When Milling and Grain walked into the business offices of Chief Agri, chased inside by a cold, Kearney Nebraska wind, we were greeted with that world-famous Mid-Western hospitality by a warmly smiling receptionist. Immediately behind her desk, we noticed Chief"s mission statement emblazoned on the wall:

"Our Mission: Provide unparalleled personal attention to meeting the needs of our customers while treating all stakeholders with dignity and respect, thereby ensuring our strength and stability."

Quite a mouthful, you might think at first. However, as you read the words back two or three times, the power of the sentiment begins to sink in.

Later, when Milling and Grain sat down with Sales System Manager, Travys Woodside, and Marketing Coordinator, Christa Britton, we learned more about Chief"s business ethos and just how meaningful these words are.

"Everyone at the company can recite the mission statement," Britton explained, "because it"s that important to us."

A long tradition of customer service

Chief is a company that proudly wears its engineering heritage on its sleeve. If you had any doubt of that, you only had to look at the Indian head Chief logo: "Chief started in 1954," Woodside said. "To commemorate that, all of the angles in our logo are at a 19.54 degree angle. We began as a construction company founded by Virgil I. Heusen. The company grew into 14 divisions and we have now consolidated down to seven divisions that we feel can take us forward. Chief Agri was formed in 1961."

Chief Agri currently manufactures a comprehensive variety of grain handling and storage systems including grain driers, bucket elevators, aeration systems, commercial hopper tanks, grain management systems, its range of stiffened and unstiffened farm bins, and the Chief Lamenco square bolted bin systems.

"We have our head office in Kearney and an office in Grand Island. And then we own two other facilities in the USA, one in Hastings and one in Lexington." Woodside said. "Chief construction has grown 400 percent in the last five years. And in addition, we own our own trucking company—Chief Carriers—to make sure we can get product where we need it to be."

Leading logistics—Managing the customer"s order from factory to site

Owning their own trucking company is a huge advantage for Chief in ensuring that their products arrive on time and undamaged at a construction site—and with a complete assemblage of parts. For international shipping, Chief partners with Warner Enterprises, another highly reputable company with a solid reputation.

Engineered for strength and longevity

The market is full of companies manufacturing silos, but Chief silos sell because of their reputation for excellent engineering and premium quality. Simply put, the strength of the company is largely a reflection of the strength of its silos, and Chief is famous for the surpassing strength of its bin roofs, which are engineered to provide additional storage capacity and easier access for loading the grain.

The J-Rib and the W stiffener

Drawing from building industry engineering experience, Chief"s J-Rib roof panels are made of high quality galvanised steel with a 2.5" (6.35 cm) interlocking "J" rib design that assembles easily for reduced construction time. The structured 'J' rib design results in a finished roof that is strong enough to support roof stairs and most conveyers.

"It"s an interlocking seam", Woodside explained, "versus the lap seam of a "V" rib. We also run a bead of sealant in the channel to provide some additional sealing. It allows us to use a lighter gauge roof panel, which lets us put more into the structure, which is what really counts."

The company"s stiffened bins feature Chief"s exclusive "W" stiffener, an industry-leading stiffener for carrying the load from the top to the bottom of the structure. "It"s a direct bearing plate connection," Woodside said, "so when you talk about vertical support, its designed to bear twice the weight of any other design in the industry. Plate-to-plate connections allow positive load transfer down the stiffener column, eliminating complex shear-load splicing. It also allows us to do things like lamination of the stiffeners for catwalk support. On other designs, all of your connection points are limited to the shear strength of the bolt. But through our design, we have created a positive connection."

"Chief has gained a lot of engineering horsepower over the years," Woodside noted. "We"ve just redesigned the roof on our CB45 grain bin to have a 50,000 pound peak at 40 psi snow load with a 12-foot peak ring and it"s a two-piece peak. Having a sister division in the building industry allow us to use a 14 inch C-channel that other companies don"t have access to. Plus our corrugated steel sidewalls have a wider corrugation versus other companies" narrow corrugation. In terms of strength, wider is better and we have the engineering figures to support it."

The Kearney, Nebraska factory

All Chief products are manufactured beneath the huge single roof span of their Kearney factory. The facility includes a great deal of high tech machinery ranging from giant automated die presses to laser cutters. The company recently won back a lot of valuable real estate within the factory when they retired their huge paint booth and switched exclusively to the use of galvanised steel and powder-coatings.

Chief"s global footprint

Marketing Coordinator, Christa Britton, described Chief"s international reach, "We"re represented in 64 countries and at our peak about 50 percent of our business were international. We have Chief UK, which covers Africa and Western Europe, and then there"s Chief Phoenix that covers France and Germany.

So where its operations reach, Chief is run like a large family and strives to maintain that personal touch. "The feeling that comes out of a family-owned business instead of an investment group is significant," Britton said.

Sales System Manager, Travys Woodside, echoed the sentiment, "One of the best things about being at Chief is the sense of family. I have the General Manager"s number on my phone, and he is never afraid to personally talk to a customer."

Customer before and after service

Chief is famed for its excellent after-service care, but customer care begins long before that—from the moment the customer calls up to request a bid.

"We have a fully-itemised database you can call for a quote and get it by the afternoon," Woodbury explained. "You can call other companies for a quote and you might get it by the end of the week."

The future road

After we returned from our tour of the Chief factory, we met with Chief"s General Manager, Mike Lewis. As the head of a large company, Mr Lewis obviously has many responsibilities, but described his most important responsibility as providing a vision for the future development of Chief. He said the company would remain true to its engineering roots, and its total commitment to serving its customers, while continuing to focus on product development. One immediate goal he discussed involved working more closely with Chief Agri"s European division.

As a natural development from its commitment to customer service, Chief is a company that takes social responsibility seriously and gives back to the local community. As part of its efforts, Chief Industries funds its own foundation, provides scholarships, and invests in local community colleges. Manager Mike Lewis sees it as all part of remaining true to Chief"s customer-first mission statement.


"Our vision is to build upon the strong tradition we already have here at Chief," Lewis said. He reiterated that Chief has always and will always operate as a customer-focused business, not a profit-focused business. "We will always listen to our customers and remain committed to serving their needs."

by Vaughn Entwistle, Features Editor, Milling and Grain


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