The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

April 12, 2014

Johnston Grain: Model of growth, risk, reward

By Phyllis Zorn, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Johnston Enterprises began in 1893 as W.B. Johnston Grain, 411 W. Chestnut, and through five generations of family ownership and entrepreneurism, became Oklahoma’s largest independent grain dealer.

In the beginning, the business sold grain, seed, flour, coal, hay and livestock to Cherokee Strip settlers. Willis Boyd Johnston’s son, Dale Johnston, was the second generation to step to the helm of the business. Dale Johnston steered the ship until 1976.

In 1976, his nephew, Lew Meibergen, purchased the business. Lew Meibergen’s father, Joe Meibergen, had been vice president of the company for many years, but retired before Lew Meibergen left his career in banking and bought Johnston Enterprises.

Under his hand and with the assistance of his son, Butch Meibergen, and grandson, Joey Meibergen, the company has been a marvel of entrepreneurial enterprise, growth, risk and reward.

The empire built by the family came to include a cotton gin, rail grain terminals in Enid and Shattuck, a major seed company, water ports in two states for Gulf Coast-bound barge transportation, a trucking company, five seed cleaning companies and an experimental research farm. Johnston’s Port 33 east of Tulsa annually ships 1.75 million tons of grain, coke, coal, fertilizer, steel ingots and scrap steel.

Enid terminal elevator now handles frac sand for the burgeoning oil business in Oklahoma, and the Shattuck terminal is the state’s largest bulk handler of frac sand.

Butch Meibergen started working full-time in the business in 1979. Then in 2004, Butch’s son, Joey, came alongside his father and grandfather.

Butch Meibergen said the key to the success of the business is volume. The company provides year-round employment to 300 and seasonal employment to about 60 more. Second and third generations of families have made careers with the company.

“That was because of challenges presented and remedies sought,” Butch Meibergen said.

With the grain company and its related entities now owned by CGB Enterprises, that employment level is expected to hold steady. CGB, employing about 1,800, holds values very similar to those of the Meibergen family, Butch Meibergen said.

The Meibergens have three-year contracts with CGB and will remain in an integral part of management during that time. Joey Meibergen expects he will remain aboard much longer.

“I don’t anticipate that relationship coming to an end in three years, because there’s an awful lot of opportunity coming as a result of this,” Joey Meibergen said.

A great deal of consolidation is taking place in the grain industry, Joey Meibergen said. As a result of the consolidation of Johnston Enterprises with CGB, CGB is now among the nation’s five largest grain enterprises, he said.

Johnston’s Port 33, east of Tulsa, now is owned by Arkansas-based Bruce Oakley Inc.