J.R. Simplot: To thousands of Idahoans, he was Mr. Spud. To a few others, he was Granddad.

broberts@idahostatesman.comMay 31, 2008 

To the world, J.R. Simplot was the embodiment of the self-made man, a robust entrepreneur who built a multibillion-dollar empire from nothing.

But to John Edward "Ted" Simplot, J.R. was Granddad, a man who would scoop up his grandchildren in a heartbeat for a drive in the country, or early morning work carving out trails on the back side of Brundage Mountain.

J.R. Simplot, who died Sunday, left an indelible mark on his oldest of 18 grandchildren. John Edward Simplot, the executive director and a board member of the J.R. Simplot Co., says his values, his approach to business and his work ethic were all molded by his larger-than-life grandfather.

When John Edward Simplot, 52, thinks of his grandfather, he recalls a man who loved hugs from his grandchildren. "That's obviously private," Simplot said. "It doesn't show up in Forbes magazine or the business world."

He spoke Friday with Idaho Statesman reporter Bill Roberts. Here are edited highlights.

FUN WITH GRANDDAD: A visit from J.R. Simplot always brought excitement.

"He would burst through a door when he came over to visit (and say) 'Who's here? I'm here. Whatcha doing?'"

"(Ski racing) was truthfully one of the family's loves. Those are some of the best memories I have of him. He'd pile all the kids in the back of his Lincoln (and go to) Bogus or Brundage. He took me to Aspen. He loved to ski."

"(There would be) 10-12 of us in the back of that Lincoln, and off we would go to Grandview (to a company feedlot). He loved that. Every time he'd come over that bluff down into the Snake River valley, that methane gas wall hit you. We'd all in unison go, 'Oh, Granddad.' And he'd say, 'Quiet kids. That's the smell of money.'"

PRESENTS AND PRESENCE: He brought gifts for his grandchildren and spent time with them.

"I have a great photo of him, just presents up to the ceiling, and Esther (J.R. Simplot's wife) is peeking around the boxes, and they are coming through the front door. He's got that Jack Simplot smile and that twinkle in his eye."

"He brought me stuffed animals from all over the world. He brought me this little stuffed tiger. It was actually a puppet. He started calling me 'Tiger Ted.'"

"He always attended birthdays, graduations, even my football games. I don't know how he got time to do all this, but he did."

BUILDING AN EMPIRE: He said the company was for his family.

"He would always tell us, 'I am doing this for you kids.' He'd call us 'my progeny.' He had two real loves in his life: his family and then his company. He had this pull-and-tug kind of thing going on. That's what he always talked about: family, company. They were equally in his heart."

BUILDING A RELATIONSHIP: Being a Simplot grandson meant pressure.

"It was good, but it was tough. (As the first grandson), you are always expected to surpass. I don't know how anybody could surpass a J.R. Simplot. This may be a little bit of a grandson talking about his grandfather, but I put him in the neighborhood of Alexander the Great. I can just see Jack leading the troops over the wall with an arrow in his shoulder like Alexander did (and say), 'Come on boys, follow me.'"

"I felt pressure. And he got me involved in some businesses that were not viable. I got in a business with him in the early '80s when inflation was 20 percent, prime was 20 percent, and farmers were barely hanging onto their farms or ranches. So they weren't buying. We got into a farm-equipment business. It just never made it. But it was all a learning experience."

"He sent me out on trips. I worked in the Dominican Republic. He had that gold mine down there. Once we started making so much money down there, the government nationalized it. We hit the mother lode."

"He sent me to Colombia. I drove at the age of 17 or 18 from Boise to Colombia, just north of the equator, to deliver a car. He had a plywood plant down there. He was always sending me out to one of his little adventures. Just to get a feeling."

BUILDING A WORK ETHIC: Even play was work.

"He taught us how to work, even when we were playing. He'd get us up. You know how tough it is to get kids up at 5 in the morning. (He'd say), 'Come on kids, we are going horseback riding. Daylight's a-burning.' "

"We were on those damn horses at sunrise. On the back side of Brundage we'd ... start building trail. He'd have a little chain saw, and he'd be cutting and we'd be chucking."

"He would do that in the morning during the summertime, and then we'd come down and have breakfast, say, around noonish, and then he'd get on his plane and fly to Boise and do his business and fly back that night."

LIFE LESSONS: "You've got to be tough."

"Look good. Be somebody. You've got to be tough. It ain't easy. That's almost the Simplot mantra."

"You are not going to win them all. Be resilient. Get up, dust yourself off, but by God win 51 percent of the time. He would say: 'If you win 51 percent of the time, you are going to be a winner.'"

ABOUT WEALTH: J.R. Simplot taught his grandson how not to spend money.

"Frugality. If you see how he lived - never a chauffeur, never security. He always went out by himself. He drove a dusty Lincoln for five, six or seven years before he traded it in. Even though that house on the hill (Simplot's former home) looks sort of grandiose, he called it a shack on the hill. He wasn't austere, but he was frugal. He knew what a dollar bought and what the power of a dollar was."

LASTING MEMORIES: Simplot shares what he will miss most about his Granddad.

"The twinkle in his eye and that smile. You saw that and you just knew everything is going to be OK. That was just a gift to us all. It instilled confidence in you."

Bill Roberts: 672-6408

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