VOL. 6 | NO. 47 | Saturday, November 16, 2013
SMALL BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT
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EMPHASIS: Financial Services
Family Roots Keep Lipscomb & Pitts on Path
By RICHARD J. ALLEY
Lipscomb & Pitts was founded on Oct. 1, 1954, by Mathew Lipscomb Jr. and John Pitts, both veterans of World War II who had come home to become the top two sales leaders in the southeast for Liberty Mutual Insurance Co.
“I remember both of them working at night, working on the phones calling people, I’m talking about religiously every night for two hours a night,” Johnny Pitts, chief manager, said of his father and Lipscomb. “It was just a standard thing at our homes that both of them were very disciplined in their approach. They were committed to this business.”
Credibility in those days meant roots.
“You had to have your name on the building,” said Pitts – and the partners put down roots in 1956 by building their company’s home at 651 S. Cooper St., just north of Central Avenue. The building was more than they needed at the time, and the unused space was strategically rented to an accountant who would recommend clients to them, a claims adjusting firm to handle their claims, and an attorney. The insurance business grew to fill the building, which eventually had to be doubled in size.
Mat Lipscomb III and Johnny Pitts continue the legacy their fathers built when they opened Lipscomb & Pitts in 1954.
(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)
Lipscomb & Pitts began venturing into the world of commercial insurance in the early 1960s, with the hiring of the first salesman and fellow veteran Jack Gates. In 1979, Mat Lipscomb III went to work in the firm, followed two years later by Johnny Pitts, both hired to sell commercial insurance. Nothing was given to the sons. They worked in the business beginning as teenagers in the filing room, and, later, each worked for other insurance companies along the way.
“In ’89, they came to us and said, ‘We worked an arrangement where you guys are going to start managing the company,’” Pitts said. “Everything was real slow. From ’89 to ’92, we managed the company.”
The new partners agreed on a philosophical decision of how to improve the company, developing different and particular disciplines, such as divisions focused on commercial and personal lines, and developing an employee benefits division.
“That was really the beginning of the growth of our organization,” Pitts said.
They bought the company outright from their fathers in 1992.
It was a 50-50 split between the men who had grown up together in an insurance environment. As partners, Pitts said, “We both have the same compass that points north, but we sometimes take different directions, which is really healthy. It’s really healthy to have someone that thinks differently than you do, but philosophically you have the same beliefs in the way you run your business, the way you live your life, and all those things.”
As a means to establishing the various lines of insurance offered, they hired Rick McKinley to open the benefits division, now 30 percent of the business. Around the same time, Rusty Vollmer was hired to begin the trucking division, a specialized area of insurance and an asset in the distribution center that is Memphis. Other additions have included Brett Cutchins, president of commercial lines; Jay Harvill, senior vice president; and Karla Combs, chief operating officer.
“Those came over the period of a few years, but what you see with those particular chosen individuals with leadership skills, we began to form a real good team that can take us to the next level – and we did, and we have been ever since,” Pitts said.
In fact, they’ve taken Lipscomb & Pitts to a level as the Mid-South’s largest locally owned insurance agency, employing 130.
In November 1995, they bought the tower at 2670 Union Ave. Extended, putting their name at the top for credibility to be seen for miles. It was an investment in a place, and it’s that place and community to which the company is devoted.
“The city has blessed us, and we need to give back,” Pitts said. “It’s in our DNA; it is a culture of our organization to give back.”
Since 2005, the Lipscomb Pitts Breakfast Club has been a catalyst, partnering with businesses to align resources and underwrite the cost of nearly 150 events every year and working to impact the community.
In a well-appointed conference room at the Lipscomb & Pitts offices is a commissioned painting depicting the reflection of the insurance company’s first building on South Cooper upon the glass of the Union Avenue Extended glass front. It’s a fitting tribute, as the idea has been to bridge the work ethics of the past with the reach in services of the future.