Remembering Henry B. Tippie: A Visionary Entrepreneur

By Leah Klevar
During his lifetime, Henry B. Tippie traveled from the fields of Iowa to the world of Wall Street, thanks to his commitment to hard work, integrity, and generosity—and to his University of Iowa degree.
Henry B. Tippie

Tippie (49BSC) died on February 20. He was 95.

The successful entrepreneur, who helped transform a small communications company into a corporate powerhouse, once said, "I felt that if I could ever get in a position where I could give some assistance to those in need of a University of Iowa education, then I would try to do something as repayment." And he remained a man of his word.

Tippie made his first donation to the university in 1953, and that $5 gift for the Chester F. Phillips Scholarship Fund sparked decades of loyal giving to Iowa. Throughout the years, he and his wife, Patricia, supported a wide range of programs benefiting UI students and faculty. During the campaign to raise funds for the business building, Tippie supported a 175-seat auditorium, a student lounge, and Pat's Diner—named in honor of Patricia.

In 1999, he made a pledge to the University of Iowa, which was, at the time, the largest single gift from an individual in the university's history. In recognition of the Tippies' generous support, Iowa renamed its business college as the Henry B. Tippie College of Business, marking the first time that a UI academic division was named in honor of an individual. Though he was best known for this historic gift, the savvy businessman "repaid" his alma mater time and again, through gifts of leadership, service, and private support.

Before attending the University of Iowa on the GI Bill, Tippie enlisted in the service at age 17 and reported for duty at Camp Dodge on June 5, 1944, the day before D-Day. He deployed to the Pacific the following year, just as the war was coming to a close. A staff sergeant, Tippie primarily served as chief clerk for medical administration at the 20th Air Force's headquarters on the island of Guam during his 27 months in uniform.

Once he'd finished his time in the service and completed his UI degree, Tippie began his professional career as a junior accountant in the Des Moines area. He passed the CPA exam in 1951 and was a member of the Iowa Society of CPAs and the American Institute of CPAs for more than 50 years.

Tippie joined Rollins, then a Delaware-based communications firm, as its controller in 1953. His business acumen helped Rollins acquire the pest-control company Orkin in 1964. That deal, which became a Harvard Business School case study, represented one of the first leveraged buyouts in U.S. history of a major corporation by a small company.

Even after his official retirement, Tippie remained active as the lead director of Rollins, which has more than 700 pest control operations in 55 countries. He went to the office every day and attended quarterly board meetings in Atlanta or Delaware. He also made regular visits to the UI Henry B. Tippie College of Business, where he would drop in on classes, talk with those who held his endowed faculty positions and scholarships, and speak to the students managing real-world investments through the Henry Fund.

"I don't give advice, but I do make comments about how I approach things," Tippie said of his visits. "The students look forward to it, and I do, too. I'd like to think we learn from each other."

Tippie was an original member of the college's board of visitors (now the Tippie Advisory Board), and he was a lifetime honorary director of the University of Iowa Foundation (now the University of Iowa Center for Advancement). In addition, Tippie was a member of the national campaign committee for Iowa Endowment 2000; he served on the steering committee for the UI's successful $1 billion Good. Better. Best. Iowa campaign; and he and Patricia were honorary co-chairs of the $1.9 billion For Iowa. Forever More. campaign.

In 2014, he also helped establish the Tippie Society to recognize those who make an extraordinary impact on the college by giving $1 million or more. He and Patricia created a matching challenge that, by the time the university's comprehensive campaign ended in 2016, resulted in $30 million in gifts to the college. And as of fiscal year 2021, the couple had provided more than 900 scholarship awards for UI students.

Tippie was fascinated by sports, and his love of athletics always included the Iowa Hawkeyes.

He and Patricia created a number of endowed scholarships for student-athletes, and they also made a naming gift for the Tippie All-American Room in the Stew and LeNore Hansen Football Performance Center. In 2017, they established the Henry B. and Patricia B. Tippie Director of Athletics Chair, the first endowed position in the UI Department of Intercollegiate Athletics.

For his numerous contributions, Tippie received the University of Iowa's Distinguished Service Alumni Award, the Hancher Finkbine Medallion, and the Outstanding Accounting Alumni Award. In 1996, he was a recipient of the nationally prestigious Horatio Alger Award. In 2009, the University of Iowa awarded him an Honorary Doctorate of Letters in recognition of his many accomplishments and contributions, and he was named Hawk of the Year in 2013.

Tippie was born on a dairy farm near Belle Plaine, Iowa, on January 5, 1927. From the time he was a toddler, he helped with the business, learning to milk cows and accompanying his father on deliveries. He went to the same one-room schoolhouse that his father had attended through the eighth grade, and when Tippie turned 11, his family began raising pigs and cattle.

Even as an adult, Tippie remained connected to the land. For many years, he and Patricia owned a 33,000-acre ranch in Limestone County, Texas, and lived in Austin. "Henry was equally comfortable in a tuxedo in New York City and blue jeans in Waco," says Gary Fethke, a professor emeritus and former Tippie College dean who also served as interim president of the University of Iowa from 2006-2007. "He could relate to everyone from CEOs and university presidents to janitors. He knew how to take risks and invest aggressively, and he knew when to be humble."

Such traits helped define the lengthy career of a successful businessman, leader, and volunteer, who, in Margaret Kirk's biography, An Iowa Farm Boy on Detour, credited much of his success to the University of Iowa: "When I was in college, I was a total unknown. And when I got out of there, I had a foundation that would prepare me for things ahead...I am the recipient of somebody giving me a chance."

Tippie remained grateful for such opportunities throughout his life. As author May K. Cobb wrote in the Tippie biography, Just the Facts: The First 76 Years (and Still Counting) of Henry B. Tippie, "Henry gives back because he feels in his heart it is the right thing to do...the myriad of gifts he has passed on, more than anything else, represents what Henry stands for: You live your life, and you walk this earth in order to make it a better place."

Visit the Henry B. Tippie College of Business tribute page to learn more about his life and contributions to the University of Iowa.

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