E. Ritter of Marked Tree Evolves Through 5 Generations of Agriculture, Communications

by Luke Jones  on Monday, Jul. 8, 2013 12:00 am  

A scale model of Ernest Ritter’s original general store stands in the E. Ritter & Co. headquarters in Marked Tree (Poinsett County). (Photo by Luke Jones)

E. Ritter & Co., a family-owned business in Poinsett County in its fifth generation, has shifted through decades of changing business trends and is now training its first CEO who’s not part of the Ritter family, Chip Dickinson.

Dan Hatzenbuehler, the previous CEO and current chairman of the board, is married to a great-granddaughter of founder Ernest Ritter. In 1998, the company decided its two biggest components — its agricultural business and its communications business — had grown too large for one person to lead, and the board asked Hatzenbuehler to help fill the gap.

A practicing lawyer in Memphis, Hatzenbuehler had served on E. Ritter’s board since 1978.

“Ritter Arnold, who is my wife’s first cousin, had been working for the company at that point for about 20 years or so, and Ritter took the primary responsibility for the ag side and I took the primary responsibility for the communications side,” Hatzenbuehler said.

Hatzenbuehler served as CEO of E. Ritter & Co. and Arnold served as president of Ritter Agribusiness Holdings.

By 2010, Hatzenbuehler was thinking it was about time to start looking for his successor. The company’s 127-year history had involved a number of company leaders dying or retiring without an immediate successor, and Hatzenbuehler didn’t want to repeat that history.

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It took about a year to find the man for the job. On Jan. 1, E. Ritter’s board voted in Dickinson as CEO of the company, which has revenue of about $200 million a year.

Dickinson had worked from 1995 to 2011 for Anderson-Tully of Vicksburg, Miss., a timber company that was in its fourth generation of family ownership before it was acquired by The Forestland Group LLC of Chapel Hill, N.C.

Agribusiness/Communications

One of the challenges of leading E. Ritter is the fact that it is essentially two completely different companies.

Its agribusiness side leases out farmland in and around Poinsett, Mississippi and Cross counties. It also has a 4 million-bushel grain storage facility and co-owns a cotton gin, both in Marked Tree.

 

 

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