Growth through diversification Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2007

One of Houchens Industries Inc.’s employees worked her way from a cashier in one of the grocery stores to a store manager. After 40 years working for the company, she retired with more than $480,000 in her retirement fund. While this may seem ordinary, it wouldn’t have been possible without the efforts of Jimmie Gipson.

Back in the mid-1980s, Gipson was working as the chief financial officer of Houchens, and he had a vision — he wanted to have an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) for the company. The idea took years of research and financial planning, and he had to prove his calculations to bankers, but in late 1988, the company’s employees became its owners.

Now as chairman and CEO, Gipson’s efforts haven’t stopped with ESOP. Over the last decade he has worked to diversify the company, because he doesn’t believe in having all of one’s eggs in one basket. He has purchased regional recycling companies, insurance agencies, a highway paving and trucking company, new grocery store chains and suntan lotion distributors. He recently sold off a tobacco company and hopes to use the money from the sale to fund further diversifications, possibly in either banks or the beer industry.

No matter what market Gipson enters, though, the most important aspect he looks for are the people in place, and he wants them to commit to staying with the company for five to seven years. When he goes where the good people are, he’s sure to keep Houchens Industries growing.

HOW TO REACH: Houchens Industries Inc., (270) 843-3252