Dennis Leatherby of Fayetteville, retired chief financial officer for Tyson Foods, died suddenly Monday (Aug. 6) just four months after he hung up his suit coat and relinquished his financial duties at the Springdale-based meat giant. He was 58.
Leatherby was a central figure at Tyson Foods for nearly three decades after he convinced the late Don Tyson to buy Holly Farms in 1990, according to Tyson Foods Chairman John Tyson, who released the following statement regarding Leatherby’s death.
“Dennis was a man of integrity, and we’re deeply saddened by his sudden passing. He was a well-respected leader and colleague who was committed to helping our company succeed. Over the years, he was involved in helping us work through some major acquisitions as well as some difficult times. We appreciate all he did for the company, but, most importantly, we’re grateful for his friendship and support. My heart goes out to his wife Kathleen and all of their family.”
During the company’s annual shareholder meeting in February, Tyson said Leatherby’s talent would be missed around the company headquarters, where he spent 28 years working his way up from assistant treasurer to chief financial officer, a role he held from 2008 until his retirement, which was announced by the company last November.
Leatherby was a corporate banker who said he was first attracted to Tyson Foods because of the company’s entrepreneurial spirit. After working with the company on acquisitions in the late 1980s, he helped Tyson with the acquisition of Holly Farms, and soon after he joined the Tyson Foods ranks as an employee.
During his tenure, Leatherby was said to have been a critical factor in the company’s growth. At the last shareholder meeting, President and CEO Tom Hayes said Leatherby helped guide the strategic repositioning of the company, including the Hillshire acquisition program during his tenure.
“On behalf of our board, our executive team and the entire Tyson Foods family, I want to thank him for his countless contributions during his long and distinguished tenure,” Hayes said.
Leatherby told Talk Business & Politics in February he planned to remain in Northwest Arkansas during his retirement, where he intended to focus on family, church and community service. He also said Tyson Foods was primed and ready to launch its next phase of growth, and the time was right to pursue his “next chapter.”
“I am extremely proud of what this organization has been able to achieve in my nearly three decades here, and I am honored to have been part of a fabulous leadership team,” Leatherby said. “Many more good things are ahead for this great company.”
Leatherby was active in Central United Methodist Church of Fayetteville where he was a lay member. He was also a loyal alumnus of Kansas State University. He is survived by his wife Kathleen Diane Leatherby of Fayetteville and daughters Michelle Leatherby of Chicago and Lauren Leatherby of New York City.