Entrepreneurialism is in the DNA of Jimmie Gipson and of the company he runs. The 66-year-old chairman and CEO of supermarket-operator Houchens Industries—which says it is the largest 100% employee-owned company in the United States—is quick to say that his entire organization is entrepreneurial in nature, and always has been.
“Houchens Industries is a company composed of entrepreneurs,” Gipson said. Founded as BG Wholesale in 1918 by a teenage entrepreneur named Ervin Houchens, the company today is a diversified conglomerate of store brands, including Food Giant, IGA, Piggly Wiggly and, of course, Houchens.
“As companies continue to fold into Houchens Industries, the people, their spirit and entrepreneurial drive are what help set us apart from a typical single-interest organization,” Gipson noted.
When asked what or who has most influenced his personal and professional philosophies, he said, “When you spend your days surrounded by these types [entrepreneurs] of people, it is difficult to determine any single personality or trait that had an influence greater than or less than another. It is the collection of all of those qualities that have made the difference.”
Founder Ervin Houchens retired from the company in September 1983, at the age of 85, and handed the reins to nephew Ruel, already a 40-year Houchens veteran. In 1993, Jimmie Gipson, a 30-year employee, succeeded Ruel Houchens, marking the first time in the company’s history that someone outside the family held the top leadership position. Gipson was instrumental in charting a course of diversification, facilitating the Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) that made the Houchens employees stockholders in the company, and leading the way in key acquisitions and rollouts.
Of his many accomplishments, Gipson is perhaps most proud of the role he has played in strengthening his college alma mater, Western Kentucky University (WKU) in his hometown of Bowling Green. This year, Houchens Industries made a $5 million gift to WKU to enhance an expansion and renovation project for the university’s football stadium.
“Very early on, Western Kentucky University was a part of my life experience,” said Gipson of the significant contribution. “Growing up in the area, and as a graduate of WKU, I became aware of the value that a university can have on its community, and how important it was for the community to reciprocate.
“Strengthening the university through whatever support Houchens Industries can offer as a corporate citizen leads to a stronger geographic region both economically and socially,” he added, “and should ultimately lead to a stronger pool of talent for everyone to pull from.”