J.R. Simplot: In his own words

May 25, 2008 

J.R. Simplot was direct, colorful, unabashedly outspoken. He tended to say whatever came to mind, without sugar coating or grammatical refinements. His speech was generously sprinkled with profanity. Here, excerpted from transcripts of a 1992 company interview and another by Esquire magazine in 2001, is J.R. in his own words:

On the living conditions of his youth:

"You didn't have inside water. You had to go out and pump a goddamn well to get a cup of water and wash your teeth. So you didn't bother about it. They didn't have toilets inside; hell, no. You went outside and used the old Sears Roebuck catalog. Everybody lost their teeth by age 35. It was automatic. They just had them all pulled and put in the gummers."

On leaving home at 14:

"That old man of mine was a hard driver. We never got to go anywhere. He was a tough master. I'd want to go to a basketball game or something, and he'd say no. I said to hell with it all and decided to leave, and I did."

On his start in the potato business When he flipped a coin with a partner to win a potato sorter:

"He and Igot into a little argument, and I said, 'Hell, Lindsay, there's only one way to settle this thing. Let's match and see who owns it.' We bought it 50-50. So he pulled a dollar out of his pocket, and he was about half alcoholed up, and I called it and it come up my call. So I was in the potato business, and that's a true story."

On the early days of his company:

"It was awful tough in the early '30s, and all through the '30s. It wasn't no dream train. We made money, not a lot of money, a few thousand every year. It was slow, tough business. But we accumulated a lot of sheds and a lot of equipment. I've bought and sold a lot of little ranches."

On a Simplot chemist's development of the frozen french fry:

"He brings this bunch of french fries into me one day and said, 'Jack, these have been frozen.' By golly, they were good french fries, real good french fries. I said, 'By God, let's get a patent on this one.' McDonald's still buys a big share of their french fries from our company. Probably one of the best licks I've ever made."

On his commitment to keeping his company private:

"We were drummin' up an idea of going public and got right down to the wire, and I decided hell no, I'd be working for somebody else, and I didn't want to do that. So I backed out I got no stockholders worrying about living off the income, so you're in pretty good shape to meet your competition."

On his management philosophy:

"My idea was to hire good people and turn 'em loose and let them go, and it's worked. It worked in the food division, it worked in the fertilizer division and it's working today, in pert near everything."

On his reputation for gambling and usually winning:

"Luck is facts, and it's facts that make luck."

On his troubles with the IRS:

"They audited me, and of course I'd made a lot of moves. I had a lot of partnerships.I had this and I had that, and they put a group of auditors on me for two or three years. Somebody told me we had as high as 25 auditors in here."

On alcohol:

"I never drank it. I've tasted the damn stuff when I was a kid, but Jesus, it's just like drinking turpentine. Ijust stayed away from it. I knew goddamn well there was no answers (in it)."

On politics:

"The Democrats want to spend more, more on socialistic affairs, less on people that want to do things. They take the effort out of it. You got to let people get rich and pay taxes."

On the future:

"You're going to see someday where an acre of agricultural land is gonna' be priceless because you're going to be able to grow so damn much on it by the new methods. Land's going to get so damned scarce you're going to have to produce more on it."

"Micron in 20 years will have 50,000 people out there working for them, because we got the brains to make it work."

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