2011 Power 50: No. 33 Donnie Smith

Donnie Smith has brought change to Tyson Foods. Last year, his first in SN's Power 50 line-up, Smith was cited for quickly getting the company's returns up to expected levels after taking the reins at Tyson in mid-2009. Now, Tyson Foods can boast a banner year.

“We produced record sales and earnings in fiscal 2010 despite some market headwinds,” Smith said in an interview with SN. “I believe this shows our team is meeting customer needs and that our cost-management efforts are working.”

Smith, who has initiated several changes that have strengthened the Springdale, Ark.-based company, described some of those efforts.

“Simply put, Tyson Foods is not the same company it was three years ago,” Smith said. “By focusing on being our customers' go-to supplier, reinvesting in our business and continuously improving cost management and execution, we've become a stronger, more effective business.”

Much of Smith's work has focused on getting closer to consumers by studying their current needs and wants.

“Through our research and development facility, which we call ‘The Discovery Center,’ we continue to collaborate with customers to develop new, insight-driven products that can help them grow their business,” Smith said.

“We've especially been involved in working with customers on menu planning and the development of new products that provide consumers with what they want in today's challenging economic environment.”

In addition to racking up record sales and earnings this past year, the company has whittled down its debt to its lowest level in nearly a decade, Smith pointed out.

What's more, he said, the company's operating margins were in or above normalized ranges in each of its four business segments.

“I'm proud of our performance because it reflects our team's determination to generate operational efficiencies and ability to support our customers with the right products and service at the right price,” Smith explained. “It also shows that we have the experience and breadth of resources to help our customers grow their business.”

Smith attributes Tyson Foods' continuing success to the company's culture, which is all about taking good care of its customers and their customers.

“Since I believe our company's culture is the single-most-important factor in our team's success, it's something I'm very passionate about managing,” Smith said.

“My efforts involve promoting Tyson's cultural tenets, which are essentially a list of principles we strive to follow as we run our business. For example, they include doing what you say you're going to do, knowing your business and delivering results and taking care of our customers and consumers. It also involves leadership development and making sure our people have the tools to grow in their abilities and knowledge.”

Tyson Foods expects to spend about $700 million in capital expenditures in fiscal 2011 to, in Smith's words, “drive operational efficiencies, and to make sure we have the facilities to meet our customers' needs in the future.”

He added that “especially given today's economy, we need to understand what our customers need to help them grow and be the resource they turn to for answers. We have the opportunity to gain long-term market share by being their strategic go-to supplier.”

As the company looks to grow its existing customer base, it also will be expanding its international business, Smith said.