Business mogul, entrepreneur Linton Tibbetts dies

Linton N. Tibbetts, a legendary entrepreneur who earned a fortune in the development of both Florida and his native Cayman Islands, died 6 October, only seven days after the grand reopening of his prized lumber company’s original store in St. Petersburg, Florida. He was 88.

Mr. Tibbetts was born in Cayman Brac in 1923 and was best known in the Cayman Islands as the founder of Cox Lumber. The store in Grand Cayman was part of a larger network of dozens of lumber store locations, door factories and truss plants scattered throughout Florida.

In 2006, Mr. Tibbetts sold his company to Home Depot while the housing market was at its peak, netting the Cayman Islands native a considerable fortune. The amount of the sale was never disclosed, but Cox Lumber generated US$396 million in revenues the year of its sale.

After a few years out of the business, Mr. Tibbetts wanted back in and in 2009 opened two locations under the Tibbetts name. He brought back many of his former top employees from Cox Lumber and had been working on the company since.

Shortly before his death, Mr. Tibbetts had been fully immersed in rebuilding Cox Lumber – the family business recently renamed Tibbetts Lumber – back to its peak.

“The lumber company was his first love and his dream was to see it re-opened as the family business,” said Juan Quesada, president of the Tibbetts Lumber. “By the end of the reopening ceremony, he was so tired people had trouble hearing his words.”

Born the son of a master shipbuilder in Cayman Brac, Mr. Tibbetts at 9 survived a hurricane that flattened his family home and took the lives of his grandmother, sister and infant brother. Eight years later, he left to seek his fortune.

He landed in Tampa with $16 in his pocket, then built Cox Lumber into the largest lumber chain in Florida.

As far as his influence in the Cayman Islands, Mr. Tibbetts invested vast amounts of money in his native country, including in the building of hotels and the founding a now defunct airline, Red Carpet Airlines, to help usher tourists to and from the smaller Sister Islands.

He also led efforts to establish the first museum in the Cayman Islands, which is located in Cayman Brac, while also helping foster similar efforts for the Little Cayman Museum and the Little Cayman Maritime Museum.

Mr. Tibbetts was honoured in 2003 with an Order of the British Empire title by Queen Elizabeth for his contributions to Cayman Brac’s economy.

“My life is like a bumper car ride at the carnival,” Mr. Tibbetts said in a recent interview. “You keep getting hit from all directions, but keep driving forward.”

The business empire he built is now largely owned by his two daughters and grandchildren.

Mr. Tibbetts is survived by his wife, daughters, brother, as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren.