If there was anything Linton N. Tibbetts loved more than the lumber business, it was his homeland. He just couldn’t let go of the islands.
“He always wanted to take people to the Cayman Islands,” says Kyle Hooker, Executive Chairman of Tibbetts Lumber Company. “He would extend the offer to anybody in the company – ‘hey, when you’re ready to join me in the islands, I’m ready to have you.’
“He’d literally take the time out and drive them around for a full day, showing them every piece of property, putting them on the dive boat, and his fishing boat. Things like that build camaraderie and that family atmosphere within a company.”
The son of a master shipbuilder, Tibbetts was born on tiny Cayman Brac, and following World War II built St. Petersburg-based Cox Lumber Company into a multi-million dollar business. After posting sales of $400 million in 2005, he sold the company, only to start over three years later under the family name. He died in 2009.
Tibbetts had begun to re-invest in Cayman Brac – the smallest of the Cayman Islands, just 12 miles long – in the 1970s. One of his first ventures was Red Carpet Airlines, which ran a small fleet of Douglas DC-3s between the Tampa/St. Pete area, Key West and the islands of Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac. “He always joked that that was the one business he couldn’t make money in,” says his grandson Michael Tibbetts. He eventually sold the company.
Because the coral reefs around the islands were – and are – unsurpassed, the majority of Red Carpet’s Caymans passengers were diving charters. To accommodate them, Linton Tibbetts built the Brac Reef Hotel, a 40-unit facility, in 1978.
And the march of progress continued unabated: “In the early ‘80s, the government was going to put in a jet runway,” Michael Tibbetts recalls. “And to justify jet airline service, they said they needed 80 hotel rooms on the island.
“So he sold the Brac Reef Hotel, and built another one, with another 40 rooms. And that became the Brac Reef Beach Resort, which has been re-branded since as the Cayman Brac Beach Resort. Which is still part of our portfolio of resorts.”
Indeed, three generations of the Tibbetts family are the caretakers of Linton’s legacy. Michael Tibbetts is a director of JEM Worldwide LLC, the family-owned holding company, along with his sisters Emily Tibbetts-Allenbach and Jessica Tibbetts-Buchanan. JEM owns and operates Cayman Brac Beach Resort, as well as Little Cayman Beach Resort on Little Cayman, and Cobalt Coast Grand Cayman Resort on Grand Cayman.
Customized diving experiences
JEM owns and operates a fleet of 10 specialized diving boats, 42 to 46 feet in length, between the three properties, and partners with Reef Divers, highly regarded for its guided scuba diving boat trips and snorkeling excursions, featuring concierge “valet diving” service.
Cobalt Coast, located on a remote stretch of Grand Cayman, was built in 2000, and acquired by the Tibbetts family in 2015. It is one of the few Cayman Island diving resorts to offer extensive shoreline diving access.
The Little Cayman Beach Resort was built in the early 1990s, under the supervision of Michael Tibbetts’ father, Daniel.
The Cayman Brac resort was devastated by Hurricane Paloma in 2008 and underwent extensive remodeling and rebuilding.
“I am very pleased that the legacy established by Linton Tibbetts has not only thrived, but has passed on to the next generation, and continues to grow from strength to strength,” Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said at the January 2016 ribbon-cutting ceremony for the 40-room resort. Cayman Brac Beach Resort, Kirkconnell declared, was the “backbone of tourism” on the tiny island.
Premier Alden McLaughlin told the Cayman Compass: “I think this is probably the most tangible evidence that the work we have done, and the money we have invested in improving the airport and the flight schedules to the Brac, is paying off.
“Cayman Brac has always been a challenge as a viable economy, because of the population numbers. They need tourism even more than Grand Cayman.”
What does the future hold for the Tibbetts family and its deeply-held affection for the islands?
Electricity on the islands is generated by diesel fuel. As a board member of the Cayman Brac Power & Light Company (co-founded by his grandfather), Michael Tibbetts is interested in renewable energy sources. “The company is evaluating options to explore the use of solar power on Little Cayman,” he says.
“I think to explore all renewable energies to reduce diesel consumption is a goal for all of us on the islands.”
He believes that’s the sort of progress his grandfather would be interested in. “We’re incredibly proud of our family’s heritage and legacy, and we want to continue that for years to come,” Tibbetts says. “And then pass it on for our kids and future generations.”
Read Part One of this story here