In an unexpected announcement on Monday, Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale named Noel White, its group president of beef, pork and international, to replace President and CEO Tom Hayes, who the company said is stepping down "for personal reasons."
White, who came to Tyson Foods in 2001 as part of the firm's acquisition of IBP Inc., will also join the board of directors. His appointment is effective Sept. 30.
The publicly traded meat processor did not elaborate on the departure of Hayes, who took over as chief executive on Dec. 31, 2016. In a filing with the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission, the company said it plans to "enter into a separation and release agreement" with Hayes.
"… Tom decided to leave the company for personal reasons and the board respects his decision and wishes him well," a company spokesman told Arkansas Business. "There were no issues of personal conduct or integrity."
In a Tyson Foods news release, Hayes called the decision to step down "difficult."
"It is a very difficult decision to leave Tyson Foods, but after careful consideration and discussions with my family and the board, I know it is the right thing to do," he said. "I am appreciative of support from my family and the board for my decision and am confident that Tyson Foods has a bright future with Noel White, along with our enterprise leadership team, as its leader."
Company Chairman John H. Tyson, a former CEO and grandson of the company's founder, thanked Hayes for his leadership.
"Tom has accelerated the strategic transformation of Tyson Foods' product portfolio and played an important role in the company's continuing development," he said. "The board and I thank him for his many contributions to the success of Tyson Foods and wish him well."
In the same news release, the company reaffirmed its adjusted earning per share guidance for fiscal 2018 of $5.70 to $6.00, as announced on July 30. Shares of Tyson Foods (NYSE: TSN) traded only slightly lower on Monday.
"Noel is a proven leader who has played an integral role in our enterprise leadership team for many years," John Tyson said. "He has run our beef, pork and poultry businesses and is now helping Tyson Foods capitalize on international opportunities.
"His deep institutional knowledge and a stellar track record over his more than 30-year career at Tyson Foods and a predecessor company give the board the utmost confidence in his ability to drive the business forward, accelerate global growth and create long-term value for shareholders."
The company said Hayes will work with White "to ensure a smooth transition" and that there would be "no change in corporate direction."
White said he was "honored" to serve as chief executive.
"It has been a privilege to contribute to this company’s evolution over the course of many years and to be a part of its becoming one of the world’s largest food companies," White said. "I look forward to accelerating the current trajectory of growth as a global modern food company through our operational excellence, innovative thinking and focus to sustainably feed the world."
A former executive with Hillshire Brands Co., Hayes became Tyson's president and CEO on Dec. 31, 2016, succeeding Donnie Smith. At the time, John Tyson said the decision to name Hayes CEO 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."
During his brief time at the top, Hayes led a reorganization of the company's management structure and a strategic plan that emphasized the company as a leader in sustainable protein production. He often appeared on CNBC and was interviewed for a Bloomberg Businessweek cover story published last month.
Hayes also signaled an aggressive plan to acquire firms that would bolster that mission. In 2017, Tyson Foods purchased AdvancePierre Foods Holdings Inc. of Cincinnati in a $4.2 billion deal. Earlier this year, it said it would buy the Keystone Foods business from Marfrig Global Foods of São Paulo, Brazil, for $2.16 billion in cash.
Before becoming CEO, Hayes worked in various roles, including company president, chief commercial officer and president of food service. In fiscal 2017, which ended Sept. 30, Hayes earned slightly more than $8.9 million, according to a proxy filing.
Hayes came to Tyson Foods after the company purchased Hillshire Brands Co. of Chicago for $8.5 billion in 2014. At Hillshire, 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.
According to Tyson Foods, White has more than 30 years of experience in the food industry. He worked at IBP for nearly 20 years before Tyson Foods acquired it in 2001. White will be the second former IBP executive to lead Tyson Foods; Richard Bond, CEO from 2006-09, was formerly IBP's chief executive.
At Tyson, White has served in various leadership roles including as chief operations officer. As group president of beef, pork and international, White was responsible for "delivering top and bottom line growth" for all three segments. Before that, he was president of poultry from 2013 to 2017.
White is a graduate of Bemidji State University of Bemidji, Minnesota, and earned a master of business administration from Oklahoma City University.