Capitol & State

Forbes says there’s a new richest Idahoan, and he’s no small potatoes

A file photo of Melaleuca founder Frank VanderSloot of Idaho Falls. Described as press shy, a direct marketing genius, a political raconteur, environmentalist and cattle breeder, he is now listed as Idaho’s richest resident by Forbes.
A file photo of Melaleuca founder Frank VanderSloot of Idaho Falls. Described as press shy, a direct marketing genius, a political raconteur, environmentalist and cattle breeder, he is now listed as Idaho’s richest resident by Forbes.

Forbes on Wednesday profiled “Idaho’s richest person,” Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot of Idaho Falls, whose wealth the magazine estimates at $1.9 billion.

It’s an accolade that left VanderSloot with “mixed feelings” — one that he characterized Wednesday as the wrong measure of true value and worth and better bestowed on his company and the workers who built it.

The profile is part of Forbes’ annual compilation of each state’s richest resident. It’s Forbes’ third year compiling the list, which reflects the magazine’s estimate of each person’s wealth as of June 9.

The profile describes VanderSloot’s Idaho upbringing, his business career and the 1985 founding of Melaleuca, an online retailer of vitamins, health supplements and environmentally friendly products. Forbes notes that the company’s 2016 sales hit a record $1.75 billion.

“I don’t think it really has merit,” VanderSloot said of the magazine’s ranking. “I’m not saying it’s wrong. I’m saying the fact that we track things like that and somehow think it’s newsworthy doesn’t say a lot of good things about our society and what we value.

“I think we should look more at, is a person living their values? Are they truthful and honest? Do they deal fairly? Are they caring people?” he added. “How much assets someone has? People are interested in that, but I don’t think it has merit.”

Forbes’ ranking is more appropriately “a tribute to Melaleuca and to all of my people who’ve built something good, and how hard they’ve worked and how well they’ve done,” VanderSloot said.

“I’m only on this list because I happen to be a major shareholder,” he said. “As far as me personally, I’m not going to see that money. In order to realize that wealth I’d have to sell Melaleuca or pieces of it, and I’m not going to do that.”

The story recounts VanderSloot’s run-ins with local and national media going back more than a decade. It notes that he owns 117,500 acres across the West and is a big donor to Republican candidates.

Asked for his take on the Republican candidates in the 2018 governor’s race, VanderSloot said he was keeping his powder dry. Businessman Tommy Ahlquist, U.S. Rep. Raúl Labrador and Lt. Gov. Brad Little are running in a three-way contest.

“We’re likely to stay out of any endorsement and let these candidates give us their best side and their best argument and see what kind of votes they can garner up,” he said. “The only thing that would change our minds is character issues. In my opinion all of these folks have high character. If we see someone being treated unfairly or lied about, then we’re going to step up.”

He said he might also intervene to “balance the playing field” if one candidate with “deep pockets” tries to win the nomination by outspending his rivals.

Forbes’ broader story on the richest by state notes that VanderSloot is the “lone newcomer” to this year’s list, replacing Simplot Co. potato heir Scott Simplot in Idaho’s top spot. Forbes said Simplot “dropped well below VanderSloot this year” after Forbes found information that the Simplot family’s estimated $8 billion wealth has been spread “across the next generation of heirs.”

VanderSloot said the magazine made contact a couple of weeks ago to tell him he was “probably” going to be on the list replacing Simplot. Not thrilled with the prospect, he said Melaleuca spent a “couple days arguing with them” against changing the ranking.

Later, what was initially supposed to be just a one-line mention of VanderSloot became a feature on him when the magazine determined he was the only newcomer on the 50-state list.

“When we saw the story this morning it was a relief to us that they had explained things we believe accurately and fairly,” he said.

Bill Dentzer: 208-377-6438, @DentzerNews

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