Tyson Foods Names Donnie Smith Its New President, CEO; Jim Lochner Made COO

Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale on Thursday said its board of directors chose Donnie Smith, its senior group vice president of poultry and prepared foods, as its next president and CEO.

Smith takes over the position "effective immediately."

Leland Tollett, a former Tyson CEO, has been working as interim CEO while the meat processor searched for a permament replacement for Richard Bond, who resigned the post in January. On Thursday, Tyson said Tollett will continue "in the coming months" assisting Smith in the transition.

Tollett will also help Jim Lochner, Tyson's senior group vice president of fresh meats, who was named Thursday as the company's new chief operating officer.

Tyson Foods, the world's largest meat processor, has faced challenges to its business in the past two years, particularly in its chicken segment, which has faced a market dogged by higher feed costs and product oversupply.

Before Bond resigned, the company announced plans in December to cut chicken production by 5 percent. After Bond left in January, the company said it would make a major push to enhance product mix.

Company officials said the chicken segment began turning a profit in late February due to a reduction in inventory and lower grain costs. 

And in May, Tollett told investors and analysts at the BMO Capital Markets 2009 Agriculture, Protein & Fertilizer Conference in New York City that the company's efforts "to improve our operational efficiencies and the product mix in our chicken business are paying off." It reported a 9 percent increase in chicken sales in the second quarter of 2009.

Still, the firm reported a wider $104 million loss in the second quarter.

Smith's Path to CEO

Smith, 50, joined Tyson in 1980 after graduating from the University of Tennessee with an animal science degree. He spend seven years in various live poultry production jobs before moving to Tyson's corporate headquarters in Springdale to join the company's commodities purchasing group.

Since then, he's worked in several areas of the company, including purchasing; environmental, health and safety; food safety and quality assurance; manufacturing services; information systems; and logistics. 

"I am honored that I will now serve these team members as the leader of our company, and I am certain that 2010 and the years to come are going to be great for our shareholders, our customers, and other stakeholders," Smith said in a news release.

"Yes, we, like everyone else, have seen some struggles in these economic times, but I am certain that through the leadership of our team, the efforts of all our team members with our customers, and the focus on operational excellence, we will succeed." 

Lochner, 57, joined IBP Inc. in 1983. The company was purchased by Tyson in 2001.

Before IBP, he was a quality control food technologist at Oscar Mayer Foods and a laboratory technician at the University of Wisconsin.

In his first 14 years at IBP, Lochner held several different officer positions in various quality control and technical services areas, Tyson said. He became executive vice president of IBP in 1997. In 2000, he was promoted to president and CEO of IBP. After Tyson acquired IBP, he was named group vice president of Tyson Fresh Meats. He was then named Tyson Foods' senior group vice president of Margin Optimization in 2005 before becoming senior group vice president of Fresh Meats in 2007.

Tyson's news release is available here.