What do funeral homes, helicopter tours and executive-level dogs have in common? These are just some of the synergistic elements employed to great effect by San Antonio-based entrepreneur and philanthropist Robert "Dick" Tips, once introduced by Jay Leno as "the most interesting person in Texas."
Mr. Tips modestly shrugs that one off, but the fifth-generation Texan is a true maverick, which suits him fine. His business combination of (recession-proof) funeral homes, insurance companies, luxury hotel, private aircraft and more besides may seem incongruous at first, but Mr. Tips, who turned 54 just yesterday, has it all worked out.
"My great-grandfather founded the funeral business in 1907," he says. "The insurance component is integral-pre-packaging funerals is a wise step for families. The private jet is for flying in funeral directors from around the country to talk business, while the helicopter is for showing them San Antonio-plus for spreading crematory ashes and fly-bys for our military clients." Today, his Mission Parks Funeral Chapels and Cemeteries is at the center of an $100 million-plus empire.
Cutting-edge technology and car washes are among the ways he ebulliently transforms the death experience-graves are "underground condos"-and his 37-room hotel, the 1906 Fairmount, is part of the package. He reserves part of this Victorian gem-one of the heaviest structures ever moved-for funeral clients, while also catering to the business executive.
"This is a dealmaking hotel," he says. "The CEO who needs a discrete, intimate setting for working out that multi-million deal comes here." And then there's Luke the Labrador, his "Director of Pet Services." Near death from abuse, Luke was saved by a vet privately enaged by Tips, and today adds to the hotel's uniquely at-home allure.
A most interesting man indeed.