The Builder

Dan Tishman '77 brings an environmental focus to one of the nation's leading construction firms.

by David McKay Wilson

As a teen, Dan Tishman '77, would visit the construction site at the World Trade Center, watching the twin 110-story buildings rise to the sky while his father served as the project's construction manager.

After the Twin Towers fell on September 11, 2001, Tishman, who had succeeded his dad as CEO of Tishman Construction, emerged as a major figure in the rebuilding effort. On the 10th anniversary of the attacks, Tishman looked up from Ground Zero at some of the myriad projects his company is managing: the 1776-foot-high One World Trade Center, as well as WTC Towers 3 and 4 and the WTC Transportation Hub and vehicle security center.

Dan Tishman portrait

Portrait of Dan Tishman.

"We are the thread that binds everything together there," says Tishman. "This project is the ultimate."

Tishman's leadership extends to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum's board of directors, where he heads the Construction, Operations and Real Estate committee. This has thrust him into negotiations and coordination with the multiple public agencies involved in the 16-acre site—the City of New York, the State of New York, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

"Dan is the master at getting things done, at all levels," says Joe Daniels, president and CEO of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. "With these building projects, he's redefining the New York City skyline. It's an imprint that will outlast all of us."

The window ledge in Tishman's 18th-floor conference room provides a glimpse of his company's recent successes. Along it sit ceremonial hard hats from several Tishman projects—the Auschwitz Jewish Center in Poland, Goldman Sachs headquarters, The Condé Nast Building at 4 Times Square, The Reuters Building at 3 Times Square and the 9-11 memorial. Stacked in the bookcase are four books on architect Robert A.M. Stern, who designed the 80-story Four Seasons Hotel and private residences in Lower Manhattan, the construction of which Tishman will oversee.

city scape graphic

The Four Seasons, which has yet to go up, will be LEED certified—with the imprimatur of the internationally recognized system for environmentally friendly buildings. It will be the latest in Tishman's LEED-certified projects in Manhattan—from the 55-story office tower at One Bryant Park with floor-to-ceiling insulating glass to contain heat and maximize natural light to the 52-story 7 World Trade Center, where contractors were required to use low-sulfur diesel fuel and install pollution-reducing devices on all heavy equipment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency later mandated such procedures for other construction projects in New York City.

Tishman, a trim 55-year-old dressed in an open-necked blue Oxford shirt, is the rare New York City builder who is also an ardent environmentalist. Since 2007, he has served as chairman of the board of trustees of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the 1.3-million member national organization that promotes a cleaner environment through citizen action and litigation. He's the first non-lawyer to lead the board in its 42-year history.

artist rendition of new york skyline with new world trade center

This rendering shows the planned west side skyline of the new World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. Tishman Construction is construction manager for Towers 1, 3, and 4 (all pursuing LEED Gold certification), the Transportation Hub, and Vehicle Security Center.
(Credit: dbox, SPI)

Tishman's environmental activism grew out of his collegiate experience. At first blush, you'd think that Evergreen was an unusual choice for a Jewish kid who grew up at Park Avenue and 78th Street on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

But like his father, Dan Tishman didn't plan on immediately entering the family business. Instead, he headed west for Evergreen in 1973, flush with the spirit of independence that characterized his upbringing and education in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Tishman says he was looking for a school as far away as possible from New York City. You couldn't get much further than Olympia.

"The feeling was that the family business would always be there if I wanted to do it," he recalls. "I had the freedom to do my own thing. I also knew that I shouldn't assume I'd be qualified to work for Tishman."

With its non-traditional approach to education, Evergreen fit Tishman's bill. He majored in wildlife ecology, and by his senior year, was doing biological research in Tierra del Fuego, the archipelago on the southernmost tip of South America, where he helped set up a research station sponsored by National Geographic and the Organization of American States.

"The lack of structure at Evergreen worked well for me," recalls Tishman, who at the time had his heart set on becoming a biologist. "I liked the new perspective, and I thrived there."

After graduation, however, he turned to education. He helped to found the Audubon Expedition Institute, a program now affiliated with Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., that helps students develop a deep understanding of the ecosystem and public policy issues.

At Audubon, he met his wife-to-be, Sheryl. They married and moved to southern Maine, where they bought a farm to raise wool-producing llamas. It was there that the Tishman construction bug finally bit. He became partners with the carpenter building his home, who was a skilled craftsman but lacked business savvy. Their business started growing, as Tishman found a market for homes and small-scale commercial projects. Before long, his business was humming, with 30 employees on staff. Then executives from Tishman Construction in Manhattan paid a visit Down East, asking if he was ready to become part of the family business.

It was 1989, and time for Dan Tishman to return to New York. "I decided that I could still satisfy my interest in science and education if I made them my avocation, not my vocation," he says. "And if I was successful in business, I could still be true to my beliefs and help those causes."

By 1996, he became Tishman Construction's CEO, with his father stepping aside for his son, the fourth generation to lead the company started by his great-grandfather, Julius, in 1898.

tower one, august 2011

The 1,776-foot World Trade Center Tower 1 under construction in August 2011. 
It is expected to open in spring 2014.
Photo: Joe Woolhead.

The built-environment is the world's second largest consumer of fossil fuels, says Tishman, so putting up environmentally friendly buildings is an important element of a more sustainable world. He also tries to do his part in his personal life. He drives a hybrid car, and keeps fit riding up to 100 miles a week on his Serotta road bike. His 256-acre llama farm in Maine generates as much solar energy to feed into the electrical grid as the farm uses in electricity.

"Everybody is responsible to leave as light a carbon footprint as possible," says Tishman, who lives in the Westchester County suburb of Bedford with Sheryl and son, Gabe, 15. Their son, Josh, attends Montana State University. "It's very important that our great-grandchildren enjoy nature as I did."