Tyson Foods’ new CEO changes management team, breaks from traditional segment leadership

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 2,636 views 

Tyson Foods CEO Tom Hayes announced Tuesday (Feb. 14) several key management changes. The moves come less than two months after Hayes succeeded Donnie Smith as CEO of the Springdale-based food and protein processing giant.

Donnie King, president of Tyson’s North American operations, Sara Lilygren, executive vice president of corporate affairs, and Gary Cooper, chief information officer, will depart the company in connection with Hayes’ new management structure. Hayes said their delayed departures will ensure time for a seamless transition.

“Today’s announcement underscores our commitment to having the best possible management team in place, which will be crucial to achieving our objectives and continued excellence,” Hayes noted in the release. “On behalf of the Board and management, I would like to thank Donnie, Sara and Gary for their hard work and meaningful contributions to Tyson Foods. As a result of their efforts, we are well-positioned to execute against our priorities and realize long-term value for our stakeholders. We wish them well.”

The new leadership team reporting to Hayes includes:
• Sally Grimes, president, North American Retail;
• Andy Callahan, president, North American Foodservice & International;
• Noel White, chief operations officer;
• Monica McGurk, chief growth officer;
• Dennis Leatherby, chief financial officer;
• Scott Rouse, chief customer officer;
• David Van Bebber, general counsel;
• Devin Graham [Interim], chief technology officer; and
• Mary Oleksiuk, chief human resources officer.

Hayes still has to appoint a chief sustainability officer.

Tom Hayes, CEO of Tyson Foods

“These important changes better align our management structure to our purpose and strategy. This new structure and will facilitate efficiency and growth, as well as lay the foundation for strong leadership and management continuity. I’m deeply proud that we were able to fill most of these roles from within, tapping the abundance of talent and dedication we have here at Tyson Foods,” Hayes said.

The new management structure is different from the company’s traditional organization which had specific leaders over the various protein segments. Tyson Fresh Meats, the beef and pork business run mostly out of Dakota Dunes S.D., had its own management team led by Noel White. The chicken and prepared foods segments had their own leadership teams formerly run by Donnie King, and at one time former CEO Donnie Smith.

The company officers in the new structure are divided by operational channels – retail, foodservice and international. Smith said when Tyson acquired Hillshire Brands in 2014, the board was careful to take a “Brady Bunch” approach and appoint equal amounts of executive leadership from both companies. The new executive leadership looks balanced, except Callahan and Grimes, the two presidents under Hayes, are former Hillshire executives.

Smith praised both Grimes and Callahan to analysts when talking about the young leadership at Tyson Foods. White has run the poultry and red meat business for the company and is also seen as an up-and-comer now taking on the No. 2 role behind Hayes as chief operations officer.

Management changes are typical when there is a new CEO, according to Alan Ellstrand, management department chair at the University of Arkansas. He has previously told Talk Business & Politics that new CEO’s typically want to put together a team with which they are comfortable. It’s done in politics and the same is expected in the business circles.

King, 54, joined Tyson Foods in 1982 and worked his way up the ladder to president for Tyson’s North American operations under CEO Donnie Smith. Cooper also spent his entire career at Tyson Foods logging nearly 32 years with the meat giant, according to his LInkedIn page.

Lilygren joined Tyson Foods in 2002 after spending 18 years as a lobbyist for the beef and pork industries based in Washington D.C. Her first six years at Tyson Foods she ran the company’s D.C. corporate relations office. She relocated to Springdale in 2009 and was promoted to executive vice president of external relations. In 2012 she was promoted to executive vice president of corporate affairs, making her the highest ranking female officer in the company. Lilygren also has been active on the board of the Walton Arts Center.