Donnie Smith has held the reins at the world’s largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef and pork for less than one full year. But, he has already improved execution of the company’s strategic plans with new launches and adjustments of existing lines, while focusing on team development.
Shortly after Smith was appointed chief executive officer in November 2009, the company announced that its beef, pork and prepared-food segments were generating returns at or above expected levels, while Tyson’s chicken business had made significant improvement from the first to the second half of fiscal 2009.
“[Beef and pork] is a business with narrow margins, and we’re really good at watching our costs while offering superior quality and service,” Smith told SN.
The Springdale, Ark.-based company has also made tremendous progress in improving the operational performance of its chicken business, Smith said.
“We’ve come a long way, and we think there is still considerable upside,” he said.
Smith added that he believes that better execution of strategic plans combined with being more passionate about taking care of its customers has contributed to Tyson’s recent performance.
“We’ve made structural changes in our business that have led to increased efficiencies, capacity utilization and better customer service,” he explained.
“We’re also working hard to make sure we’re producing the right product mix, so we’re generating sales that are more relevant to today’s market.”
Accordingly, before Tyson launched Open Prairie Natural Angus in January, it conducted extensive consumer research to find out exactly what shoppers are looking for in natural-claim beef. One of the major findings was that consumers expect transparency above all else. So, Tyson created an independent verification system to audit the ranchers who supply the cattle for the brand, and emphasized that all cattle used in the production of the brand are traceable to their place of birth.
One factor that contributes to Tyson’s success is its ability to adjust to changing consumer buying habits.
“Over the past couple of years, there’s been more focus on retail food purchases and dining at home,” he said. “In general, consumers have been eating more at home, as well as using carry-out and the retail deli to feed their families.
“Since our company is involved in both retail and foodservice, we have the resources and flexibility to reach consumers wherever they choose to eat.”
Not only has Smith been active in reevaluating market needs with new product launches and adjustments to increase efficiencies, he has placed emphasis on having a quality workforce, which is a large factor in the company’s success, he said.
“As CEO, I’m doing all I can to help our team continue to perform effectively.”
Smith said he has a passion for team member development and supports leadership training and other programs designed to help give Tyson’s people the tools they need to succeed. Smith is also focused on driving cultural change within the company.
“This involves such things as encouraging our people to really know their business and deliver results; to manage cost and expenses like they were their own; and to win and have fun as a team.”
Smith said that since becoming CEO, he has traveled to about 25 Tyson locations, visiting processing plants, feed mills, hatcheries and offices.
“The most enjoyable part is meeting our people and witnessing their enthusiasm for helping our business succeed, talking with them about our concerns and taking time to answer their questions.”