“Heads, it’s yours. Tails, it’s mine.”
It’s a seemingly innocent phrase that has been used in coin flips for generations. Such flips have decided possession of the ball at all levels of football. They’ve been the deciding factor when a decision could not be reached.
But for J.R. “Jack” Simplot, one coin toss in 1929 for an electric potato sorter gave birth to a global agribusiness empire that today employs more than 10,000 individuals and includes not just potato growing and processing but also cattle feeding and ranching, seed production, farming, fertilizer manufacturing, frozen-food processing and more.
Some are destined to be doctors, some lawyers, some politicians, some teachers. Simplot set his sights on agriculture from a young age. The epitome of a “self-made man,” Simplot grew up a farm boy in Delco, Idaho. After quitting school and leaving home at the age of 14, Simplot worked his way from farm laborer to one of American agriculture’s most innovative and successful entrepreneurs over the course of his 99 years. By the early years of World War II, the company was the largest shipper of fresh potatoes in the country and was selling millions of pounds of dehydrated onions and potatoes to the military.
Known globally for his company’s commercialization of frozen french fries and around Idaho as “Mr. Spud,” Simplot’s contributions to the potato industry are widely known. In fact, by a simple handshake with McDonald’s founder Ray Croc, J.R. Simplot Company became the exclusive supplier of french fries to the fast-food giant, and by 2005, the company supplied nearly half of all of McDonald’s french fries. However, since 1938, J.R. Simplot has been a significant contributor to the nation’s cattle-feeding sector. His success, though, did not happen overnight.
In 1938, Simplot purchased Bruneau Sheep Company in southern Idaho. As Simplot once said, “I bought 160 acres with a nice house on it from a fellow that was running the Bruneau Sheep Company. I got a little prosperous and I bought the whole company. At that time, they had 10,000 sheep and probably 50 head of horses.”
Most successful business professionals, regardless of the industry, will be quick to credit the team around them as a key component of their success. Simplot was no different and was quoted as saying, “My idea was to hire good people and turn ‘em loose and let them go, and it’s worked.” That’s exactly what Simplot did when he hired Fred Korner to oversee the sheep operation — a post he held until he passed away in 1955.