A grain elevator manager, farmer and rancher collaboration to form a cattle-feeding and grain operation has succeeded through strategized employee placement.
Avoiding the Peter Principle and setting up the right business collaborations has been key to Loren Doll’s success. Doll, of Irsik and Doll Feed Services, is a 2015 inductee into the Cattle Feeder Hall of Fame. The Peter Principle says a worker typically is promoted until he reaches a level of incompetence. This unique management viewpoint and strategic collaboration of enterprises has helped propel the company into a position of respect with a history of employee longevity and progress.
For Doll, his start in the business began as a young kid shadowing his father Fred around day after day at the grain elevator Fred managed in Wright, Kan. Eventually, the expertise became Doll’s, as he began his professional journey in the feed business, with him managing a grain elevator in Ingalls, Kan., for 14 years.
Then in 1961, Doll, Fred and the three Irsik brothers — Norbert, Clarence and Stephen Irsik — decided to combine their farming, ranching and grain elevator resources and partner in a feedyard near Ingalls, a midway point between Dodge City and Garden City — the oasis of packing plants and irrigated-circle cropland.
“We decided to build a 2,500-head-capacity yard,” Doll says. “None of us had ever fed cattle, but it seemed to be a good business to be in. The Irsik brothers were farmers and cattlemen, so it fit in perfect with our grain business.”
During the developmental process, the partners realized they needed someone with vast experience in the industry to be successful, and they hired John Oringderf to manage the yard. Doll is quick to attribute success to the experience Oringderf brought to the table during the 15 years he worked for the company.
“We learned plenty of lessons the first few years in the cattle-feeding business but were able to keep the pens full,” Doll recalls. “So we expanded every year; today, Ingalls Feed Yard is at 40,000-head capacity.”
An emphasis was also placed on keeping up with the most efficient and successful technology, leading to a flaking system being installed in the mill.
“We were one of the first units in this part of the country,” he says. “We had heard that flaking was much more efficient in feeding cattle, so we made a trip to West Texas where some of the yards had flakers. By the end of the trip, we were so impressed that we had a contractor come out and build us a flaking mill. We still use it today.”
By 1968, Doll resigned from the elevator he had been managing in Ingalls and transitioned to full time as the business manager with Irsik and Doll company. Shortly after, the partners decided it was time to expand to other locations, building Gray County Feed Yard just south of Cimarron, Kan., and purchasing a grain elevator business in the same area in 1971. Taking advantage of the railway systems used for the gain elevator locations, another grain facility was built at the Ingalls Feed Yard. Eventually, the company would acquire an elevator in Syracuse, Kan., and sell it later.
With a specialization in custom feeding, a high priority on low-risk cattle and direct access to feed resources, Irsik and Doll had grown to a thriving business by the time Doll retired in 1989. Over the years, the partners and Doll saw the success from placing responsibility on capable employees, and transitioned Nathan Reese, a consulting nutritionist for Irsik and Doll, to be the new manager, where he led the business for 10 years. The partners then hired John Petz, who brought to the company a long resume of international grain and cattle-feeding experience and who remains the CEO today — meaning that since its conception, Irsik and Doll has only had three CEOs.
“Making the transition to professional management was one of the best things we did. We were grain people, not cattle people, so hiring leaders with the background knowledge was essential to run the operation to where it is today,” Doll explains. “It really is all about finding the right people. We try to hire young people with a cattle background who are trainable.”
The management style has proved successful for Irsik and Doll, with the company expanding even further to include a train loading station in Garden City, along with a liquid-protein supplementation plant, and purchasing a grain facility in Sublette, giving the company a storage capacity of 10 million bushels. The feedyard side has also grown, purchasing Sunbelt feedyard in Hugoton, Kan., and partnering in a third, along with expanding to Beefland and Irsik and Doll Feed Yard in Garden City, and Royal Beef in Scott City, Kan. Since the original 2,500-head-capacity yard built in 1961, Irsik and Doll has reached a feeding capacity of 203,000 head in six yards.
Looking back, Doll has seen his fair share of ups and downs in the business, from extreme blizzards to the ever-changing markets, but in all his years in the cattle-feeding business, he says the last two years have been the toughest he’s seen.
“These have been tough times presently,” he says. “With the drought and what it has done to the cow herds and grain prices — it’s going to take a while to recover. It’s been the biggest disruption in the last 50 years.”
Aside from cattle feeding, Doll has had great fulfillment in his personal life — which he says is his greatest success. Doll and his wife, Veleeta, have been married for 64 years. The couple has six children, 15 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
And while he has been out of the day-to-day duties of the business for a while, Doll still cares very much about the success of the business and the people within it.
“I still visit our operation quite often to make an appearance. They say, ‘old retired people need to be cheerleaders for those running the business,’” he says. “I feel good about everything we’ve accomplished in this industry and wouldn’t change it for anything.”