What Ever Happened to Paul Engler

Posted by: Jane Menninga Schuchardt - March 19, 2024

Paul Engler (Nebraska, 1951)

“I wanna shake your hand, son. I’m proud of you.”

That’s Paul Engler’s dad speaking from inside a pickup truck in 1941 near Bassett, Nebraska. A show of support Engler didn’t expect from this “old German-type,” taken together with his ag degree, was the impetus for a lifetime of lucrative entrepreneurship and innovative leadership in the fed cattle industry.

Glued to the computer screen from his Paul F. and Virginia J. Engler Foundation office in Amarillo, Texas, for a video interview, the 94-year-old Engler straightened his western-style vest over a crisp white shirt and talked eloquently about his love for cattle.

At age six, his dad, who owned a filling station, put him to work washing windows and checking tire pressure. “I didn’t like that much, so dad bought me one cow to milk,” he said. One led to two, two to three. Then he got a job at a local sale barn where at age 12 he placed the high bid for 100 head of cattle without a cent to buy them.

“My mother had a fit, and I thought my father would be furious,” he said, though after the compliment they went to the bank and got better financing than Engler’s boss at the sale barn could offer. He graduated high school at 15 years old and headed off to the university in Lincoln where he graduated in 1951.

Characteristic of his lifetime of success, Engler’s ability to focus got him to graduation in seven rapid-fire semesters. “It was unquestionably a great experience,” he said as he recalled the campus environment enriched by veterans returning after World War II. Most of his career is centered in Texas where his vision and entrepreneurial spirit earned him accolades for developing the largest privately-owned fed cattle operation in the United States.

His path includes establishment of a feed yard in Hereford, Texas, in 1960; heading the carcass division for the Iowa Beef Producers in 1972; then founding his current operation, Cactus Feeders in 1975. He gets accolades for numerous innovations such as formula pricing, incentivizing producers to meet consumer health and quality demands, employee stock ownership, and international expansion to Argentina in 1998.

Along the way, he has been repeatedly lauded by national and state organizations. At the University of Nebraska, he has been named a distinguished alumni, received the Builder Award, entered the Block and Bridle Club Hall of Fame, and served on the board of directors for the University of Nebraska Foundation.

Now with a couple of his sons at the helm of his cattle business, Engler focuses his time on his foundation. In 2010 he directed more than $20 million to his alma mater to create the Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program. It is a student program focused on entrepreneurship and growing rural America. It is Engler’s hope that members from this program would return to their rural communities and establish sustainable, impactful businesses. There are currently 170 students in the program which also boasts 300 alumni.

It seems to be working as 96% of Engler graduates have successfully turned business dreams into reality resulting in more than $146 million topline revenue benefitting Nebraska and the nation. 

This article was published by the Nebraska Alumni Association and is shared with permission.