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HOME > Biographical > 100 New Yorkers of the 1970s > EASTSIDER WALTER HOVING
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Chairman of Tiffany & Company


When Walter Hoving took over as chairman of Tiffany and Company in 1955, he gave his designers one simple rule: "Design what you think is beautiful and don't worry about selling it." The rule applies as much to store's eye-catching Christmas display windows as to the three floors of jewelry, silver, china, and crystal at the corner of 5th Avenue and 57th Street. Hoving's unique combination of business wizardry and impeccable taste has paid off dramatically: since he joined the company, Tiffany's annual sales haver gone from $7 million to $73 million.

A tall, soft-spoken, former Brown University football star whose unlined forehead and vigorous appearance belie his 82 years, Hoving has a voice like Jimmy Stewart's and kindly yet authoritative manner. On his conservative gray suit is a tiny silver pin with the words "Try God." Leaning back in the comfortable desk chair at his vast, teakwood-paneled office at Tiffany's on a recent afternoon, he answers all questions thoroughly and unhesitatingly.

"We don't think in terms of price at all. Whatever we sell has got to be up to our standard in quality material, quality workmanship, and quality of design. … You see, you've got to have a point of view in this thing. That's all we've got is a point of view, and we stick to it."

What he calls a "point of view" others would simply define as "taste." And Hoving is well qualified to have strong opinions in this area. At the age of 30, three years after joining R.H. Macy and Company, he was already a vice president and merchandising director. At that point, says Hoving, "I realized that design was going to be a coming thing, and I really didn't know much about it. So I matriculated at New York University in their arts department, and I took courses on period furniture, old silver, historic textiles, color and design. It took me three years, twice a week at night. … Then, of course, I could learn by going into people's homes that were beautiful, in England and France, at museums — wherever I was. You learn if you have a basis. And so I advise anybody who comes into this business to get knowledgeable about decorative arts."

After leaving Macy's, he climbed steadily, becoming vice president of Montgomery Ward, president of Lord & Taylor, and president of Bonwit Teller. Upon arriving at Tiffany's, one of the first things he did was to discontinue selling anything that didn't conform to his esthetic standards, regardless of profit.

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