White Receives Outstanding
Bob White’s interests are as vast as a Kansas sunset. From accounting principles to corporate acquisitions, finance to health care facilities, there are few topics in which White cannot speak with authority. His personality mirrors the company that he has been affiliated since 1969 and that he purchased in 1996. Garvey International, Inc., is a diversified marine, feed, material handling and horticulture company based in St. Charles, Ill. White is chairman and chief executive officer.
White, a 1969 graduate of Cowley, is the 2002 recipient of Cowley’s Outstanding Tiger Alumni Award. White was honored during Cowley’s 79th commencement ceremony May 11 in W.S. Scott Auditorium. “I am very humbled and surprised at the award,” White said. “It was something that never crossed my mind. I’m very appreciative. It’s heart-warming to be recognized like that, particularly by the college in your home town.”
White, the son of C.M. and Gladys White of Arkansas City, may not be in the position he’s in today had it not been for an attraction to the woman he married, having worked with his father-in-law, and for answering a help wanted ad Garvey placed at the New Era Mill. While taking classes at Cowley, White worked at New Era. Joe Avery told him about the job at Garvey. “That’s what really got me the job with Garvey,” he said. “They saw what I did here at New Era in the office.”
White credits Catharine Goehring, Cowley accounting instructor from 1966 to 1974, as having “a tremendous influence on me.” Accounting, and its relationship to business, always has intrigued White. Since the seventh grade, he knew he wanted to be an accountant. “I remember going to a display and picking out an accounting brochure and thinking that it was interesting,” White said. “So I went to Parmans (now Parman Tanner Soule & Jackson CPA) and thought this is something I’d like to do. I remember telling someone later that if engineer had started with an ‘A’ I would have become an engineer. I picked up the first brochure I saw and liked it.”
White has come a long way since joining Garvey during the summer of 1969. He joined the holding company in 1975, moved to Chicago in 1977, and six years later became president. In 1996, he bought the company from the Garvey family. White earned bachelor’s (1971) and master’s degrees (1976) from Wichita State University, and delivered WSU’s commencement address in December 2001.
Today, White oversees Garvey’s operations in commodity trading, feed processing, export trading, barge fleeting and switching services, dredging and marine construction services, bulk storage and handling, and landscape mulch and soil mixes. The company has seen tremendous growth during the past year. “Our bottom line is up 50 percent over 2001,” White said.
White is a strong supporter of strategic planning, having made numerous presentations around the nation on the subject. He has a great deal of experience in diversification and acquiring companies. In 1979, he began a railcar leasing company called Interail. It eventually ranked as the ninth largest railcar leasing operation of its kind in the country, controlling more than 6,000 cars. The company sold it in 1996. Garvey’s presence in the marine industry comes from five acquisitions in a two-year period.
White also had a major presence in the grain industry, owning Garvey Grain in Wichita, which operated the largest elevator in the world until 1996. Most recently, Garvey International is building a presence in the horticulture industry with the acquisition of HPc. “All of our businesses are niche businesses,” White said. “We look where we can grow and expand.” White, whose daughter Julie works for the company, said he doesn’t get involved in the day-to-day operation of Garvey International. “I concentrate on growth, where my expertise is,” he said. “I also want to stay in contact with our major customers. I have very good people who run the day-to-day operation.”
In 1996, WSU named White a Distinguished Alumnus. He sits on the WSU National Advisory Council to the Endowment Association and the National Advisory Council to the Barton School of Business.
White also remains connected to Cowley, having contributed to capital campaigns through the years. Recently, he made a $10,000 contribution to the W.S. Scott Auditorium renovation project. “I have a lot of fond memories of the auditorium,” White said. “A lot of music and athletic events. My wife and I both have ties to the building.” White remembers one particular day he was practicing music in the auditorium. “The whole percussion line was tossed out of the orchestra,” he said. “That was probably the only time that ever happened. We were doing things we weren’t supposed to be doing.”
White and his wife spend the winter months in Scottsdale, Ariz. He said he has no plans to retire. “I have a lot of hobbies,” said White, 52. “If I sold the company today, I’d have no trouble keeping busy. With my daughter in the company, it won’t be long before she runs the horticulture business by herself.”