Steve Tregellas has finished unpacking the cartons from his latest move to a new home in Spokane. But he wonders if he should have kept his belongings in boxes.
As a traveling salesman and regional manager for the Spokane office of Agrium Inc., Tregellas is constantly on the move.
Since joining the Calgary-based fertilizer company in 1968, the North Central High School graduate has been stationed in six cities, ranging from crowded Chicago to remote Amarillo, Texas. Tregellas left a daughter in Denver and fly fishing dreams in Bozeman to return last year for the third time to Spokane.
“Moving every five years isn’t so bad,” Tregellas says from his third-story office overlooking the lobby of Seafirst Financial Center. “It works out the pack-rat in you.”
As the top executive of Agrium’s North American western wholesale division, Tregellas oversees 15 employees working for the giant fertilizer manufacturer and distributor.
The group is responsible for wholesale distribution of urea, potash, phosphate and anhydrous ammonia - the man-made fertilizers that boosts yields on millions of acres of Inland Northwest crops. Some Agrium products also are used as agents in pulp mill water treatment systems and particle board production.
Although Agrium in recent months has shifted some departments and employees to Calgary and Denver, Tregellas’ position has risen in importance as the company experiences incredible sales growth. Agrium counts on Tregellas, who replaced retired Homer Midtlyng, to lead a team that competes against formidable wholesale suppliers such as Simplot and Unocal.
“A lot of expansion will be in the West,” says Tregellas. “I see my job as the coach, the instructor and advisor for our team.”
Agrium was spun off in 1993 from Cominco Ltd., the Vancouver, British Columbia, mining concern. Since then, it has acquired three major retail farm supply chains, including Western Farm Service. Unfettered by Cominco’s mandates, Agrium has increased its size from 800 people in 1993 to 3,400 in 1995, and its annual sales from $290 million to $1.17 billion.
“Splitting off was gut-wrenching for a lot of people, but it was the best thing that could have happened to us,” Tregellas says. “We had sort of been their (Cominco’s) cash cow and they took the money and plowed it into the ground. If we hadn’t been spun off, we’d still be the same size, maybe smaller.”
The explosive growth forced the company to open a fourth regional sales office in Denver, and Tregellas was tapped to get it started. Like a loyal soldier, he completed his term of duty and was reassigned to Spokane last year, where he’s closer to his hunting buddies.
“You bet he’s a good shooter; he gets his share,” says hunting partner Ike Ransford, a retired Moses Lake elementary school principal.
Ransford, who has hunted elk with Tregellas for nearly three decades, describes the 48-year-old fertilizer salesman as “an industrious, bright young fellow.”
But Tregellas, who speaks through his teeth like Humphrey Bogart and wears tiny hearing aides in each ear, also is known to be reserved, sometimes distant. Ransford attributes his friend’s quiet behavior to a hearing disability that Tregellas has battled since his youth.
“As much as anybody, he’s in charge of Agrium in Spokane,” says Wes Morris, a former employee who now owns Net-Tel Inc. computer networking consulting firm. “He got there by working up through the ranks.”
Fresh out of the Navy and the Vietnam War, Tregellas earned his first Agrium paycheck as a traffic clerk, checking incoming orders and routing them to the right place. He later joined the sales team, beginning a 25-year trek through the Western United States. In 1971, as a member of the Naval Reserve, he was named the reserve’s Man of the Year.
Tregellas, whose urban hobby is golf, oversees a sales force that serves 300 Pacific Northwest customers, including McGregor Co., Wilbur-Ellis and dozens of farmer-owned cooperatives. His staff sells nearly 1 million tons of fertilizers each year, he says.
Agrium is opening new distribution warehouses in Post Falls and Burley, Idaho. It has plans for a third site in the Columbia Basin, Tregellas says.
Meanwhile, Agrium factories in the Midwest and Canada are gearing up to fill those warehouses with more fertilizers that the company believes will be needed when farmers increase their planted acreage in the coming years and Agrium sales force expands the company’s market share.
For Tregellas, that may mean more suitcases in his future.
“I don’t think there’s ever any guarantees in this business,” he says. “I’m here until something else comes along.”
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