UPDATE: Don Tyson Dead of Cancer at Age 80

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011 9:02 am  

Don Tyson

Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale has confirmed earlier reports that Don Tyson, 80, died early Thursday morning.

Company spokesman Gary Mickelson told the Associated Press that Tyson died from complications from cancer, and passed away at home with his family. The Arkansas News Bureau was first to report news of the death.

In a statement accompanying an obituary, the Tyson Foods President and CEO Donnie Smith said:

"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.

The company said a "small, private family service" is planned for Saturday, with visitation from 4-6 p.m. Friday at Sisco Funeral Home in Springdale. A public memorial service will be held later.

Business and political leaders, including honorary pallbearer Thomas Schueck and Gov. Mike Beebe, said Don Tyson will be missed.

Growing the Company
Don Tyson joined the firm, founded by his father John W. Tyson in 1935, and its the board of directors in 1952. Don Tyson took over the company in 1967, after his father and step-mother died that year in a car-train accident.

Tyson Foods had only a small fraction of the market when Don Tyson became CEO. But he led the company through a series of expansions that resulted in the company controlling 25 percent of the nation's poultry market.

The 1980s saw the biggest years of growth, with Tyson Foods buying Valmac Industries and Lane Processing. In 1986, Tyson became the country's No. 1 poultry producer, beating its chief rival ConAgra.

It was in a battle with ConAgra where Don Tyson led the company to one of its most important successes. Both companies made major plays to take over Holly Farms. It was a two-year struggle, and in 1989, Tyson finally won in a hostile takeover bid.

The Holly acquisition doubled the size of the company, putting annual sales at more than $2.5 billion. The move also added beef and pork to Tyson's offerings.

Another big deal came 10 years later, Don Tyson led the 1998 purchase of Hudson Foods for about $650 million.

Don Tyson was senior chairman from 1995 to October 2001, when he retired and became a consultant to the company. He was chairman from 1991-95 and was chairman and CEO from 1967-1991.

Don's son John Tyson joined the company's board of directors in 1984, became chairman in 1998 and became CEO in 2000. John Tyson and guided the company through the contentious $4.6 billion acquisition of beef and pork company IBP Inc.

John Tyson was chairman and CEO from 2001-06.

Don Tyson was fined $700,000 by the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2005 and Tyson Foods paid $1.5 million to settle an investigation into lavish spending of company money between 1997 and 2001.

The SEC found that he used $3 million in company funds to pay for vacation properties in England and Mexico, and items that ranged from jewelry and artwork to a horse and clothing, all improperly documented in company regulatory filings.

Despite the retirements of Don and John Tyson, the Tyson family retains tight control of the company, with a 70 percent voting stake in the company, according to its latest proxy statement.

Don Tyson was inducted into the University of Arkansas Arkansas Business Hall of Fame in 2000. In May 2010, he received an honrary degree from the UA.

Today, Tyson Foods is the world's largest meat processor. 

More

Click here to read Don Tyson's complete obituary

Thomas Schueck, Dash Goff, Mike Beebe and others remember Don Tyson

Don Tyson, an avid fisherman whose adventures we wrote about in this 2004 cover story

Video biography of Don Tyson at the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

 

 

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