Loews Hotels president and CEO Jonathan Tisch looks great in a dress. He wears a blonde wig, which softens his masculine features. Tisch’s head is held high, and he clutches a microphone in his right hand. He is a man on a mission.

The drag outfit is for a very particular purpose—a video Tisch produced as part of a competitive bid to acquire property in Miami Beach, the site of the recently opened Loews Miami Beach Hotel. In the video, Tisch asks passers-by what they think about the revitalization of the old Art Deco St. Moritz Hotel, the proposed site for the new hotel. People seem to enjoy interacting with Tisch, and they are more than happy to answer him on camera. This is, after all, Miami Beach, where drag isn’t exactly uncommon.

Standing in a crowded lecture hall during a recent presentation at Wharton, Tisch (dressed in regular business attire) commented on the rationale behind his performance. “There is a business reason for this,” he says with a smile. “We were up against some major competitors and we’re a smaller company. We needed to stand out.” Moreover, Tisch explains, Loews needed to show it understood the community in Miami Beach, and that it was prepared to make an investment in that community. “People thought, wow—if this company’s president is willing to dress in drag to get our attention, they must really want to be here.” Loews won the bid.

A former television producer with two Emmy nominations under his belt, Tisch is not one to shy away from creative solutions to problems. In fact, he sees creativity as an essential element of Loews Hotels’ business philosophy. “The hotel business is another form of the entertainment business,” he explains. “When I was a producer, I’d be up at four o’clock in the morning perfecting a single edit, because that individual image contributed to an overall image. It’s the same when you’re choosing the right soap, towels, and hotel amenities. When guests stay at a hotel, they see a series of images. We bring those images together to form a Loews Hotel.”

Loews Hotels’ properties—16 in all— are known for their detailed individuality. In addition to the Loews Miami Beach Hotel, with its Art Deco authenticity, recent additions to the Loews Hotels roster include the House of Blues Hotel in Chicago, which includes a 36-lane AMF bowling center, and the Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Studios Escape, which painstakingly recreates the harbor setting of Portofino, Italy. In April, the company will open the Loews Philadelphia Hotel in the landmark 36-story PSFS building, one of the nation’s first modern skyscrapers. The plans include use of the building’s original construction materials, such as Belgian marble and rare woods, and a restoration of its Art Deco Cartier clocks.

But sparkling surfaces and unique amenities only partly represent Tisch’s creative approach to the hotel business. More important is what the company calls its “Good Neighbor Policy,” for which it received the 1996 President’s Service Award, the nation’s highest award for volunteerism and social responsibility. Just as Tisch prefers to see each of his hotels as “one-of-a-kind,” he also sees the communities in which his hotels are located as unique, with unique sets of problems that require creative solutions. “If we have leftover food, it goes to a local food bank. If we have extra sheets, they go to a homeless shelter,” Tisch says. “You need to invest in the community you’re in. You can’t just pick up a hotel and move it to another area.”

From Tisch’s perspective, investing in your community means investing in your employees as well. “This is a vital battleground,” Tisch says. “There aren’t enough people to work in hotels. You need to find them, and then you need to train them, which is expensive. And then you need to figure out ways to keep them.” One innovation Tisch has come up with for solving this problem is establishing ties with welfare-to-work programs. In Miami Beach, for example, he has employed over 45 individuals through Loews Hotels’ welfare-to-work initiative. “This is a win-win situation,” he says. “We help train individuals who need to learn a trade, and in return we gain employees who care about their work.”

Tisch says that Loews Hotels would like to expand to about 35 hotels over the next five years, with no two hotels alike. A subsidiary of Loews Corp., Loews Hotels has access to the capital it needs to expand, but Tisch emphasizes that the real challenge will be to come up with ways to retain customers when there are so many hotel options available. Accordingly, Loews Hotels has initiated a survey that asks customers to list those items they frequently forget at home, and the hotels have begun stocking those items—everything from sunglasses to computer disks and “emergency” black tie accessories for men and women. And when he travels, Tisch is constantly on the lookout for new ideas. He was particularly impressed on one occasion at The Four Seasons Hotel, when he found a handwritten note with his newly shined shoes that read: “Thanks for the tip, Mr. Tisch. I hope your feet are very happy today!”

“Now there’s a great idea!” he says.