Donald John Tyson, who died in January at the age of 80, knew his chickens. Working in the family-controlled business at an early age, first as a chicken catcher and then truck driver, Tyson transformed a local poultry producer in Arkansas into not only one of the largest in America, but into one of the largest food companies in the world.
His father John Tyson started things going when he bought Tyson Foods first poultry processing plant in 1958. But it was college dropout Tyson who really transformed the Springdale-based company.
Tyson became president of the business in 1966 and later chairman and chief executive after the death of his father in 1967. He eventually retired in 2001, but during his time at the company revenues increased from $51 million to more than $10 billion, and Tyson Foods grew to become one of the largest food companies in the world. Today, the company’s revenues are more than $26 billion.
Tyson owes some of his success to the popularity of McDonalds’ McNuggets, which he supplied the chicken for. But he was also a good dealmaker and in 1989 Tyson Foods bought Holly Farms, which more than doubled the company size. His son John H Tyson is currently chairman. Always upbeat, Tyson’s iconic phrase was: “I don’t have time to have a bad time.”