John Twomey: Taking the Road Less Travelled


Two delightfully unique aspects of last Thursday’s Midwest Entrepreneurs class were the guest speaker—retired entrepreneur and local philanthropist John Twomey—and an insightful poetry reading.

While Mr. Twomey is “a regular” in that he speaks to the class every year, he is anything but regular in terms of experience and character. In addition, he adds something new to his fascinating presentation each year. One of the additions to his most recent visit was a reading of Robert Frost’s classic “The Road Not Taken” (see: He shared this poem with the class in the context of the imperative of making choices; of making the right choices—for you as an individual—and how the right choice is often not what others are either doing or expect you to do. The last three lines of the classic work read as follows.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

I feel confident in saying that (1) John Twomey—a world class track athlete, World War II veteran, six-decade entrepreneur, and local philanthropist now 93 years young—repeatedly chose to take the road less traveled, and (2) that doing so has made all the difference in his extraordinary life.

I now leave it to Midwest Entrepreneur class member Tanner Matlick to tell the rest of the “John Twomey story”; at least what little of it that was—and can be—shared in one class period. I encourage those interested in the more non-entrepreneurial aspects of Mr. Twomey’s life to watch the following YouTube video of a presentation he made in November of 2014 at the “Hearing From Our Very Own” annual luncheon sponsored by West Central Leadership, Inc. in Monmouth, Illinois: (

Prof. Gabel


Our guest speaker for class this past Thursday was a man that is pretty well known in the local community; not only for his entrepreneurial work in farming and the grain storage industry but for all aspects of his amazing life.

John Twomey was raised in the small town of Roseville Illinois on a small farm. After serving for some time in the Military, Twomey returned to his small town roots and was immediately faced with a significant life choice that he had to make. Twomey was a world class track runner who had a good chance to make the U.S. Olympic track team. However, his father was in need of help with the family farm because his manager quit without any notice. Twomey gave up his track career and pursued a career in farming when he came home to help his father with the family farm. From that day forward Twomey was motivated to be the best worker he could be. That motivation eventually turned a small farm that started with one very small grain elevator into one of the biggest and most successful grain storage businesses in the United States. Because of Mr. Twomey’s hard work and innovative and unconventional approach to running the business, during his 66 years with the firm, its grain storage capacity increased from one barge of grain to 900 barges (at the time it was sold to Consolidated Grain & Barge several years ago).

Believe it or not a fire that burnt down one of Twomey’s grain elevators in 1956 is what lead him to the idea of building grain storage in a different and more efficient way. Twomey came up with the idea to build flat structures to store the grain (instead of conventional tall round structures). These flat structures were 240 ft. wide for air and ventilation purposes and stretched anywhere between 500ft – 1100 ft. long. This innovative new style of storing made the grain easy to preserve for a longer period of time and in turn made his grain much higher in quality. With this newfound success it wasn’t plausible for Twomey to remain a small family farmer. Due to his new innovation with his new model of grain storage buildings he was forced to expand.

This expansion led him to a location along the Mississippi River on the outskirts of a town called Gladstone. Gladstone was literally the perfect place for a grain storage facility that shipped its corn via barge. It was perfect for many reasons. The water was deep, it was right below Lock and Dam 18, and there was lots of space to build his massive grain storage warehouses. Twomey did exactly that. When it was all said and done Twomey had built 8 massive grain storage warehouses in Gladstone that housed around 50 million bushels of grain.

With this expansion came the hiring of many new workers at the Twomey Company. Mr. Twomey knew the type of employees he wanted in his company and he hired people based on character and attitude. While knowledge of grain storage was a “must have,” Twomey felt that  it didn’t matter if you knew everything there was to know about grain. Instead, to him, it all ultimately came down to how good of a person you were. One of Mr. Twomey’s most successful hires came when he hired a man by the name of Ralph Lafary who was the mastermind behind the engineering and construction of the custom-built conveyer systems that were needed to accommodate Twomey’s massive flat grain storage structures.

Twomey was convinced that in order to get the most out of his employees he had to treat them right. Mr. Twomey created generous pension plans, profit sharing plans, and bonus plans based on hours and years of service for his employees. These programs served as incentives for his employees to be the best they can be. The employee retention rate for his lucrative business was very high.

Having great employees was one key to John Toomey’s success but the other great key to success was constantly finding ways to keep the cost of their business down. The buildings were constructed in the most efficient way with as little material as possible. The grain was stored in a way that allowed these more cost-efficient buildings to be strong enough to hold the huge volume of grain that was stored inside. Twomey even realized that by storing the grain outside before building storage facilities was a way to get ahead of the curve. Mr. Twomey was an entrepreneurial genius that knew exactly what he wanted and knew exactly how he was going to do it.

