During his lifetime, Henry B. Tippie traveled from the fields of Iowa to Wall Street to a Texas ranch, thanks to hard work, integrity, and generosity—and to his University of Iowa degree.
Tippie (BSC49), who became one of the university’s most significant supporters and benefactors, died Sunday, Feb. 20, at his home in Austin, Texas. He was 95.
“Henry B. Tippie is an Iowa success story,” says Gary Fethke, dean emeritus of the college that now bears Tippie’s name, who worked closely with him. “Optimism, conditioned on reality, was ever present with Henry, and he really believed that ‘every day is a new day.’ He was a plain man who achieved great things, thoroughly enjoyed his life, appreciated his friends, loved his wife, and made the world a better place.”
Tippie’s generosity is reflected across campus, from the Henry B. Tippie College of Business to the dozens of Tippie-endowed research and faculty positions and the hundreds of students who have graduated with the help of Henry B. Tippie scholarships.
In the business world, his legacy includes the use of what was once a little-used financing tool called a leveraged buyout to help his small employer grow into a Fortune 1000 company.
“Henry pursued his goals with focus and persistence, coupled with patience and certainty of path,” says Tippie Dean Amy Kristof-Brown. “He paid attention to details and had a keen mind for understanding their implications. He had a generous soul that led him to show his thankfulness both financially and through enthusiastic personal support. Knowing that Henry had faith in me as a new dean to guide the college that bears his name was the greatest gift that he could give.”
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 family 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.
Tippie never left the Iowa farm behind, referring to himself in one of his biographies as “an Iowa farm boy on detour.”
Tippie enlisted in the U.S. Army 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, as the war was in its final months. A staff sergeant, Tippie primarily served as chief clerk for medical administration at the 20th Army Air Force headquarters in Guam during his 27 months in uniform.
After leaving the service, he attended the University of Iowa on the G.I. Bill, earning his Bachelor of Science in Commerce degree in accounting in just three years. He earned his Iowa CPA license (number 276) in 1951 and remained a member of the Iowa Society of CPAs and the American Institute of CPAs for more than 50 years.
In 1953, Tippie began working with John and Wayne Rollins as the controller of their family business, which at that time was a small Delaware-based firm. Henry Tippie’s business acumen and advice helped the Rollins family businesses expand and grow exponentially. Henry helped the company acquire the pest-control company Orkin in 1964 using a leveraged buyout, a mechanism so rarely used then that it became a Harvard Business School case study. Today, Rollins Inc. is a publicly traded Fortune 1000 firm and there are five Rollins-associated businesses listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
He made regular visits to the UI and the Henry B. Tippie College of Business as late as 2019, dropping in on classes, talking with those who held his endowed faculty positions and scholarships, and speaking to the students managing real-world investments through the Henry Fund that he helped endow with Henry Royer.
“I don’t give advice, but I do make comments about how I approach things,” Tippie has 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 once said that if he felt he could ever get in a position to give some assistance to those in need of a University of Iowa education, he would try to do something as repayment for all that the university gave him. He remained a man of his word. He made his first donation to the university in 1953, and that unsolicited $5 gift for the Chester F. Phillips Scholarship Fund sparked decades of loyal giving to Iowa. Throughout the years, he and his wife of 65 years, 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, in recognition of the Tippies’ generous support, the university 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.
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. He was a member of the national campaign committee for Iowa Endowment 2000 and served on the steering committee for the UI’s successful $1 billion Good. Better. Best. Iowa campaign. He and Patricia were also 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 $15 million matching challenge that, by the time the university’s comprehensive campaign ended in 2016, resulted in $30 million in gifts to the college. Henry’s generosity has had a tremendous impact on the University of Iowa. More than 900 University of Iowa students have received a Henry B. Tippie Scholarship. Within the Tippie College, a number of faculty receive research funding that is either provided by or in honor of Tippie, including six Tippie-related faculty chairs, eight Henry B. Tippie Professorships, and 17 Henry B. Tippie Fellowships.
“He always understood the importance of support for faculty and students because he believed that they were the heart of all that we do,” said Kristof-Brown.
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 made numerous other gifts to the UI Department of Athletics.
For his many 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 accomplishments and contributions, and he was named Hawk of the Year in 2013.
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 Fethke. “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,” he said. “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.”