What would J.D. do?: J.D. Heiskell & Co. looks back on 130 years

Visalia Times-Delta
Editor: Calley Cederlof

 

The name JD Heiskell has had a long-standing history within the city of Tulare. Hundreds of company artifacts showcased in the JD Heiskell & Company museum at the Tulare office are a testament to that.

Cases are filled with memorabilia – complete with a Remington typewriter, pens from the 20s, and family photos. The museum tells the company’s 130-year history.

Pat Hillman, granddaughter of founder Jefferson Davis Heiskell, said her grandfather’s manner and business sense laid the groundwork for what the company’s connection to the community is today.

“They know us and we know them,” Hillman said about Tulare residents. “It started with my grandfather. He lent money to farmers; he was always very generous. Everyone here picked that up.”

The family-owned and -operated feed company began in 1886 when JD Heiskell moved to Tulare to construct a grain storage warehouse. Soon, the company started to grow.

Today, the company employs more than 450 people nationwide, with about 150 of those living in the Central Valley. The company has locations in 15 states across the U.S., and exports goods internationally.

The company specializes in the originating, manufacturing, merchandising, and exporting of feed.

“It’s really the four-legged milking stool of the business,” said Scot Hillman, chairman of the company's Board of Directors and great-grandson of Heiskell.

"Mechanically speaking, not much has changed in the production phase", he said.

“We still use steam to soften the grain,” Scot said. “We’ve been doing it since the 1920’s and we’ll be doing it in the 2020’s.”

Another time-honored tradition that has remained strong is the company’s work within the community.

“We try to involve our employees in community philanthropy,” Scot said. “We try to be good stewards of community where our businesses are.”

As they look to what the future holds for the company, Pat and Scot say they must remember one thing.

“What would JD do?”

“We still have the same business practices as our founder,” Scot said. “We hope to continue to be a place where employee opportunity can be realized - in an honorable way - that’s sustainable.”

Pat said her great-grandfather would be proud of how far his grain storage warehouse has come.

“He would be thrilled to death,” Pat said. “A fifth-generation family company is rare. He would be very proud of the fact that it’s gone on this long.”