On occasion, opportunity falls into your lap; other times you have to seek it out. Such is the case with the evolution of JBS United’s western Illinois grain division. From successfully adopting a continuous improvement program to pursuing a unique partnership with a local feed mill, this grain terminal has not stopped innovating.
In 1998, Sheridan, IN-based JBS United, an international feed nutrient and grain marketing corporation, started building a rail terminal in Griggsville, IL. In the beginning, the elevator operated one dump pit in the middle of an open field. At the time, loading 50-car trains must have seemed like a pipe dream; however, being set in an ideal location — a fertile area chock-full of high-volume producers — with an empty canvas, set the stage for growth … and grow it did.
The terminal’s successful and dramatic expansion — and the implementation of serious process improvements — can in part be attributed to the inspiration Tom Hurd, JBS United’s grain division’s chief operating officer, found in the management book Good to Great by Jim Collins.
As a result, this unit train loading facility on the Norfolk-Southern line has grown from a 4,000-bushel/hour to 70,000-bushel/hour handling operation in less than a decade.
The tools for success
“After reading the book, it became clear that once we had the right people on the bus, the sky was the limit for Griggsville,” Hurd says. Having assembled a team of industry veterans, many having spent 20-plus years with other large grain elevators, it was time to take on the task at hand.
Hurd introduced the book’s “Hedgehog Concept” to the Griggsville team. The Hedgehog concept itself consists of a Venn diagram of three overlapping circles, each circle posing a different question: 1) what you are deeply passionate about; 2) what you can be the best in the world at; and 3) what best drives your economic engine.
“The Hedgehog concept provided a very simple way to communicate our mission and the goals of the organization to all employees,” Hurd says.
After taking an objective look at the facility and its potential, management evaluated the needs of the operation based on these three questions, and drew solutions from their past experiences. After brainstorming, the group had created an outline of improvements and a strategy for implementing them.
“We really put ourselves in the farmer’s seat: What’s his experience when he drives in?” Hurd says. “Ultimately, we decided our goal was to be the fastest unloader in the area.”
A lofty goal indeed, but one JBS United felt could be achieved if the combined energy of the terminal’s employees was focused on providing this level of service to its customers.
Hurd explains how it works in practice: “Everybody on our team understands that everything we do is meant to increase our ability to unload — this goes for our capital expenditures, management decisions, grain accounting systems, operations at the scale — it becomes part of the decision-making process of everything that we do.”
As operational changes are made, constant evaluation provides the checks-and-balances necessary to ensure the company is moving in the right direction.
“As we continue to upgrade and expand our facility, we go back and ask ourselves, ‘How will this fit into our hedgehog concept?’ ” says Randy Bleich, general manager, western Illinois grain division. “Sometimes we’ve had to tweak things a bit so they do fit in with the concept.”
Admitting when you’re wrong and adjusting accordingly is a critical part of this process.
For example, recently the company changed accounting software providers. Unfortunately, after trying to work within the new system, they realized it had “taken them back a few steps” — and the producers “let us know about that.” Acknowledging this pursuit had failed, JBS United’s grain division went back to the old system.