Kankakee Grain Inspection Inc.

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Located south of Chicago in Essex, Illinois, the Kankakee agency is proud to be a family business that was founded in 1898 by Bob Fegan.  Bob got his start in grain inspection many years earlier.  Moving from Iowa to Chicago with his wife and children, Bob found a five dollar bill on the sidewalk when they stepped off the bus, allowing them to rent a room at the Salvation Army.  When Bob asked the person at the desk if anyone was hiring, the response was that the Chicago Board of Trade was hiring samplers.

Bob’s agency initially covered the Springfield, Indiana, and Kankakee areas.  When World War II began, Bob’s sons entered the service.  Left with little help, Bob decided to keep only the Kankakee area where now a fifth generation is working at the agency.

Kankakee President Mike Fegan first began working for the agency when he got his driver’s license.  At age 16, Mike was hired part-time to drive around and probe barges.  After a few years of other employment Mike returned to the agency to work for his uncle Jack Fegan after the tragic death of his grandfather, Bob, in a car accident.  Mike’s son-in-law, Brian Lowey, came to work at the agency in 1994 as a sampler and technician and is now the Agency Manager. 

Just like all the other family members, Mike’s grandson Jacob began working for the agency as a part-time sampler and then a technician.  Now with a Degree in Business and years of sampling and technician work, Jacob is planning to take his first grading proficiency test.

About ten years ago Mike was reading an article in the local paper about folks loading grain into containers to be shipped around the world.  Thinking maybe these folks would need inspection Mike went to see them and called the FGIS folks in Washington.  Now the agency inspects over 150,000 containers annually.  The container port at Elwood is only 20 minutes from Kankakee’s main office and the third largest in the world.  Only Singapore and Hong Kong have larger container facilities.

Kankakee Grain’s practical approach to problem solving and insistence on following procedures, coupled with being a pioneer in the container inspection business, has meant that Kankakee has helped develop most container inspection procedures.  The leadership team at Kankakee are proud to be the ones FGIS and other agencies people to when they start inspecting containers.

Transforming the agency from a business that inspected mostly barges with part time samplers and a few graders to one that now has more than doubled its staff to over 80 employees was no easy task.  Brian credits the training program they put in place that facilitated the transition.

Mike and Brian enjoy the challenge that running a grain inspection agency brings.  Although some may see rules that keep things the same, the grain business is always evolving and new requirements emerge that require the agencies to adapt.  Kankakee’s philosophy is to always find new ways to improve customer service while adhering to all the inspection requirements. It is these challenges that keep the business new and fresh for both Mike and Brian.  Along with providing exceptional customer service, all the generations at Kankakee have prided themselves in the accuracy of their grades at destination.  That reputation for accurate grades has grown from a few export elevators in New Orleans receiving barges to many facilities all around the world receiving containers inspected and weighed by Kankakee.

Mike and Brian see a bright future for the agency because there will always be a need for accurate inspection results and exceptional customer service.  Whatever changes occur in the industry Kankakee looks forward to meeting them.

Mike hopes that a 6th and 7th generation will continue and build on what his grandfather started, and when he looks back on his time in the family business he says that it has been a remarkable journey, and one that he would not change if he could.

For an interesting look at how the founder of the agency viewed the official inspection business in 1952 click here.