Former Hillshire Exec Tom Hayes to Become Tyson Foods CEO

Former Hillshire Exec Tom Hayes to Become Tyson Foods CEO
Tom Hayes

Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale said Monday that Tom Hayes, its president and a former executive with Hillshire Brands Co., will succeed Donnie Smith as CEO on Dec. 31.

The publicly traded meat processor, which reported fourth-quarter and fiscal year results Monday, said Hayes had been appointed to the board of directors on Thursday. He will continue to serve as president. 

Smith, who has been CEO of Tyson Foods since November 2009, will be available to consult with the company for a three-year period, the company said in a news release. Smith, in a filing with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission, said he would resign from the board Dec. 31.

"Tom Hayes is a proven leader who has played an important role in creating today's Tyson Foods and driving growth across our company," said John Tyson, chairman of the board. "The plan we have announced today will result in a smooth leadership transition that positions Tyson Foods for continued growth and innovation."

John Tyson said the decision to name Hayes now was based on "his track record and how his skills align with the company's strategic direction and continuing evolution." He said Hayes had the ability to push the company "further into developing markets, new product categories and proprietary food experiences."

"I am humbled to be named the next CEO of Tyson Foods and am grateful to the board and the family for providing me with the opportunity to lead this incredible company," Hayes said in a news release. "Tyson Foods is well positioned to realize numerous growth opportunities – our company has a solid strategy that leverages compelling market dynamics and an experienced and highly capable management team and many thousands of hard working and dedicated associates."

The announcement came the same day Tyson Foods reported fourth-quarter results that included a lower-than-expected profit that missed analyst expectations. Shares of the company (NYSE: TSN) were down more than 15 percent in early trading.

Smith was asked by an analyst during the company's earnings conference call about the timing of his stepping down as CEO. The analyst cited the disappointing earnings report, the steep drop in stock price and a lawsuit the company is facing that alleges Tyson Foods and other poultry producers conspired to fix prices.

"I think this is an excellent time for us to be making this transition," Smith said. "The company is off to a phenomenal start to the quarter; we are on a very solid foundation. We dispute the claims, we're looking forward to defending ourselves in court on the litigation. That has nothing to do with the transition. There's not a better time. We have a great team. Tom's a very capable leader. There couldn't be a better time to be making this transition."

Hayes agreed with the timing of the move. In his closing remarks during the conference call, Hayes said he would continue to rely on Smith as a consultant.  

"He has been a great partner bringing me up to speed on everything I need to know about the Tyson Foods family," Hayes said. "He's not going anywhere for three years. He's going to be on speed dial for me. I'm very happy about that."

Tyson Foods said Hayes is a 29-year veteran of the consumer products industry. Before working as company president, Hayes was chief commercial officer, overseeing all North American sales, in addition to the food service prepared foods business. He also previously served as president of food service. 

Hayes came to Tyson Foods after the company purchased Hillshire Brands Co. of Chicago for $8.5 billion in 2014. There, Hayes was chief supply chain officer, responsible for operations including procurement, manufacturing, food safety and quality, engineering, and logistics. Before that, he was senior vice president and chief supply chain officer for Sara Lee North America. 

"[Hayes] has the skills to deliver on our strategic goals and complete the transition towards our hybrid model," said Smith, who has been with Tyson for 36 years. "As you can imagine, it is a time of mixed emotions for me. I've spent my entire professional life here. In return I have been given opportunities I would never have imagined. I'm excited about its future and am confident that Tom is the right leader for the next chapter."

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