Billionaire Jack Simplot, one of America’s greatest entrepenuers, died Saturday (May 24) — at age 99 of natural causes. Best known as the Spud King of America, Simplot pioneered frozen french fries and became exclusive supplier to McDonald’s. But Simplot’s business interests were varied, including fertilizer (J.R. Simplot Co.), food products, industrial chemicals, computer chips, and irrigation equipment.
Always an independent operator, Simplot thrived on being independent. “I wouldn’t like a board of directors telling me what to do or keeping track of where I am,” he told CropLife (then Farm Chemicals) in an exclusive interview in 1967. “I like keeping in control and I hope to keep doing what I’m doing for a long time yet.” And he did just that, still involved in the business into his 90s.
Stories abound about Simplot. One unforgettable moment came at one of The Fertilizer Institute’s meetings at The Greenbrier when Simplot deviated from an analysis of the fertilizer industry to attack the tactics of Japanese producers of computer chips. There were a few uncomfortable moments as people eyed the reaction of a dozen or so Japanese fertilizer traders in the audience and J.R. Simplot employees tried to beome invisible before his wife suggested he’d talked long enough and escorted him off stage.
He appeared on the cover of Farm Chemicals in December 1967 as part of a feature story on J.R. Simplot Co.