Tyson Foods CEO shares views on leadership, ‘trust’ in the workplace

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 336 views 

It’s been five years since Donnie Smith assumed the role of CEO at Tyson Foods. It's a job he says he still struggles to balance with his personal life especially now in light of the ongoing integration of Hillshire Brands which Tyson acquired for $8.5 billion.

Smith was the featured speaker at Cross Church’s Summit Luncheon on Thursday (Oct. 9) in Rogers. He spoke about his personal faith commitment and said each morning at 6:15 a.m., he and a team of other executives pray for Tyson Foods and issues in their industry.

In the five years since Smith and his management team took the helm, the meat giant’s market value has risen 228% to $14.41 billion as of Thursday. He said they focus on “being excellent, because good is not good enough.”

The only leadership style Smith supports at Tyson Foods is “servant leadership” because he feels it’s the only model that provides long term, lasting results.

“Leaders should serve their teams to make the whole team better. You may find a few self-serving leaders still working at Tyson, but give us time,” Smith said.

Smith shared a plan that he uses to maintain some sense of balance between his family time with wife Terry and his three children and the demanding job he holds.

“The term work-life balance is a mystery to me. I don’t know anyone who day-in and day-out strikes a perfect balance. For me it’s like a bank account. Sometimes I draw down on the balance like in recent months with this Hillshire acquisition, but I know that I can’t let if get too low. I have to start making some deposits to rebalance the account. Like last night when the whole family spent nearly 3 hours at Mama Z’s eating fried chicken and spaghetti. It took us about 30 minutes to eat and we spent the rest of time catching up,” Smith said.

He also said a person’s integrity “towers” are in constant jeopardy of being imploded by planes already launched – using the 9/11 analogy. He urged the crowd to watch for attacks and do what is necessary to shoot down the planes before impact.

“The loss of integrity is a fatal hit to one’s witness and leadership in the workplace,” Smith said.

Smith is not alone is his views. David Horsager, an expert and author on trust, said a lack of trust is business’ largest expense.

“We pay more for trusted brands. You will follow a trusted leader. When trust is lacking like a weak credit score the costs go up,” Horsager said during an Oct 8. speech at the Emerging Trends in Retail Conference held at University of Arkansas.

Horsager said trust is timeless and timely and the fastest way to lose trust is blame someone else. He shared eight pillars of trust that can make the difference between a good company and a great company. The pillars are clarity, compassion, character, competence, commitment, connection, contribution, and consistency.

“Companies that adhere to all eight pillars see unbelievable success,” he added.

Clarity, he said is critical because too many times businesses get bogged down in their own “strategic plans” that take much too long to act upon. He said Millennials are not that patient, they want clear, concise directions from leaders they trust.

“Most of the doable plans that change a company’s trajectory can take place in 90-days. That’s the sweet spot. That goes for individuals too. Any less time is not enough and anymore time drags on the end results,” Horsager said.

Assess where you are right now. It should take no more than 10 minutes to analyze and get started. Where do you want to be in 90 days? Why I am going there? The “why” is critical to Millennials, according to Horsager.

He said character of a corporation can be measured through integrity which is modeled by its leadership. The competence pillar is all about staying fresh, relevant and capable. Horsager said input leads to output so it’s important to “think about what you think about.”

The most important of the 8 pillars of trust is consistency, Horsager said.

“It’s the king of pillars. There is power in consistency. We trust sameness and Millennials want it,” he said. “It’s the little things done consistently over time that make the greatest difference.”

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