J.R. Simplot's Legacy

Don't look for big changes at Simplot Co.

J.R. Simplot's death Sunday at age 99 raises the question: With the founder gone, what will happen to the J.R. Simplot Co.?

Simplot's son Scott, the company chairman, answered Monday: It will stay just as it is.

Simplot Co., whose businesses range from making french fries in Nampa to selling turf seeds in China, will continue as a family-owned agricultural company, with no changes expected in control or lines of business, Scott R. Simplot told the Idaho Statesman.

"It would be a surprise to me if we change anything," he said. "What opportunities walk in the door six months from now, it's impossible to know. But there isn't something in the hopper that's about to jump out."

J.R. Simplot surrendered the company chairmanship in 1994 at age 85. Its 10-member Simplot Co. board includes a five-person executive committee, four of whom are Simplot family members: Scott and his sister, Gay, the former wife of Gov. Butch Otter; and two of J.R. Simplot's grandchildren, Debbie McDonald and John E. "Ted" Simplot. The fifth executive member is President and CEO Larry Hlobik (pronounced LO-bik), the chief executive officer since 2002.

The Boise company claims yearly sales of more than $3 billion, making it one of the largest privately held companies in the nation. Forbes magazine last year estimated J.R. Simplot's personal fortune at $3.6 billion. He refused to make the company public because he didn't want to have to answer to shareholders.

"It's going to stay a private company," Scott Simplot said.

John Richard "Jack" Simplot left home at 14 and soon put his entrepreneurial skills to work selling lambs and hogs to start a potato business. As his business grew, he branched out into other agricultural enterprises. He started the "Don Plant" - a fertilizer plant named for another son, Don - in Pocatello in 1943. A handshake with McDonald's founder Ray Kroc in 1967 made Simplot the major supplier of McDonald's french fries.

Simplot Co. is one of Idaho's biggest private employers, with about 3,500 workers. It operates potato-processing plants in Nampa, Caldwell, Aberdeen and Pocatello. The company has a feedlot in Grand View, a seed-production plant in Post Falls, the fertilizer plant in Pocatello, and livestock feed production plants in Caldwell and Burley. It has 16 Simplot Grower Solutions stores in Idaho that sell seed and fertilizer, rent farm equipment and offer other goods and services. It also operates Western Stockmen's stores in Burley, Caldwell and Jerome.

"We're an Idaho-based company, and we're staying right here," Scott Simplot said.

David Staats: 377-6417