After growing up in Detroit suburb, Birmingham, Mich., his college career took him to Boston's Harvard and then to the University of Chicago for law school. New York was just a place on a map until his future wife, Alisa, accepted a job at Time Inc. and he followed her to the Big Apple.
That was 1983. Almost 20 years later, he's the de facto chief marketing officer and unofficial head cheerleader for New York City.
Appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg as deputy mayor for economic development and rebuilding after the November 2001 election, Mr. Doctoroff has his hands in no less than four major projects that speak to the newfound branding efforts of New York City. He was the founder of, and still serves as a spokesman for, NYC2012, the Olympic organizing committee that won the right to bid as the U.S. host city for the 2012 Summer Games. He's trying to lure a Super Bowl to the New York area, and he and Mr. Bloomberg are on the cusp of convincing the Republicans to hold their 2004 political convention in New York. He's also involved in drawing businesses back to the World Trade Center area.
"Pretty much anything that involves promoting New York City," he said, "I'm involved."
"There are a lot of official titles, and I use that in a loose sense, of people who are advocates for New York City," said another member of the Bloomberg administration. "But nobody is out there pushing the city for business like Dan is."
While some see him as the hard-hitting example of a typically brash New Yorker, others look deeper.
"I would say that in my 16 years of advertising, I don't think I've met a more intense person, and I mean that in a good way," said DDB Worldwide Group Creative Director Kate Murphy. In New York's proposal to the U.S. Olympic Committee, both Omnicom Group's DDB and independent Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners worked with NYC2012.
On a rainy day earlier last month, between a morning memorial in Queens for victims of the Flight 587 airline crash last year and a community outreach meeting in Manhattan regarding the extension of the No. 7 subway line, Mr. Doctoroff spoke about the need to market New York.
While praising the job that various tourist-related organizations, such as New York City & Co., have done, he said the time has come for a change in philosophy.
branding the town
"I think New York City needs a chief marketing officer," Mr. Doctoroff, 44, said. "The city has a fabulous brand and I don't think we've done enough to develop it. It can pay enormous dividends, both monetarily but, less directly, in terms of our image worldwide."
The transforming moment that took Mr. Doctoroff from mild mannered investment banker to SuperMarketer of New York City occurred in New Jersey eight years ago.
The United States was hosting the 1994 World Cup, and Mr. Doctoroff was at Giants Stadium watching a game when he got caught up in the fans' zeal and obsession that defines international soccer. If the whole country could host a month-long event the magnitude of the World Cup, he thought, why couldn't New York City host an Olympics?
Mr. Doctoroff, a millionaire former partner in a private equity firm who now draws the same salary as his billionaire boss at $1 a year, formed the non-profit NYC2012. Earlier this month, New York beat out San Francisco as the U.S. candidate city for the 2012 Olympics.
At stake is the potential $2 billion to $4 billion economic benefit a host city reaps from an Olympic games.
Now, one step away from realizing his dream, Mr. Doctoroff finds himself straddling the line between the proponents of a New York Olympics and the critics who have questioned everything from the cost of the Games to whether or not the Sept. 11 tragedies were part of the pitch to the U.S. Olympic Committee.
"We didn't raise [Sept. 11] in our presentation. We made indirect references to it," Mr. Doctoroff said, citing the example of a construction union chief who talked about how New York completed the World Trade Center cleanup in record time and under budget. "We were just trying to say that we suffered a blow but we're back. We didn't attempt to get anyone's sympathy. Subtly, it may have had an impact."
But even now that New York has won the right to be the U.S. bid city, critics remain. David Oats, an activist who heads the Queens Olympic Committee, called Mr. Doctoroff's plan for an Olympic/New York Jets stadium on Manhattan's West Side "a civic nightmare waiting to happen."
Concern is also high when it comes to the sensitivity of rebuilding downtown. New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has criticized Mr. Doctoroff's and the city's plan to give grants to larger businesses to stay downtown, saying efforts should go to shore up existing communities and smaller businesses. Mr. Doctoroff has tried to be sensitive to all parties.
"Our first priority was stabilizing the situation in lower Manhattan," he said. "Since we started offering incentives for people to stay, other than layoffs-which were an unfortunate but natural part of the economic world-we've had no defections. Now we're attracting companies from America and around the world."
And now he will continue selling.
"We're back in the process of putting together a road show to take around the country and around the world," Mr. Doctoroff said. "New York City has never sold itself before. We think that is appropriate right now."