Interview with Mr. Guy Tozzoli, President and founder of the World Trade Centres Association

Interview with Mr. Guy Tozzoli, President and founder of the World Trade Centres AssociationNobody knew the World Trade Centre in New York City better than he did. From the conception of the trade centre in the early 1960s to the completion of the Twin Towers in 1973, he led the team of planners, architects and builders who overcame countless obstacles to construct the tallest buildings on earth. He is Mr Guy Tozzoli, a real New Yorker of Italian descent. He receives us kindly in his office in the Lincoln Building the day before Christmas 2004. “This is nothing like the office I used to have on the seventy-seventh floor in the World Trade Centre, but …” On 9/11, Mr Tozzoli was late, being blocked in traffic from where he watched the planes going into “his building”. “Whenever I pass by, I feel sad. The World Trade Centre represented forty years of my life,” he says. “I was there ever since the beginning.”
In 1962, Mr Tozzoli was appointed Director to the World Trade Department under the Port Authority in New York and New Jersey in charge of the huge project that became the landmark for New York City—the World Trade Centre—but also a terrible memory for tens of thousands, even millions, around the world. “You have to go back further though to understand the whole story. The story starts with Mr David Rockefeller, who was the Vice-President of the Chase Manhattan Bank …”
“Before I continue,” my host says, “you have to understand that Manhattan is in fact divided into two parts, on one side you have mid-Manhattan and on the other lower Manhattan (also called Downtown). Believe it or not, it’s like two different cities. The Stock Exchange is in lower Manhattan. In the 1960s, lower Manhattan was dying; the only new office building that had been built there was the Chase Manhattan Building. The people were, in fact, moving out and it was a dying part of the city. David Rockefeller, who was the Chairman of the Chase Manhattan Bank, had an idea. He went to his brother Nelson, who was the Governor of the State of New York at the time. The idea was ‘we need to have some great project in lower Manhattan that would become the anchor of the renovation of that area’. David Rockefeller went to see his brother because the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has the responsibility of the twenty-five-mile circle around the Statue of Liberty. And one of the things it does is promote commerce for the two states and the Port of New York and New Jersey.
“They gave me the job in February 1962. They had done some studies in 1960, but those studies and visions were for a much smaller project than the project I put together. In order for the Port of New York and New Jersey to make any decisions, legislation had to be the same in the two states. So they voted legislation authorizing the building of this World Trade Centre in downtown Manhattan. In January 1964, the Readers’ Digest called the plans for the World Trade Centre, ‘the largest building project since the Egyptian Pyramids’. That plan was announced in January 1964—by me as the director of the project and, of course, by the Governors of the two states as the project belonged to them. It was also known as a public project, meaning that it was partly under the states of New York and New Jersey via the Port Authority in order to promote commerce, and to encourage international trade, in particular in the port.”
“It was required under a state rule that 75% of a company’s business had to be international or servicing international, or I could not rent out the premises.”
Q: What about international trade at that time?
“When I starting studying what to do, international trade accounted for 2.7% of gross national product of the United States. When it came to international trade, we were really an isolated country. Today, international business and servicing international business accounts for 22.7% of our gross national product. What that means is that one job in five in this country has been created because of international business. Of course, if you look at the world, and you go to countries in the Far East these figures might be as high as 90 or even 95%. However, for us this is already a big thing, and I think that we are one of the biggest importers in the world.”
Q: How were you going to fill up your buildings?
“I had 10 million square feet to be filled and I had to think about how I could promote this new concept of the World Trade Centre. So the first thing I did was start spreading the ‘gospel’ about the World Trade Centre movement around the world. I decided that the first place I should go to tell people about it and to bring my model was to Norway, and then to the other Scandinavian countries.”
Q. Why Norway?
“I had worked for the Port Authority for quite a long time, and at a certain time I was in charge of the construction of ports, so all the people I knew were in shipping. So I went off to Norway. I gave them a lecture about the World Trade Centre in New York. People came to hear about this new concept. This was the beginning of promoting the World Trade Centre.”
“As I was travelling around the world I got this rather simple idea.”
“People in international business needed information to increase their business. There was something else I had learned from the two wars I had served in (the Second World War and the Korean War). All of a sudden I was talking to people in the shipping business that had been our enemies, and I began to realise that there was more to this world trade business. Suppose I could create an entity that was non-political, not-for-profit and, if I trade with you, the first thing I do is I learn a little more about your culture. And then I do not want to fight you because you and I do business together. It was a very practical way of looking at it. But to me world trade business was the embodiment of peace and stability through trade, which became the model for the new association I started in 1970.”
The World Trade Centres Association concept consists, in fact, of two simple ideas: first, promote the World Trade Centre concept around the world; and second encourage reciprocal programmes from one World Trade Centre to another. These programmes could include such things as trade missions, educational programmes and advances in communications. Guy Tozzoli puts it this way: “If you need information about New York and my World Trade Centre is in New York, you would come to me. If I need information about your area, wherever it might be, I come to you and your World Trade Centre.” The idea took root, and the World Trade Centres Association (WTCA) was set up in 1970. “I started with fifteen people from fifteen cities and seven countries,” Mr Tozzoli says proudly.
“The first General Assembly of the Association was held in Tokyo. The Second World War was finished, and I wanted to promote the business of peace and stability. Japan was no longer our enemy. In the World Trade Centres Association we do not compete with one another—we help each another. I was elected President of the association. Ten years later, the USSR, China and the United States were all members of the Association, and this despite the political context at the time. Today, we have more than 277 members in our association in about 78 countries, and we service more than 750,000 international companies. We have so many because there are some members like Taiwan that alone has more than 120 000 companies served by the World Trade Centre in Taipei. There are almost 70,000 or 80,000 companies served by World Trade Centres in Seoul alone.”
“We have World Trade Centres in Ramallah and Israel; we have one Kabul; there’s even one in North Korea. Our organization is not political. We are promoting peace and understanding through international trade. However, this often gives tangible results … such as accepting a Chinese trade delegation to the participate in the General Assembly in Taipei, and vice versa … such as having North and South Koreans sitting around the same dining table. We have to start somewhere and a dialogue is a good place to start,” declares Tozzoli.
In order to assist in the development of the poorest countries, the WTCA is also contributing through its different projects. The educational and developmental programmes that it carries out around the world tend to be rather discrete. However, one should note that they were working on more than nineteen projects in the poorest regions of the world. “In the newly established World Trade Centre in Afghanistan, we have set up a school for women where we teach them to become teachers,” Tozzoli explains. The association is also proceeding on the development of a World Trade Centre University with an impressive campus planned for Palm Spring and Palm Desert Cities in California. “Education is important, and we are trying to help through our different training courses. We used to have a lot training courses of all kind in the World Trade Centre, but after 11 September everything was transferred to Penn University.”
After leaving Guy Tozzoli’s office that afternoon, I realised that there are many ways of creating dialogue and understanding among people, and this organization has perhaps done far more than any other. “You see, I like to start new things, and I always try to see how things can be done better”, Mr Tozzoli observes, and I’m absolutely certain that he will keep up the good work.