Over the years Mr. Twomey has been through a lot. Sixty-six years in the grain storage and grain selling business isn’t always a walk in the park. Twomey had to build his line of credit over a long period of time with hard work, determination, and positive attitude towards working in general. Even though things didn’t always go his way—take, for example, the fire, storms, floods, and not being financed for a 3-day period once in the “busy” season—he stayed the course and made difficult decisions that took the business to great heights. More importantly, however, these tough decisions made John Twomey the man he is today.

John Twomey served as an inspiration to us all by showing us that if we follow our heart and if we work hard enough at something success will follow. John Twomey changed the grain storage game for the better. He is a great innovator and a great man who we can learn a lot from.

Tanner Matlick

A Serial B2B Outsourcing Entrepreneur in Our Very Midst: The Entrepreneurial Past of Dr. Lee Miller

This Tuesday’s class involved a last-minute change in speakers.

Effective entrepreneurs must be constantly ready to adapt to often sudden, unpredictable change. And that is just what we did…

Luckily for us, on faculty here in the Political Economy & Commerce Department at Monmouth College is a former serial entrepreneur who started and ran three business-to-business (B2B) firms prior to his formal academic career (who just happened to be in the classroom to see our originally scheduled speaker).

Below, class member Jeff Larsen tells the story of this entrepreneur; Dr. Lee Miller. Pay particular to Jeff’s discussion of outsourcing; a key general area of great opportunity for entrepreneurs in the B2B marketplace.

Prof. Gabel


Lee Miller is a business professor here at Monmouth College, but before his teaching career began he was an entrepreneur who started up and owned three different manufacturing corporations.   Miller went to Ohio State University where he got his mechanical engineering degree.  His first job out of college was with Eaton Corp. in Cleveland, Ohio as a mechanical worker.  He moved all around the country working for them and moving up the ranks within Eaton.  He eventually earned a management position where he needed to know a good amount of accounting so he decided to get his MBA.

While working at Eaton Corp., Miller saw their need for outsourcing to smaller companies for certain projects as an opportunity.  So it was at that time that he decided to create Manufacturing Solutions, Inc.  He started the company up from money that he had saved throughout his career and his father also chipped in 50% as a silent partner.  Manufacturing Solutions mainly made mechanical parts that larger companies didn’t want to do themselves so they would outsource the job (to someone who can do it more efficiently than they can themselves).

At Manufacturing Solutions, his first job was for his old employer, Eaton Corp., where he passed with flying colors.  The company grew more and more each year and even did some outsourcing jobs for Ford Motor Company.  After ten years of owning Manufacturing Solutions, Miller sold the company to pursue other passions.  When he sold the company, there were 40 full-time employees.

After some time off, Miller decided to start up another manufacturing company, but this one would manufacture medical supplies.  This start up went much smoother than the first one because Miller had experience and also had more funds to start the company up.  This company mainly focused on producing a medical device used in biopsies.  Miller actually patented the design while taking classes to earn his Master’s at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU).  This product sold very nicely to customers, but mainly to a company located in Baltimore.  The Baltimore company wanted to buy in larger volume than Miller’s company could produce so instead of hiring more employees and moving to a larger plant, Miller decided to sell the whole product line (equipment and all) to the Baltimore company.  This company lasted around 7 years.

Miller’s third company was more part-time and short-lived than the other two.  This company was called Machine Solutions, Inc. and they mainly produced parts for mechanical machines.  It was at this time that Miller received a teaching offer to Bangkok University where he taught for three years.  Miller then moved back to the U.S. to teach here at Monmouth College.

Lee Miller ran three successful corporations, which he built from the ground up until he sold them.  His main philosophy in running those businesses was to do it until you lost the initial love to do it.  Every business move he made was done because it was what he wanted to do with his life at that given time.  Miller always said that he wanted to run his businesses until eventually he would teach at colleges, which is where he is at now in his career.  He also encourages people to continue to take classes at different schools throughout your life to continue to learn different fields of study.

Jeff Larsen

Old School Entrepreneurial Excellence: John “Beefy” Huston


Yesterday the Midwest Entrepreneurs class was treated to the entrepreneurial story of another hard working, highly successful—and to many in attendance “unconventional”—local business owner. I say “unconventional” due to the fact that John “Beefy” Huston runs his business in very hands-on and low-tech fashion; thus not conforming to the norms and expectations of many people today. He is, as he put it, “old school.”

The story we heard on Tuesday is not about conforming or worrying about often superfluous expectations. It is instead about working hard, treating customers with respect, keeping your word, doing what you do as an entrepreneur better than anyone else can, and, as a result, being able to live out the life you want to the fullest.

