorrow to stop flying by the seat of their pants and lead instead “Straight from the Gut”.

Tisch’s leadership strategy is based on a different model – Tisch replaces a single fearless leader at the top of the corporate pyramid with a dynamic, multi-party partnership principle in “The Power of We”.

Early on in “The Power of We”, Tisch provides the underlying philosophical basis for the partnership principle.

“If you and the people who work with you don’t really care about one another, no business plan or competitive strategy you devise will succeed,” Tisch writes.

Tisch candidly admits that the partnership principle goes against the grain of the popular perception of standard US business management practice – and that’s ok.

“It’s an approach to leadership that is not divisive, but unifying, not competitive, but collaborative, not based on a zero-sum philosophy of scarcity, but on abundance – the economic, intellectual and spiritual abundance that humans can produce when their talents and energies are unleashed,” Tisch says.

While attending Tufts in the mid-1970s, Tisch interned at a Boston-area TV station, where he would eventually work as a cameraman-producer from 1975 to 1979, and gain many formative experiences.

Indeed, the TV producer’s task – bringing words and images together to tell a convincing story, comes up in one of Tisch’s innovative concepts – the customer as partner. Tisch has helped shape the Loews Hotel experience by emphasizing the importance of customer likes and dislikes on how the hotel experience is designed.

The idea of a hotel as a home away from home is the focus of Loew’s “Home Sweet Loews” program, making the atmosphere at certain hotels kid friendly, pet friendly or tailored to the needs of specific customers. One such program is Loews “Generation G,” designed to encourage grandparents and kids to travel together by furnishing grandparents with cameras, photo albums, popcorn and movies, while the kids get gift freebies as well as access to VCRs, electronic games and special amusement areas.

To enhance the desirability of spending more time at other Loews hotels, Tisch also encourages co-branding and community partnerships. For example, some Loews Hotels offer a tasteful dining experience by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse. The Hotel Regency in New York connects with events on Broadway and also became home to a popular nightclub, Feinstein’s at the Regency, that would have otherwise sadly vanished from the local New York nightlife scene if it did not relocate to the Regency.

Tisch argues that applying the partnership principle need not come at the expense of financial returns. To reinforce that the CEO-customer partnership strategy can work, Tisch highlights Jet Blue Airlines, and this quote from Jet Blue CEO David Neeleman:

“Unlike most airlines, we’re not selling transportation…. We are selling an experience. We want people to look forward to the journey. To make this happen, we take care of people from start to finish. The leather seats in our planes, the enhanced legroom, the personal TVs – these bring air travel a degree of glamour that makes people wasn’t to travel more often.”

Does this strategy make a CEO rich? At first glance, no. Neeleman makes $200,000 in base annual salary, plus $100,000 in a performance bonus, a bag of airline peanuts compared to Trump, who argues he is worth $2 billion, and Welch, whose annual pension was set at $9 million, not counting his additional valuable perks.

Still, Neeleman argues that he is richly compensated – he is the CEO of a thriving company in which he owns an eight percent share. Moreover, seasoned investors, like the deceptively-wise Motley Fool, want to buy Jet Blue, as they view Jet Blue as a high-quality growth stock with a savvy CEO.

The partnership with customers requires not only a savvy CEO but also employees who are responsive to customer needs and respected for their opinions. The CEO-employee partnership is another partnership crucial to corporate success, and is the partnership Tisch spends the most time clarifying in “The Power of We”.