In Tyson shake-up, 3 execs leaving

Posted: February 15, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

The exterior of Tyson Foods Inc. headquarters in Springdale.

Tyson Foods is establishing a new leadership team to focus on consumers, customers, technology and sustainability, the company said Tuesday.

The new structure includes a senior leadership team of 10, including three former Hillshire Brands employees, all reporting directly to CEO Tom Hayes. Three long-time Tyson executives are leaving the Springdale-based company as a result of the shake-up.

A former Hillshire Foods executive himself, Hayes moved up to the company's top spot at the first of the year. Tyson acquired Hillshire, along with its many well-known brands such as Jimmy Dean and Ballpark, in 2014 for $7.7 billion. Hayes replaced Donnie Smith, who saw company shares leap in value during his time as CEO.

Ken Shea, a senior analyst of food and beverages at Bloomberg Intelligence, called the move striking, saying the shift puts more former Hillshire executives in top spots and likely points to the company moving further into the realm of value-added products.

"They are deepening their bench," he said.

According to a release, the new leadership team has diverse experience that will benefit Tyson moving forward and is structured to allow for and encourage collaboration and agile decision-making.

"These important changes better align our management structure to our purpose and strategy. This new structure will facilitate efficiency and growth as well as lay the foundation for strong leadership and management continuity," Hayes said in a statement. "I'm deeply proud that were were able to fill most of these roles from within, tap the abundance of talent and dedication we have here at Tyson Foods."

Barry Goldberg, owner of Little Rock-based Entelechy Partners, which works globally on consulting, training and coaching leaders, said the change in the top spots at Tyson will have a trickle-down effect with the company's lower tiers of leadership.

"Folks will have to relearn what success looks like," he said.

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He said the result will be a short-term shake up, but it will take a while to determine how successful the new leaders and the direction they take the company will be. In the end, business success will show if the shift was effective.

"The proof of the pudding is in the eating," he said.

The three former Hillshire Brands employees on the leadership team are Sally Grimes, president of North American retail; Andy Callahan, president of North American food service and international; and Mary Oleksiuk, chief human resources officer.

Noel White, chief operations officer; Monica McGurk, chief growth officer; Dennis Leatherby, chief financial officer; Scott Rouse, chief customer officer; David Van Bebber, general counsel; and Devin Graham, the interim chief technology officer all were Tyson employees before the Hillshire acquisition. One post, the chief sustainability officer, remains open.

A Tyson spokesman said seven of the nine named leadership posts will be based in Northwest Arkansas.

Leaving Tyson are Donnie King, president, North American Operations; Sara Lilygren, executive vice president, corporate affairs; and Gary Cooper, chief information officer. The news release states the departures will be effective over a period of months.

King joined Tyson in 1982, holding several positions over the years including poultry plant manager and president of prepared foods, customer and consumer solutions, according to the Tyson website. Lilygren joined the company in 2002. Cooper's LinkedIn page shows he started at Tyson in 1985.

Bob Williams, senior vice president and managing director of Simmons First Investment Group, said it's not unusual for a new CEO to select his own team of top executives. He said the makeup of the new team is interesting and blends the strength of Tyson before the Hillshire acquisition and after.

For decades, Tyson has been moving more and more toward further processed foods, where profits are solid and predictable, and away from commodities like chicken, beef and pork that are far more volatile, Williams said. He also noted processed foods is one of the strengths of the Hillshire segment of the company.

The news of the leadership shift came a few minutes after the markets closed. Tyson Foods ended trading on the New York Stock Exchange at $65, down less than 1 percent for the day. Shares have traded as low as $55.72 and as high as $77.05 over the past year.

Earlier this month, Tyson Foods reported its profits were up 29 percent in the first quarter, breaking company records and handily beating analysts' estimates. The company increased its earnings per share guidance for the coming year from $4.90 to $5.05, or about 12 percent higher than 2016. The company said it expects its sales in 2017 to be mostly flat as the company works to increase sales volume across all its operations.

Information for this article was contributed by Christie Swanson of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Business on 02/15/2017