Tyson Foods CEO, Walmart execs, YouTube celebrity among ‘rock stars’ speaking at virtual NWA Tech Summit

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 2,109 views 

Dean Banks, president and CEO of Springdale-based meat giant Tyson Foods, will be a featured speaker at the seventh annual Northwest Arkansas Technology Summit that will take place virtually next week amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 1,000 attendees are expected for the summit that will be hosted Oct. 18-21, said Evan Payne, director of marketing and communications for the Greater Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce. The chamber is the organizing body of the summit, and the Walton Family Foundation and Bentonville-based retailer Walmart are event supporters.

Banks will be one of several featured speakers, including Karen Minkel, home region program director for the Walton Family Foundation, and YouTube-famous inventor James Hobson, known as the Hacksmith. Along with the virtual summit, the event also will include Virtual+ experiences for those in the area.

Banks has been president of Tyson Foods since December and has served on the board of directors since 2017. On Oct. 3, he became CEO, and former CEO Noel White became executive vice chairman on the board of directors. Before joining Tyson Foods, Banks was on the leadership team of X (formerly Google [x]), an Alphabet Inc. company, where he remains an adviser. Previously, he was managing partner of SEED Ventures, a group investing in and developing early-stage healthcare technologies.

“I’m excited to share how technology is shaping the future of food and helping us feed a growing world that’s expected to reach almost 10 billion people by 2050,” Banks said. “We’re putting good investment and energy into innovation, developing forward-looking technologies like robotics and automation, predictive analytics, mobility and blockchain.”

Dean Banks

Banks will join Scott Spradley, chief technology officer and executive vice president of Tyson Foods, in a fireside chat at 10 a.m. Oct. 20.

“We are thrilled to have Dean and Scott joining us at the NWA Tech Summit this year,” said Graham Cobb, president and CEO of the Greater Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce. “The opportunity for attendees to learn from the president and incoming CEO, as well as the EVP and CTO of the largest poultry producer in the country is phenomenal. This demonstrates the evolution of supply chain, the importance of tech talent to our region and the leadership integral to bringing that workforce here.”

Hobson is a former mechanical engineer who’s taken fictional concepts and objects from movies, video games and comics and created functional prototypes. Weekly, he’s inspired nearly 10 million followers to pursue careers and passions in science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) fields by documenting his creations and builds on his YouTube channel, according to a news release. Since 2015, he has accumulated nearly 1 billion views on his channel.

“Fictional technology is rarely as far-fetched as movies make it out to be,” Hobson said. “It’s my teams’ quest to turn fiction into reality as a way to inspire youth around the world by combining real world-technology with superheroes – like Iron Man and Batman – and show just how cool it is to be an engineer.”

Hobson earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Conestoga College in Ontario. He also was a student of the Technical University of Brunswick, Germany. In 2015, he left his engineering career to pursue his passion as an inventor.

“The Scott Family Amazeum in partnership with NWA Technology Summit, is proud to host James Hobson, better known as Hacksmith,” said Joel Gordon, making and tinkering manager at the Scott Family Amazeum. “The team at Hacksmith embodies the true spirit of making and tinkering, and they are champions of STEAM education. We are excited to bring these brilliant makers to Northwest Arkansas.”

Hobson will speak in the virtual summit at 12:30 p.m. Oct. 20.

“We are a hub for innovators to ideate, collaborate and launch,” Cobb said. “We’re excited to welcome James Hobson to this year’s summit where we can explore the idea of everyone being a technologist in the modern era. We know James’ appreciation and dedication to STEAM fields will inspire the technologists of the Heartland to pursue careers that will move our 21st century community and economy forward.”

Gov. Asa Hutchinson will deliver the opening remarks at 8 a.m. Oct. 19. Minkel will be joined by Cobb to kick off the first full day of summit programming following the governor’s remarks.

Other speakers include Meng Chee, executive vice president and chief product officer for Walmart, and Shelley Simpson, executive vice president and chief commercial officer for Lowell-based carrier J.B. Hunt Transport Services. Chee will speak at 11 a.m. Oct. 19, and Simpson will speak at 10 a.m. Oct. 19.

YouTube-famous inventor James Hobson, known as the Hacksmith, will speak at the Northwest Arkansas Technology Summit next week. The summit will take place virtually this year.

Admission for the virtual summit is $99. Admission for Virtual+ is $189 and includes all the summit content available on-demand for 12 months and the opportunity to joining three a la carte small group outdoor experiences in Northwest Arkansas.

The Virtual+ experiences will take place throughout the four days of the summit and “will allow attendees to experience the quality of life and beauty of Northwest Arkansas as well as make socially distanced connections with fellow Summiteers,” Payne said. “We have developed programming that touches on many aspects of life that we hold near and dear – including cycling, outdoor exploration and art experiences.”

When Cobb saw the experiences started on Sunday, he said “this is basically my best Sunday ever. They happen all four days, and they run the gamut: an e-bike tour of Bentonville to mountain biking 101 to a campfire experience, (and) how to read a [topographic] map. They’re reopening the trail Skyspace at Crystal Bridges, so we’ll be leading a group there. North Forest Lights at Crystal Bridges, adult night at the Amazeum — just some really cool ways to get together in a safe way, which is obviously a challenge in 2020.”

The summit and Virtual+ admission also include the DevOps track, which will take place Oct. 21.

The DevOps track will include speakers who “bring leading-edge ideas for how and why businesses must fundamentally change the way they operate in order to deliver better value to their teams and customers,” Payne said. “Sessions include high-level introductions suitable for business leaders, along with workshops designed for technicians interested in enhancing or acquiring new skills.”

Gary Gruver, president of Gruver Consulting, will speak at 2 p.m. Oct. 21. Gruver “wrote the book on agile training,” Cobb said. He also highlighted multiple Walmart executives who will be a part of the summit, including Chee; Nuala O’Connor, senior vice president and chief counsel of digital citizenship; and Sravana Karnati, senior vice president of international technology for Walmart International.

“These are rock stars who are apropos in today’s world, talking about things we all deal with on a daily basis,” Cobb said, adding that more companies have become interested after the schedule was released. “You have companies on either coast starting to perk up and pay attention and reach out and go, ‘Wait a minute. We didn’t realize that this was happening.’

“So you get these global brands, going ‘Oh, wait a minute, the largest retailer in the world is presenting in these spaces. We should be a part of this in some way.’ Or, the CTO of the largest chicken producer in the country is speaking, we need to be a part of this in some way. It’s neat to see the size of the stick that Northwest Arkansas swings when it comes to this stuff.”

“In a year that was really hard to fire on all cylinders, Northwest Arkansas is firing on all cylinders. Walmart is for sure,” Cobb added. “And it feels like being able to reach globally for speakers and then drill down and focus locally with these small events has really been a way for this conference to keep the momentum that it built last year and to continue to not only focus on deep-dive technical training but also showcase what makes Northwest Arkansas so special.”

Link here for more information on the summit.