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Banks departs Tyson; King to be fifth CEO in five years

by Nathan Owens | June 3, 2021 at 7:18 a.m.
Dean Banks (left), the former president and chief executive officer of Tyson Foods Inc., and Donnie King, the Tyson veteran who succeeded Banks as CEO, are shown in this undated composite photo.

Dean Banks, Tyson Foods' president and its chief executive officer since October, is leaving the company for "personal reasons."

Tyson said Wednesday in a news release that Donnie King, a longtime executive who has overseen all facets of the company, will become its new president and chief executive officer, effective immediately.

The abrupt change surprised Tyson employees and investors, coming less than two years into Banks' tenure. He served as a board member for a couple of years before becoming Tyson's president in December 2019. He later took on the role of CEO in October.

"Being a part of Tyson Foods has been a very rewarding experience," Banks said in a written statement. "Upon deep personal reflection, and discussions with my family, the board and my colleagues, I believe that stepping down and concentrating on my family is the right decision at this time."

King's appointment makes him the fifth chief executive for the nation's largest meat processor in as many years.

"The board and I know that Donnie has a deep understanding of our business, values and culture and the solid leadership skills needed to continue to implement our strategy and deliver strong results," John H. Tyson, chairman of Tyson's board and controlling shareholder, said in a written statement.

As the U.S. economy rebounds from the pandemic, the company reported recent profit gains but is facing challenges from understaffed plants and breeder flock troubles that have led to increased meat purchases from competitors to fill orders.

King, who has more than 36 years of industry experience, managed chicken plant operations and supply chains before running Tyson's North American operations and its international business. He was promoted to chief operations officer earlier this year.

Banks, 47, was an unorthodox choice to take over Tyson leadership last year during the pandemic. At the time, Tyson praised him for his ability to integrate advanced technologies into the company's operations.

Before joining Tyson's board in 2017, Banks led teams at Alphabet's high-tech research and development arm, X, and held management roles with various health care firms. He is a former platoon sergeant and squad leader in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Alan Ellstrand, associate dean of the Walton College of Business in Fayetteville, said that the tenures of chief executives have been getting shorter over time for different reasons, citing environmental, health and safety and diversity and inclusion as more important issues than they once were. Meanwhile, pressures from the board remain to deliver quick and positive results.

"I think there are a lot of landmines for CEOs to navigate these days," Ellstrand said.

Tyson's workers and plants were heavily affected by the pandemic last spring as thousands of meatpacking employees across the country tested positive for covid-19, leading the company to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to enhance worker health and safety and hire more medical staff in the past year. Onsite medical clinics for plant workers are being tested at a handful of processing locations.

"Clearly there was some reason to make a change," Ellstrand said about Banks' departure. Short executive tenures are usually measured in years, he said, not months.

Tyson has cycled through a handful of CEOs in the past five years, including Noel White, Tom Hayes and Donnie Smith.

"While we are surprised by the move we think that Donnie King is well suited for the role given his industry experience and knowledge" about Tyson, Stephens Inc. analyst Ben Bienvenu said in a note reported by Bloomberg News.

King, 59, who has been a mainstay for three decades and is perhaps the most knowledgeable leader in the company, is likely to stay the course and continue Tyson's growth strategies. The company did not say who would take over King's role as president of poultry.

"I'm humbled but excited about leading Tyson Foods, a company that feeds millions of people and means so much to me personally," King said in prepared remarks.


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