Francis M. Hipp | Legacy of Leadership Profile

Francis M. Hipp

(1911–1995)

Known as "the master of the soft sell" for his artful leadership and participatory management style, Francis M. Hipp built Greenville-based The Liberty Corporation into one of South Carolina's premier companies. Under his direction, its subsidiaries, Liberty Life Insurance Company and Cosmos Broadcasting Company, became industry leaders.

Hipp led Liberty for more than 50 years, first as president of Liberty Life and then as president of The Liberty Corporation, which he formed in 1967. In the process, he guided Liberty Life to prominence as one of the top insurance companies in the nation. At the same time, he was building Cosmos Broadcasting from a single radio station into a major television broadcaster.

Francis Moffett Hipp was born March 3, 1911, in Newberry, the son of W. Frank and Eunice Jane Halfacre Hipp. He attended The Citadel from 1929 to 1931 and graduated from Furman University in 1933.

Hipp's father started his own insurance career as a general agent with Spartanburg-based Southeastern Life in 1914. He left Southeastern in 1919 to form The Liberty Life, and 11 years later he bought controlling interest in Southeastern Life. In 1941, he merged Southeastern and Liberty as Liberty Life Insurance Company.

Frank Hipp believed radio would be an excellent medium for advertising his insurance companies, and in 1930 he bought WIS in Columbia, a fledgling radio station in financial trouble. He quickly added WCSC in Charleston, creating the ability to reach virtually every town in the state with the Liberty Life message.

After graduating from Furman, Francis Hipp went to work for Liberty Life, first in the investment area and then in marketing. When Frank Hipp died unexpectedly in 1943, the directors elected Francis Hipp to succeed his father as president. He was 31 years old, the same age his father had been when he founded Liberty Life.

Under Francis Hipp's energetic leadership, both the insurance company and the broadcasting operations grew and prospered. Liberty Life expanded beyond South Carolina, marketing through its own agents in the Southeast and through financial institutions across the United States.    

In 1950, The Broadcasting Company of the South was formed as the parent company of Liberty's broadcasting entities, and in 1953 Liberty Life's first television station, WIS-TV in Columbia, signed on-the-air. In 1965, after WSFA-TV in Montgomery, Alabama, and WTOL-TV in Toledo, Ohio, were purchased, The Broadcasting Company of the South was renamed Cosmos Broadcasting Corporation to reflect its broader geographical base. When The Liberty Corporation was formed in 1967, Liberty Life, Cosmos Broadcasting, and Surety Investment Company were merged into it. In 1969, the company was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Hipp, as president and chief executive officer, led Liberty until 1979, when he became board chairman. At that time, his son, Hayne, became president and chief executive officer.          

Hipp's charismatic leadership was built around his sense of fairness. He approached his job with absolute focus on integrity. A quiet but effective listener, he displayed an exceptional ability to build a positive consensus from disparate points of view.

At his death in 1995, Hipp was the longest-serving chairman of any listed company in the history of the New York Stock Exchange. Liberty had become a diversified holding company with more than $3 billion in assets and revenues of over $600 million. Liberty Life was a dominant insurance company in the Carolinas and had a national presence. Liberty's newest subsidiary, Liberty Insurance Services, was the largest third-party administrator in the life insurance industry.

Cosmos Broadcasting owned and operated 11 network-affiliated television stations, a cable advertising sales subsidiary, and a video production company.

Hipp served as chairman of a revitalized State Development Board from 1959 to 1963. His leadership was characterized by unparalleled economic growth as a record number of industries were recruited to South Carolina. He was also a member of the South Carolina Research Authority.

He and the late H. William Close helped create the University of South Carolina Business Partnership Foundation and both served terms as chairman. The College of Business Administration's twin towers are named for them.

Hipp was chairman of the South Carolina Foundation of Independent Colleges and was a member of the boards of The Citadel Development Foundation, Queens College, and the University of South Carolina President's National Advisory Council.

He received honorary degrees from Furman University, The Citadel, the University of South Carolina, Clemson University, Benedict College, and Wofford College.

Hipp was a director of the South Carolina National Bank and South Carolina Electric & Gas Company.

In 1980, the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce named him South Carolina Businessman of the Year.

Hipp married Mary Matilda Looper November 10, 1935, and they were the parents of four children, Hayne Hipp, John Hipp, Mary Jane Hipp Brock, and the late Mary Elizabeth Hipp. Mrs. Hipp died in 1962. He married Shirley Mattoon in 1964. She died March 16, 1995. Francis Hipp died July 24, 1995.    

He was inducted into the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame in 1985.    

© 1999 South Carolina Business Hall of Fame