Find A Job That You Love

By Marty Snyderman

2000-05 Find a Job that You Love 2000-05 Find a Job that You Love And You'll Never Have to Work< Geri Murphy Ron Kipp has had a talent for business since childhood, so it is little wonder that he would become one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the dive travel business. As owner and manager of Bob Soto’s Diving Ltd., Ron has built one of the top dive operations in the world, with nine dive boats, five retail stores and 40 staff members.

His nose for business began at age 12 when he formed his own enterprise. As an offshoot of his passion for stamp collecting, he created the Jefferson Stamp Company, which sold collectable stamps through classified advertising. In fact, he had to submit to his father a Pro Forma P&L, which helped establish a lifelong discipline in business matters.

The P&L approved, he borrowed $50 from Dad and bought an ad in the Sunday Chicago Tribune for $27. The stamps he had; the envelopes he printed in his seventh grade Industrial Arts class on a letterpress; and the mailings he did himself. He used his aunt’s Chicago address because he felt an Oak Park address was too pretentious.

The ad ran, and on the following Tuesday his Aunt Ruth called and asked if they could come over and get some mail. Ron found himself facing 21¼2 mail bags with more than 500 requests, containing some $800. Dad was immediately paid and Ron’s first business venture was off and running.

Next, Ron went to work at the Mazda Magic & Hobby Shop at age 14. His employer was Colonel Russell B. Shaw (WWI and WWII veteran). As a side note: Colonel Shaw was the chief engineer for Wilbur and Orville Wright (yes, the Wright Brothers) one year after they gave birth to aviation. He held private pilots license #18. His wife was the first woman balloonist (licensee #001) in the world.

The Colonel and his wife took a serious interest in Ron and taught him about business, customer service, ethics, pride and doing a proper job. He met people like General Jimmy Doolittle and a host of other personalities. At age 16 he managed the shop when they tookvacations, did the purchasing and attended the Hobby Trade Shows in downtown Chicago.

When Ron went off to college, he went with the intention of studying Aeronautical Engineering (in the footsteps of Colonel Shaw). He soon realized he was completely out of his element when he almost flunked out of the University of Tulsa during his sophomore year. A course counselor strongly advised he switch to the School of Business Administration.

Ron reluctantly made the change, even though he hated to quit. Business came much easier to Ron. He studied one-half as much, graduated with a straight “A” average and was chosen “Outstanding Graduate in the School of Business Administration” in 1961.

With college behind him, Ron was commissioned in the United States Air Force as a brand-new ground-pounding officer. He could not qualify as a pilot when it was discovered that Ron was color blind.

Barely five months in the military and without notice, he was sent to Takhli, Thailand, on Christmas Eve of 1961. This was his introduction to Southeast Asia. There, he met mentor squadron commander Colonel “Peaches” Salyards, who quickly took the rough edges off this new 2nd Lieutenant, teaching him the meaning of leadership and duty.

Ron spent most of his Air Force time in S.E. Asia and Japan. While on active duty, Ron won a few ribbons and received a number of promotions. However, he determined that the Air Force was not his destiny. He was discharged in 1965, as a captain.

Returning to Tulsa, he sought employment with IBM. He spent the next 15 years at Big Blue, earning eight promotions and rising from sales trainee to the much coveted position of branch manager first in Kingsport, Tennessee, and finally in Columbus, Ohio.

IBM taught him the ultimate in customer service. He also learned how to manage both people and business. People ask Ron now and then, “Did you really have to wear white shirts?” He always replies, “I was in charge of enforcing that program!”
Ron has never been shy about telling people what he thinks, no matter what the consequences. In his mind, IBM had begun to lose its greatness in the mid 1970s and he told them so. That sort of frankness did not put his career in high gear. In retrospect, he was right and they were wrong.

By 1979, Ron was ready to make a move. At age 39, IBM advised him that after five years of Far Exceeds appraisals (the best) as a senior manager and 15 consecutive 100% Clubs, he was “too old” to be further promoted. However, during his days with IBM, something else was going on in Ron’s life.

In 1971, Ron became a certified diver via the YMCA (after too many bootleg dives with a double hose regulator and no BC). Enthusiastic about the sport, he became a NAUI Instructor in 1976 through an instructor course in Freeport, Grand Bahama.
Oddly enough, he almost flunked the instructor course. Ron’s group leader rated him an “A” in oral presentation, a “B” in theory and an “F” in water work. He claimed, “Kipp just can’t scuba dive.” Outspoken as ever, Ron demanded an independent evaluation, got one and passed.
In 1976, Ron started a serious study of the dive industry, in hopes of purchasing a dive operation. He read Skin Diver from cover to cover and subscribed to Undercurrent. He visited and dived every Caribbean destination he could.

He didn’t find what he was looking for until an oppotunity in Grand Cayman caught his attention. Bob Soto’s Diving was for sale and had been for quite some time. He flew to the island and carefully analyzed all aspects of the businesses and island. The island was a British Crown Colony, English-speaking, safe and friendly. Everything fell into place. Mr. Bob and he met. Ron agreed on his price, and Bob agreed on his “carry-back” terms. Ron jokes that he could have bought the Chase Manhattan Bank with those terms.
For the first two years, everybody in the dive industry told Ron that he paid too much for the business. Some even predicted he would be gone within six months. For the next two years most people just left him alone, unable to figure him out. Ron settled in and quietly began molding a business that would change the Cayman Island’s dive industry.

Then came the funny part—during years five and six everybody told Ron how lucky he was to be in the right spot at the right time. The Cayman Islands were booming.

During the past two decades, Ron has not only grown the business, but also made a significant number of Cayman diving innovations. He was the founder of the Cayman Islands Watersports Operators Association, which set standards of safety and diver conduct that have made the Cayman Islands friendly to divers of all types and skill levels. He developed the first Guaranteed Dive Vacation, a huge success as a creative marketing concept. When diving computers were introduced, he was the first to purchase them in quantity and offer the first computer-assisted diving course. Ron’s environmental awareness and practices led the way for not just the Cayman Islands but other Caribbean nations as well. As a result of his efforts the reefs and waters off the Cayman Islands remain the pristine attraction they were when he first arrived on the islands. But Ron’s coup de grace was Cayman Madness. Ron’s love of diving, natural good humor and innate sense of fun permeate the yearly event so much that its appeal can only be accurately measured in the steadily growing numbers of repeat divers who loyally return to the event every year. If you’ve never been to a Cayman Madness, it is best described as sheer diver fun.

Part of what has made the Cayman Islands one of the world’s top dive destinations year after year has been Ron Kipp. His personality and contributions can be seen in almost every aspect of diving the islands. Along the way, he has always managed to keep in touch with what’s important: the divers and their experience in the Cayman Islands.
He admits “coming to grips with the public 365 days of the year is not always easy.” Most people are just great. One out of a thousand used to get to him. Not any more. He still believes in the value of human beings, his customers, and that most people are good to great individuals. The infectious smile of living life well and having fun along the way has yet to leave Ron’s face.

As Ron explains, “You can call it confidence or arrogance, but I have lived my life exactly on my terms. Sure, I ‘work’ all the time, but it really isn’t work. My sainted mother once told me, ‘Find a job that you love, and you will never have to work again.’”