Death Reported Of Don Tyson

US - Don Tyson, former Tyson Foods Chairman and CEO, has passed away.
calendar icon 7 January 2011
clock icon 4 minute read

A statement released yesterday (6 January) from Tyson President and CEO, Donnie Smith, reads:

"It is with great sadness I report today the death of Don Tyson, former Chairman and CEO of Tyson Foods and a leading member of our company’s board of directors. Don passed away this morning at the age of 80 after a brief illness.

"As noted in the obituary that follows, Don was known by all to work hard, but also to play hard. He was famous the world over for his 'No Bad Days' outlook on life, and well known for telling everyone that "I don't have time to have a bad time". Don's passing will be mourned by all who knew him, especially his family, his countless friends, and business leaders and associates in Arkansas, across the country and around the world.

A small, private family service has been planned and a public memorial service will be held at a later date. We will provide more details later."

Donald John Tyson, known to everyone as 'Don', son of Tyson Foods, Inc. founder John W. Tyson, and father of current company Chairman, John H. Tyson, passed away today, 6 January 2011, at the age of 80, after a brief illness, according to a company statement. He was the former Chairman of the Board and CEO of Tyson Foods, Inc., a company he led through phenomenal growth in the 1970s and 1980s.

Don Tyson was born on 21 April 1930 in Olathe, Kansas, the son of John W. and Mildred Tyson. The family moved to Springdale, Arkansas in 1931 to enable Mr Tyson to develop his business of hauling produce from Northwest Arkansas to the larger markets in the Midwest such as Kansas City, St Louis and Chicago. By the time Don Tyson was a teenager, his father had started hauling chickens to those same markets and had also become involved in other aspects of the poultry business.

After high school in Springdale and Kemper Military Academy in Missouri, Don attended the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, studying business and agriculture, but left before graduating to join his father in the family business in 1952. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters degree by the University of Arkansas at its May 2010 graduation ceremony.

Through most of the 1950s, Don worked with his father to grow the family business, then known as Tyson Feed and Hatchery, supplying feed and baby chicks to local poultry producers in Northwest Arkansas. In 1958, the company became 'vertically integrated' by building its first chicken processing plant in Springdale, with Don overseeing the construction and then becoming its first plant manager. The company soon began to grow by acquiring other area poultry operations, and then went public with its initial public offering of stock in 1963 under the name Tyson's Foods, Inc. This was the company name until 1972 when it was changed to Tyson Foods, Inc. The company continued to grow through the 1970s and 1980s with Don leading a series of acquisitions including Val-Mac, Lane Poultry and the 1989 purchase of Holly Farms, which more than doubled the size of the company and made it the largest poultry producer in the country.

Don had moved up progressively in the company leadership, being named President in 1966, and then becoming Chairman and CEO in 1967 when his father and step-mother were both tragically killed in an automobile-train accident in Springdale. He continued to serve as Chairman, President and CEO until 1983 when long-time Tyson executive, Leland Tollett was named President. In 1991, the company named Mr Tollett President and CEO with Don remaining as Chairman until 1995 when he officially 'retired' and Mr Tollett was named Chairman and CEO. Mr Mr Tollett, along with another long-time company team member, Donald 'Buddy' Wray had worked alongside Don throughout these years growing and running the company. It was often said that Don provided the vision and leadership, and that Leland and Buddy had the ability to profitably run whatever Don bought.

In the late 1990s, the company continued to grow, most notably with the acquisition of Hudson Foods in 1998. By this time, Don's son, John Tyson, had succeeded Mr Tollett as Chairman of the Board of the company and Don Tyson was named Chairman Emeritus. Don continued to provide guidance and support for the company's leadership team, including Tyson's 2001 acquisition of IBP, inc., a purchase engineered by his son, John. As a result of the acquisition, Tyson Foods, the largest poultry producer in the world, also became the largest beef processor and second largest pork processor, with annual revenues jumping from approximately $7.5 billion to more than $24 billion.

For more information on Mr Tyson's life and the funeral arrangements, click here.

The USA Poultry & Egg Export Council (USAPEEC) is saddened by the death of Don Tyson. Mr Tyson was an industry icon in every sense of the word, and his company was a pioneer in exporting US chicken to many countries of the world. Tyson is one of the brand names that says 'American chicken' the world over.

Mr Tyson was always supportive of the international side of the business. A representative of Tyson Foods has been on the USAPEEC Board of Directors every year since the organisation's inception in 1985.

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