CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill. — Brian Splitt doesn’t have to look far
to see down the long path that has brought him back home again.
There’s the tattoo on his forearm. It’s not unusual to have
a tattoo these days, but not too many grain traders can claim the one that
Splitt has — the tattoo of a Marine Corps veteran.
There’s also the souvenir of his active-duty deployment to
Iraq during the Iraq War. Splitt, who was formerly an energy and metals trader
at Allendale, has a wealth of titanium in his leg, the result of a nonhostile
vehicle accident in Iraq that sent him home from war.
“Really the last thing on my mind at that point was being in
finance or trading,” Splitt said of the first steps of his journey.
He is originally from Arlington Heights. His dad, Walter
Splitt, and grandfather, Joseph Burke, are both Marine veterans.
Splitt was 19 and had finished a semester at Harper
Community College, but wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life. His dad
and grandpa suggested the Corps.
“I was still in the stages of trying to figure out what I
wanted to be. I needed the discipline,” Splitt said.
He enlisted in 1999, went through basic training in San
Diego, went through communications and electronics training and was stationed at
A master gunnery sergeant noticed Splitt’s affinity for
swimming and the water during training at Pendleton. Splitt was sent to become a
water survival and safety instructor. He was on his way to one of his first days
of training on Sept. 11, 2001.
In March 2003, the U.S. began its invasion of Iraq to topple
Splitt was four years into his eight-year enlistment and was
with the first Marines to cross the border into Iraq.
“We left California on Feb. 9, and we crossed the border
into Iraq on March 19, 2003,” Splitt said.
He had been in country and in the war for two weeks when, on
April 3, 2003, the vehicle he and several other Marines were riding in was
involved in what the Department of Defense termed a “nonhostile vehicle
“We were driving, and then we weren’t,” Splitt said. “I
honestly can’t tell you what happened.”
Splitt’s femur was broken. A friend and fellow Marine, Lance
Cpl. Chad Bales, 20, of Coahoma, Texas, was killed in the accident, the only
fatality. More than a dozen other Marines were injured.
Splitt was medevaced to two separate combat support
hospitals and eventually made his way to the National Naval Medical Center in
By July, he was on crutches and by the side of a pool, back
working as a water survival instructor.
“For the majority of the Marine force, it was about how to
keep yourself alive in your combat gear. For some of the more advanced swimmers,
it was how to keep yourself alive and save your buddy,” Splitt said.
He also trained special forces in aquatic confidence and
underwater survival and escape.
Splitt finished with his active duty in June 2004 and had a
decision to make, to stay in California — he was back poolside, on crutches,
training Marines in water safety by July 2003 — and take a job with a civilian
company training Marines or to head back home and start a new life and new
career. He and his first wife were expecting daughter Sophia, so that made the
“I knew the cost of living was cheaper, and my family was
here. It was an opportunity to come home and maybe have a little bump in income,
so I took that step,” Splitt said.
He started his financial career selling life insurance and
moved to a financial advisory firm. It was at that firm that Splitt first heard
about Allendale Inc. He called Paul Georgy, CEO and cofounder of Allendale.
“He said come in and I’d like to talk to you. We probably
talked for about an hour,” Splitt said.
It was then that he had his first introduction to the
split-second pace of the commodity trading business.
“He said I’d like you to start tomorrow. I said shouldn’t I
give my other employer two weeks’ notice? He said in this job, you have to make
up your mind. If you want to do it, you need to do it. So I said I’ll see you
tomorrow,” Splitt said.
He said that his introduction to the world of agricultural
commodities and how they’re bought and sold was a learning curve.
“I have no agricultural background at all. I remember the
first time I actually picked up the phone and somebody asked where is corn
trading, and I had no idea how to quote it. I think back in 2007, we were
trading corn with a 3 in front of the price. I probably said something like
38.84, and it was probably 3.88 and a half. I remember as I said that, Bill
Biederman (co-founder and senior vice president of Allendale) poked his head up
from his desk and shook his head. When I was done, he came over and said this is
how we quote grains,” Splitt said.
He started learning a new language, taught by the farmers
who grew the commodities and Splitt’s fellow traders.
“I had to throw myself out there and start talking to
producers. By just having conversations with producers and being honest, saying
hey, I’m new at this, I learned a lot,” Splitt said.
There isn’t much of his water survival training that Splitt
brought from his Marine days and his service in Iraq. But there are other
values, learned in the Corps, that always are a part of him and how he conducts
“I think one of the big things I learned in the Marine Corps
is integrity. I think that goes a long way in our industry. We’ve seen the
collapse of MF Global and (Peregrine Financial Group). I think at the heart of
each of those was a lack of integrity and a lack of honesty and not staying true
to what you’re supposed to be doing,” Splitt said.
He moved from being trusted with the lives of his fellow
Marines to being trusted with what may be peoples’ life savings or their
“It’s very important when you work with clients and you’re
working with their money that you be honest with them, you keep them informed of
where they are and you really can’t hold anything back,” Splitt said. “I really
think honesty and integrity are two main hallmarks that go a long way in this
Splitt’s ability, learned in the Corps, to handle multiple
tasks and to stay calm and make decisions in an instant also serves him well.
Instead of bullets and mortars, it’s corn and soybean and
wheat prices taking unexpected jumps followed by breathtaking tumbles, many
times in the space of a few hours.
“I think the one thing that combat veterans, as a whole,
have that a lot of people don’t is that you can very well prove that you can
make a decision in normal circumstances, but who can keep their calm and make
the same decisions when bullets are flying? Who can make that decision to tell
you what to do with 100,000 bushels of corn when you’ve got a USDA report and
the markets are flying around?” Splitt said.
The Marine Corps tattoo on his forearm isn’t the only
souvenir from his service. He still has the titanium in his leg.
He has a photo of himself taken at Bethesda when
then-President George W. Bush and Laura Bush came to visit wounded troops.
And he had a cameo on the ABC News show Primetime in 2003.
“Primetime did a documentary on the 47th Combat Support
Hospital. They had two Marines that they showcased,” Splitt said.
One of the Marines interviewed took shrapnel to his face,
but was conscious and able to be interviewed.
“The other Marine they showed in surgery, and there was a
big drill bit going into his leg. That was me,” Splitt said. “My family has a
tape of it somewhere. It’s really weird being able to see it.”
He also has the memories of his service, from the dung
beetles in Kuwait that were waiting to make use of every bit of waste left by
the Americans — often as soon as they left it — to the attitude of the Iraqi
“One of the things that stuck out was just how truly happy
the majority of the civilian populace really seemed to be that we were there,”
In June 2010, he and his family were reminded that finishing
up a deployment isn’t always the end of danger.
His half-brother, Justin Cloe, 29, a Marine with a tour of
duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan under his belt, died in an accident on June
“We just weren’t prepared for that because he was done. He
had done his deployments, and he was about to get out, so that was really
tough,” Splitt said.
Less than a month ago, Splitt and second wife Lauren,
already the parents of his daughter Sophia and their son Justin Joseph, “JJ,”
received one of the best reminders that life goes on.
Their second son, Brody James, was born on May 16, 2014. The
date had a special significance for Splitt.
“The last day that our family saw Justin alive was May 16,
2010,” he said.