Profile: Keith Parker Tibbetts to receive Lifetime Achievement Award in Business

The illustrious business career of Keith Parker Tibbetts Jr., Cert. Hon., CMH, offers great insights into the art of commerce, as well as the rewards of dedication and entrepreneurship. For this, he has been named recipient of the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce’s Lifetime Achievement Award in Business.

He will receive it at the Business Excellence Awards 2018 – which takes place on Saturday evening, Oct. 27, at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman. Presenting will be Joey Hew, Minister for Commerce, Planning and Infrastructure, who is also a former Chamber President.

Chamber President Paul Byles congratulated Mr. Tibbetts, saying, “This accolade is well deserved in so many ways. While Parker has always been a model businessman, what is equally impressive is his consistent focus on great service, a passion for humanity, and his corporate citizenship.”

Today, Associated Industries Group encompasses Mr. Tibbetts’s store, Ace; AI Rentals (construction and event equipment rentals); and Save-the-Date (an event-planning company). But, this all began on a very small scale in 1973, when “Mr. Parker” and two partners started an auto junkyard in George Town. Two years later, he assumed full ownership of the company.

Mr. Tibbetts now relates: “I didn’t know a real lot about cars, but I knew how to crunch numbers and sell, so, I began to sell used parts.” He added new and reconditioned parts in 1984, after he sold an industrial gas business he had started earlier.

When the local building boom began, the construction industry would soon develop into a pillar of the local economy. The emergence of cars “of all brands and models” took place simultaneously. So AI’s growth into other service areas was almost natural. It now includes everything from auto parts and power-tool rentals, to supplies for painting, weddings and special events.

While the current enterprise is vastly difference in size and scope from his ventures of previous decades, his ethos remains the same. Some of his earliest memories are of being immersed in family businesses. When he was only five, his father, the late Capt. Keith Parker Tibbetts Sr., and his late mother Marjorie opened a convenience store.

At the age of 10, when his grandma (the late Elsie Tibbetts) moved to the United States, Mr. Tibbetts stepped up to take over her business of raising fryer chickens and supplying eggs to the people of Cayman Brac. Ever industrious, he also sold the chicken-feed sacks, which were made into clothing.

Mr. Tibbetts’s journey to his present stature was not one of luxury and privilege, however. Recalling those hard, formative years, he said, “We practically lived in the store, and only slept at home.”

While taking advantage of any education opportunities available on the Sister Islands, the boy also continued to work alongside his parents and four siblings. Demonstrating a knack for numbers; he embraced tutored lessons on the Brac, and later excelled at boarding school in the U.S.

As a young man, Mr. Tibbetts’s early ventures included being a newspaper correspondent and an insurance agent (his dad was his first policy-holder). “Even so, I move where the opportunities are,” he shares today. In 1969 he moved to Grand Cayman, and with $150 and three used cars, and with the agency for motor insurance and life insurance, started his own business.

He also made a foray into aviation and satellite-video services, developed the largest local video movie-rental business, and even opened a beauty salon with his late wife Alecia and his sister Virginia.

In meeting the emerging commercial needs of the Islands, Mr. Tibbetts started an industrial gas business in the late 1970s, and sold it a few years later. “I just parlayed one business into another,” he said.

Still maintaining his post at the helm of AI, he is in his office each workday, and spends many evenings at home analyzing industry trends, placing orders, and approving other businesses transactions.

Keith Parker Tibbetts in earlier days.

Over the decades, the name “Parker” has stood out as an indicator of quality service, business sense and grit. Perhaps most commendable is the personable approach Mr. Tibbetts takes to everyone he meets – whether speaking with customers and staff, or dancing with vacationing tourists.

At home, he relished his role as the father of three children, grandfather of four, and great-grandfather of four. His son Keith Parker Tibbetts III now proudly carries the family name into the new era, as the VP of Associated Industries.

Although Mr. Tibbetts could now take on the well-deserved personae of socialite, he still dedicates his days between the family business, and overseeing his pet project: ensuring that the needs of persons with disabilities are met as best possible.

As a member of the Cayman Islands National Council for Persons with Disabilities, he championed the rights of people with special needs. From ensuring that there are parking access and access ramps, Mr. Tibbetts, who is now restricted to a wheelchair, knows the results of these inconveniences. He was named patron for his contributions over the years – which resulted in a new disabilities policy and legislation. This passion also earned him the Cayman Islands Certificate and Badge of Honour, presented during the 2017 Queen’s Birthday celebration.

Regardless of the reason for the person’s disability (his came because of an amputation due to complications of diabetes), Mr. Tibbetts works to ensure that a good quality of life is afforded to all people. In addition to this notable work of late, he has always meshed service with work; being one of the earliest Rotarians, and as a founding member of the Jaycees (a junior Chamber of Commerce group from decades past).

His selection by his peers, and subsequent selection as recipient of the Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement Award is indeed is a crowning achievement. Just perhaps, though, this success is as sweet as when, as a child, he first tasted the cold, hand-churned ice-cream which his parents sold from a kerosene-powered cooler in their grocery store in Watering Place, Cayman Brac.

So, as students or business mavericks seek mentors to emulate, they can consider Mr. Tibbetts as a role model, and one of many such outstanding Chamber members – the likes of which are a rare commodity in the modern day. While many things have changed, his business acumen holds steady. His main regret is, as he shares with a smile: “There just isn’t any decent live music to go out and enjoy any more.”

And, even as he and his son keep forging ahead, Mr. Tibbetts maintains, “I don’t work at all, because I do what I love.”

– Submitted by the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce

For tickets to the Business Excellence Awards, visit www.eventpro.ky, or call the Chamber of Commerce at 949-8090.