- Tyson Foods announced Dean Banks will become CEO of the company on October 3, while maintaining his role as president.
- Banks will succeed Noel White, who will remain with Tyson in a new role as executive vice chairman of the board of directors. White has served as CEO since 2018.
- The company said in the release that Banks' new role as CEO is part of the board's long-term succession plan. Banks, a former tech executive, will lead the company as it turns to more automation amid the pandemic.
Banks will be taking the helm of the company at a tumultuous time in Tyson's history. Thousands of workers at its plants have tested positive for coronavirus, causing fatalities, lawsuits, temporary shutdowns and potential shortages.
When the pandemic hit, meat plants rapidly became hotbeds for coronavirus as employees typically work shoulder-to-shoulder. More than 10,000 workers from Tyson alone have reportedly tested positive for coronavirus. Tyson is also being sued by several families of workers who died from coronavirus.
The pandemic has accelerated the meat industry's need to look into more automation. Tyson has said it is more aggressively pursuing an automated meat processing strategy as it faces issues with staffing and safety in its plants Banks, who previously worked on the leadership team at a Google-owned company, told The Wall Street Journal that his technology background can help Tyson update its operations. The meat company has invested $500 million in technology and automation in the past three years.
Banks has served as a voice for Tyson during the pandemic. At the start of the crisis, Banks wrote a blog post for the company about how the meat giant was transferring some of its chicken, beef and pork production from foodservice to meet the rise in demand for retail.
Before his time at Tyson, Banks previously served as managing partner at Seed Ventures, which invests in and develops early stage healthcare technologies. He has also had leadership and consulting roles with health companies including IntraCelluar Technologies, now known as Vergent Bioscience, where he is a board member; and Cleveland Clinic Innovations and the Ohio Orthopedic Commercialization Center.
Last week, Tyson announced that it was starting a new testing and monitoring program at all 140 of its production facilities, where it will now test its workers for coronavirus weekly and add nearly 200 nurses and administrative support personnel.
"It’s clear to the board that Dean’s impressive background in entrepreneurship, technology, and the healthcare industry make him ideally suited to lead Tyson in its efforts to integrate advanced technologies into our operations and further our focus on team member health and safety," John Tyson, chairman of Tyson Foods' board, said in a release.
It's not only the pandemic that will be bringing change and challenges that Banks will need to handle in the years to come. It is also dealing with antitrust investigations and the rise of meat alternatives.
The chicken industry at large has faced accusations of price fixing for years, going back to lawsuits filed in 2016. The U.S. Justice Department intervened in this litigation last year. In June, Tyson said it is fully cooperating with the Department of Justice's price-fixing investigation into the chicken industry under the antitrust division's Corporate Leniency Program.
Although that could help Tyson avoid charges in that case, there are others pending. The DOJ also recently issued subpoenas to major beef and pork producers, including Tyson, JBS SA, Cargill and National Beef, after facing pressure from cattle associations, senators and some state attorneys general about antitrust accusations.
As meat alternatives are becoming more popular, the 85-year-old meat giant is also expanding into that segment. Its new Raised & Rooted brand started to roll out last year, offering plant-based nuggets and blended burgers. The company has also invested in plant-based shrimp maker New Wave Foods.
Since joining Tyson Foods as a director in 2017 and president in 2019, Banks has worked closely with other leadership, the company said, preparing him to take over the company that generated $42 billion in sales last year and employs roughly 141,000 people. However, both previous CEOs at Tyson — White and his predecessor Tom Hayes — served roughly two years in the top role, so Banks will likely need to make an impact to have a longer tenure.
While Banks' experience in tech and healthcare are being touted as strengths, it remains to be seen if they aren't actually liabilities. Investors have previously worried Tyson has promoted top executives who didn’t have extensive experience in the meat industry.
"The Tyson board has a history of making risky outside hires that end up not fitting in well with Tyson’s distinct corporate culture and struggling to understand Tyson’s commodity businesses," Credit Suisse analysts wrote in a note last November, according to the Journal.