J. R. Simplot (1909 – 2008)

John Richard Simplot

Billionaire Entrepreneur

Upon his death on May 29, 2008 The Wall Street Journal wrote:
Potato, Cattle and Computer Projects Helped Entrepreneur Build a Fortune

The New York Times on the same date announced:
J.R. Simplot – billionaire school dropout who grew up in log cabin.

Dropping out of school at 14, John “Jack” Simplot was able to marshaled luck, spunk and inventiveness to fashion an entrepreneurial career. He died of natural causes at his home in Boise, Idaho at the age of 99. His greatest achievement was developing the first commercial frozen french fry.
One of his money-making schemes as a teenager involved raising hundreds of pigs, which he bought for about $600, fattened up and sold for about $7,500. The profit on the pigs allowed him to become a potato farmer, which led to sorting and then processing potatoes. That led to building the largest potato-dehydrating plant in the world, which enabled him to supply much of the dried potatoes and vegetables consumed by U.S. troops in World War II. He mined phosphate to supply his own fertilizer. He shipped his potatoes in wooden boxes. When there weren’t enough boxes available, Mr. Simplot simply bought a forest and set up a mill to make the boxes. Early on, he fed the leftover potato scraps to the cattle that he kept on his vast ranches and huge feedlots.
Mr. Simplot became the 89th-richest American in Forbes magazine's 2007 list ($3.6 billion) by seizing opportunities, and then perceiving how one success could lead logically to the next. His businesses, still family owned, manufacture agriculture; horticulture and turf fertilizers; animal feed and seeds; food products such as fruits, potatoes and other vegetables; and industrial chemicals and irrigation products.
In the mid-1960s, Mr. Simplot signed a contract with Ray Kroc, who built McDonald's into an empire, to supply fries to Kroc's chain. Mr. Simplot promised to build an entire factory just for McDonald's. The deal was sealed with a handshake. Late in life, Mr. Simplot would regularly drive his Lincoln Town Car, (he owned a dealership), to a McDonald's outlet for an Egg McMuffin and hash browns or fries. The license plate on his car read “Mr. Spud”. He wore the same pair of glasses for 30 years and did not fix his car's brakes because he did not want to spend the money, but he liked to hobnob with celebrities and statesmen, including Ernest Hemingway and W. Averell Harriman, at the Sun Valley ski resort.
In 1980, at the age of 71, Mr. Simplot took a gamble on the computer industry, giving $1 million for 40 percent of what would become computer chip maker Micron Technology Inc. Micro went on to become a major producer of DRAM memory chips used for storing information in personal computers.
Not a religion man – “I’m a fact man and if it doesn’t add up, I don’t buy it. I don’t believe in hocus pocus” he said in a 1999 interview. He credited his longevity to disdain for tobacco and alcohol.