UPDATE: Business Leaders on Don Tyson: 'A Dedicated Man'

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011 3:51 pm  

Friend Thomas Schueck said Don Tyson, above, the former chairman and CEO of Tyson Foods, was "one of the most giving persons I've ever known in my life."

Business and political leaders from throughout Arkansas on Thursday offered words for Don Tyson, the former chairman and CEO of Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale, who died Thursday.

Among them, Alice Walton, daughter of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. founder Sam Walton, called Don Tyson "a mentor and a real friend."

"I don't think the Northwest Arkansas Council or the regional airport would have happened without his leadership and vision," she said. "He understood the importance of bringing the region together with one voice to accomplish key goals."

Warren Stephens, chairman, president and CEO of Stephens Inc. of Little Rock, said Don Tyson and the Tyson company were more than just clients of the investment firm.

"Our families have enjoyed a close friendship spanning 50 years and three generations," Stephens said. "Don worked hard, was a leader and innovator in the food production business, and built one of the world's largest and most successful protein based food companies.

"We lost a great friend today and we extend our sympathy to his family and Tyson associates."

Frank Broyles, former athletic director at the University of Arkansas, said he was saddened to hear of Don Tyson's death.

"Don was a good friend, a world-renowned business leader, a dedicated Arkansan and a loyal supporter of the University of Arkansas and the Razorbacks. Whenever the time came to build or renovate an athletic facility to help strengthen and grow the Razorback program, Don was among the very first to step up and play a major part," Broyles said. "His longtime support of the Razorbacks helped enable thousands of student-athletes to compete and succeed while proudly representing the university and our state. My thoughts and prayers are with the Tyson family."

Thomas Schueck, president and chief operating officer of Lexicon Inc. of Little Rock, knew Tyson for about 25 years and is among honorary pallbearers. He called Tyson "one of the finest individuals I've ever met in my life."

"His business skills speak for themselves. He is, of course, one of the most giving persons I've ever known in my life," he said.

"He treated everybody with dignity."

Schueck cited Tyson's philanthropic efforts. Tyson created and led the Tyson Family Foundation, which provides scholarships for post-secondary students from communities where Tyson Foods has operations. Tyson supported other cuases education, conservation and the arts.

Schueck also talked about Tyson's love of fishing, which Tyson himself shared with Arkansas Business and the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal in 2004.

"He would share his boats and his fishing expenses with a lot of people and a lot of important people," Schueck said. "And, of course, he believed that everybody should have a good time. And one philosophy that he always shared with me was there was no time to have a bad time."

Still, Tyson believed that, "You don't plan for the good, you plan for the bad," Schueck said.

"We lost a real, real dedicated man to the state of the Arkansas and to Springdale and northwest Arkansas," he said.

Dash Goff, a Fayetteville oil and gas businessman, said he was introduced to Tyson in Dallas about 40 years ago by Hayden McIlroy.

"He was one of the smartest people I've ever met, and from time to time I've asked him for business advice," Goff said.

"Your first loss is your least loss, a bad deal doesn't get better and don't chase bad money with good money," are three significant business points Goff said Tyson would repeat.

Aside from business, the two also shared a passion for fishing.

"I got to see a lot of the world because of him," Goff said. A 1,000-pound black marlin was the largest fish Goff could recall being reeled in on a trip the two shared.

A statement from the National Chicken Council, which named Don Tyson a "Pioneer of the Industry" in 2004, called Tyson a "titan of the modern chicken industry."

"From the beginning of his leadership of his company, he saw the future of the industry and worked to make his vision a reality. He was a pioneer in moving beyond commodity chicken to value-added products and in the development of new products and international markets," the council said in a statement. "Don Tyson was a key figure in transforming the industry into the powerhouse it is today. Not only his family and his company have suffered a loss, but the entire industry as well."

University of Arkansas Chancellor G. David Gearhart called Don Tyson's death "an immense loss."

"To all who knew him, he was a larger-than-life figure-a business pioneer, a great philanthropist, and a dear friend. A self-made man, he wasn't just a great Arkansas success story, he was a great American success story," Gearhart said. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family. His vast and big-hearted presence will be sorely missed."

Political Leaders Remember

In a statement, former Arkansas Governor and President Bill Clinton called Don Tyson "one of the most interesting people I've ever known." "His brilliant mind, unfailing energy, and fearless determination to prevail in every endeavor on his own terms enabled him to build a great company, have a real impact on the politics of Arkansas and America, and lead a fascinating life.

"Though he sailed the world to fish and to feed his insatiable hunger to learn and experience new things, he held onto his roots in Northwest Arkansas and remained fiercely loyal to family, friends, the people of Tyson's, and the causes he cared about.

"From the first time I met him in 1974 until our last talk a few months ago, I was captivated by his keen insight, straight talk and raw energy. I'll miss him. He did it his way," Clinton said.

Gov. Mike Beebe called Tyson "a business giant who helped put Arkansas on the world map for poultry and food production. 

"As he reached higher and higher levels of success, he never forgot where he came from, remaining a life-long Arkansan and generously giving back to his community and our State," Beebe said. "Don will be greatly missed."

U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., said he has "many fond memories of Don Tyson."

"I will miss his friendship, spirit, and passion for the outdoors," he said. "Don never forgot where he came from, including the hard work and principles that made him a business legend. His success and leadership was a springboard for our state's economy, and his philanthropy will continue to lift up Arkansans in countless ways. 

"My prayers and thoughts go out to his family and friends during this difficult time."

Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., says Tyson's passing leaves "an enormous hole" in the 3rd District of northwest Arkansas:

"Don's life was one that encompassed the true American dream. Because of his vision, what was once just a small family business known as Tyson Feed and hatchery is now a key part of the state's economic engine. But for those who knew Don personally, he was more than businessman. He was a good man. For that, he will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family." 

Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark. of Arkansas' 2nd District in central Arkansas, said he was sad to learn of Tyson's death.

"He built a multi-billion dollar international company - employing thousands - out of a small family business in northwest Arkansas," Griffin said. "His business success and record of philanthropy in Arkansas are legendary. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Tyson family today."

(Mark Friedman, Worth Sparkman and Gwen Moritz contributed to this story.)



Please read our comments policy before commenting.