J.R. ‘Jack’ Simplot began his colorful career in 1923, near the small farming community of Declo, Idaho, when he quit school to go into business on his own. He was only 14 years old.
Jack poured seemingly boundless energy into many endeavors to grow his young business. By the early years of World War II, the J.R. Simplot Company had become the largest shipper of fresh potatoes in the country, and was selling millions of pounds of dehydrated onions and potatoes to the military.
Jack’s ingenuity and determination set his company on its innovative course. His recipe for success: grab opportunity in even the most challenging environments, look at well-known problems for solutions that no one has thought of before, and work harder than anyone else. He had an easy method for judging the right opportunities: If it’s not going to pay off for our customers, it’s not going to pay off for us.
When wartime shortages made it difficult to buy fertilizer, Jack built a manufacturing plant in Pocatello, Idaho, and produced his own. In the late 1940s the Simplot Company created and marketed the first commercially viable frozen french fries in the world. Jack became the exclusive supplier of fries to McDonald’s restaurants on little more than a handshake with Ray Kroc and the relationship of respect and trust between the two companies continues to this day.
In this way, and throughout his business career, Jack blended the common sense lessons of his youth with a gambler’s intuition and a shrewd businessman’s judgment. Jack and his wife Esther made their home for many years in Boise, not far from his company’s headquarters and about 200 miles from the farm where he was raised. He passed away quietly on May 25, 2008, with Esther at his side.
Although many factors have contributed to the success of the Company, the foundation has been the combination of J.R.’s steadfast leadership with his passion for his employees’ well-being and professional fulfillment. As he liked to say, “I just hired a bunch of good people and turned ’em loose.” The pride and loyalty instilled in the Company workforce by his attitude, and the mutual affection felt between founder and employees, is difficult to overstate.
Jack has been honored by the World Potato Congress and the Idaho Potato Hall of Fame for his contributions to the industry. Numerous organizations have honored his achievements in business as well as his lifelong financial support of education, the performing arts, youth athletics, and the many communities in which our Company does business.
Although Jack Simplot will remain forever fixed as the founder, leader and inspiration of the Company that bears his name, he would be the first to point out that scores of dedicated employees contributed mightily – and still do – to the success of the organization.