Tyson Names Chicken Boss New CEO in Latest C-Suite Shakeup

A revolving door in America’s biggest meat company has spun once again. Tyson Foods Inc. named Donnie King as chief executive officer to replace Dean Banks. King becomes Tyson’s fifth CEO in as many years.

Banks, who had been in the top job for eight months, is leaving for “personal reasons,” the Springdale, Arkansas-based company said Wednesday in a statement. King, most recently chief operating officer and president of poultry, becomes CEO effective immediately.

The abrupt change comes at a pivotal time for the meat producer. Tyson is earning better margins than ever from selling beef and added new plant-based burgers and sausages. But the company has been struggling with shortages of workers at its plants and issues with chicken hatchings have impeded operations.

King is a commodities veteran, and the choice of an executive who’s well-versed in agricultural markets suggests that the company’s board is moving away from outside leadership as it emerges from a devastating pandemic and a price-fixing probe that has cost over $200 million to settle. Other leaders over the years have run the gamut from people with backgrounds in consumer goods to someone like Banks, who made his career in Silicon Valley.

Tyson shares rose 0.8% to $80.76 at 12:49 p.m. in New York.

King, 59, first joined Tyson in 1982 and rose to lead the poultry business at the top U.S. chicken producer, before leaving in 2017. He returned to the company last September, raising speculation that he was a CEO-in-waiting.

Banks took the CEO job in October, just as Tyson was rebounding from the coronavirus outbreak that forced the company to shut several plants when workers got sick. Banks was formerly a project lead and on the leadership team at the Google division X, and was seen as an asset with Tyson installing more automation and artificial intelligence inside its plants.

“Upon deep personal reflection, and discussions with my family, the board, and my colleagues, I believe that stepping down and concentrating on my family is the right decision at this time,” Banks said in the statement.

Banks succeeded Noel White as CEO in October. White, now vice chairman at Tyson and who saw the company through the pandemic disruptions, took the role in 2018 after the departure of Tom Hayes, who lasted less than two years in the job.

Tyson’s strategic and operational priorities should remain the same under King, with results steadily improving, Stephens Inc. analyst Ben Bienvenu said in a note.

“While we are surprised by the move we think that Donnie King is well suited for the role given his industry experience and knowledge” about Tyson, he said.

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