The captivating entrepreneurial story of John “Beefy” Huston is told below by Midwest Entrepreneurs class member Nick Kamberis. Enjoy!!

Prof. Gabel


Mr. John Huston, or “Beefy” as friends, family, and others in the surrounding area know him, is a local entrepreneur who owns his own landscaping business. He did not grow up knowing the landscaping business as he went to the University of Illinois graduating with a degree in animal sciences. During high school and college summers he worked on his father’s farm until he sold it. Since he didn’t have work anymore after college he chose to go into the landscaping business.

He started his own landscaping business in the summer of 1995 and continued working until the present, making his business 21 years old and still going strong. He gets most if not all of his product that he uses from Hoerr Nursery located in Peoria. The main way Beefy gets his clients is through customer satisfaction, repeat business, and positive word of mouth. He uses a remarkably small amount of advertising and does not have a website, he does not even use a computer.

Beefy normally works on older houses, renovating the surrounding landscaping, but also works for business including banks and family owned firms. He normally works a 30-mile radius around his home town, but sometimes ventures farther for family and family friends. He owns six trucks and three trailers and a lot more landscaping equipment. His only employees are usually 2-3 high school and college kids, where he can give them some spending money. His busy days are between the months April and November, depending on how the weather is.

Since landscaping is technically a seasonal job, during the winter he spends his time substitute teaching at local schools around the area. He also drives a bus for the schools, for basketball games and such. This is not done mainly for money but rather networking and being seen at community events. If he is not teaching or driving a bus you will not see him around town as he is traveling around the world, although not so much this year as he is working extra to pay off a new house he had built last year.

One of the main things I got from listening to Beefy speak to us is that if you are going to be working with people, always be nice to them because “word gets around” and they give you referrals. Another thing is to impress your client by showing up early when meeting with them. And finally, the most important thing, always love what you are going to be doing for the rest of your life; like Beefy loves landscaping (and the travelling it allows him to do).

Nick Kamberis

Young Entrepreneur Preaches that Hard Work Pays Off

Our first guest speaker of the young semester was a good one (and a former student in the Midwest Entrepreneurs class); 2011 Monmouth College graduate Will Zimmerman.

Below, current class member Jordan Junker tells the story of Will Zimmerman’s fascinating journey from Monmouth College student to successful entrepreneur. It is, as you will see, a story of hard work, determination, and personal achievement.

Prof. Gabel


Will Zimmerman came and spoke to Midwest Entrepreneurs on January 19th. Will owns Modern Grain Systems, a company that sells, builds, and maintains grain bin storage systems. Will is a Monmouth College Alum that graduated with the Class of 2011. When Will was in his senior year at Monmouth he took an independent study to work on his business plan and at the young age of 21, successfully took out a loan of $200,000 to purchase Modern Grain Systems.

Zimmerman had worked for the firm’s previous owner, Bill Thompson, since high school. He was approached by Thompson to buy the company because of the hard work and expertise he displayed on the job. Zimmerman learned from a young age that you have to work hard and that you can’t take any shortcuts to get where you want to be in life. This mindset helped Zimmerman project almost $4 million in sales the first year that he owned Modern Grain Systems.

After the first year Zimmerman owned his company he was able to pay off half of his loan of 200,000, and after his second year as owner he had fully paid off his loan. Being able to pay off a loan of this amount is a huge accomplishment for any entrepreneur. Zimmerman also overcame his biggest fear of not being able to repay his parents for the loan they game him within the first year that he was the owner.

Zimmerman operates the firm out of Avon, IL and sells grain systems that range from large 110,000 bushel bins to smaller bins that only hold half of that. Zimmerman’s first project as owner was built just outside of Monmouth. It was a three-bin project with two large bins and one smaller bin. This project accumulated to around $950,000 for Zimmerman, who started his presentation with the video of the project at the link below.

Zimmerman is not only a hard worker but a family man as well. His business is seasonal so during the summer and fall he is very busy doing all of his projects. During these weeks Zimmerman claims that sometimes he can work 7 days a week and up to 100 hours per week. With having a wife and two kids it is hard to balance time with his family and work during this busy season, so after the busy season he does things such as bring his kids to work or takes a family vacation to make sure his family is always first in his life. But there is always work to be done. Will told that class that he had unloaded supplies from semi-trucks each of the last two very cold days.

As I spoke about earlier, Zimmerman is an extremely hard worker. Even though he is the owner of the company you will see him on the work site working along his employees just as hard as they are. His advice he shared to the class was “Work as hard as you possibly can, then work 10% harder.” He also followed that with “no one is going to give you anything so you have to make them notice.”  

Zimmerman is the perfect story of a successful entrepreneur, a man of his word that strives to keep his family first while working a hectic schedule.

Jordan Junker