One of the richest self-made billionaires in the agribusiness industry was born on January 4, 1909, in Iowa, USA. His name was John Richard Simplot, the founder of J.R. Simplot Company, the world’s largest producers of frozen potatoes.
John was the son of a large homestead farmer. At age 14, he quit school after a feud with his father. With only $20 gold coins in his pocket, he started his career buying and selling scrip of teachers. Later, he got a $600 bank loan and invested in a profitable hog-raising business. He parlayed whatever profits he earned into buying lands which he developed into potato farms.
In late 1930s, John purchased a simple potato sorter and in the following years, he built many potato warehouses. As demand soared during World War II, he started vertical integration of the business. He went into production of certified potato seed and phosphate fertilizer. He also bought cattle ranches and timberlands. After the war, he developed the technology for cutting and freezing potato fries.
In 1967, John signed a contract with Ray Kroc of McDonald’s to become its exclusive supplier of French fries. Later, his company also became a supplier to other fast food chains such as KFC, Burger King, and Wendy’s. In the 1970s, he provided funds for a startup company named Micron Technologies. Subsequently, when Micron went public, he became enormously rich as one of its largest shareholders.
John died of pneumonia in 2008 at the age of 99. He married twice and had four children. At present, J. R. Simplot Company has annual revenues of over $6 billion and more than 11,000 employees. Aside from potatoes, its portfolio of other businesses include agricultural supplies, processed fruits and vegetables, horticulture, feed ingredients, livestock, dairy, and mining.