Thomas Hayes Keeps Tyson Foods Ahead Of The Curve

On the job since June 2016, Tyson Foods Inc. CEO Thomas Hayes says the company has to constantly change to be the industry leader.
Thomas Hayes appearing on CNBC’s Mad Money

On the job since June 2016, Tyson Foods Inc. CEO Thomas Hayes is shaking things up: reassigning executives, hunting for acquisitions of companies with expanded food products – and a commitment that the Springdale, Ark.-based food producer will no longer use antibiotics in its flagship chicken products.

“We constantly have to change,” Hayes told Fortune. “The consumer is constantly changing. So it’s the next level of growth we have to be focused on.”

Tom heads up one of the world’s largest food companies with leading brands that include Tyson, Jimmy Dean, Hillshire Farm, Sara Lee, Ball Park, Wright, Aidells, ibp and State Fair. Across that vast network, how does the CEO get Tyson’s 122,000 to buy into change?

“What I ask is that we just work together,” he says. “Collaboration is the key to success at any large company. And so when things don’t feel good, work with each other. Make sure that we’re taking advantage of the strong talent that we have around the table.”

“If we’re going to feed nine and a half billion people around the world by 2050, we have to be part of the solution.”

Hayes is a consumer products veteran with more than 30 years of experience. Prior to his current role, he led all operations and commercial functions as president of Tyson Foods. Hayes previously held positions in the company as chief commercial officer, overseeing all North American sales, as well as president of foodservice.

He came to Tyson Foods with the acquisition of The Hillshire Brands Co. in 2014, where he held the position of chief supply chain officer responsible for operations, including procurement, manufacturing, food safety and quality, engineering and logistics.

Previously, Hayes was senior vice president and chief supply chain officer for Sara Lee North America, responsible for the company’s North American retail and foodservice businesses’ supply chain activities. Prior to this role, he was president of Sara Lee Foodservice.

Hayes’ earlier career was spent at US Foodservice Inc., ConAgra Foods, The Fort James Corp., Stella Foods and Kraft Foods.

Another coming shakeup: expansion into more plant-based protein products to meet growing consumer demand worldwide. Tyson Foods currently has a 5% stake in a plant-based protein start-up called Beyond Meat, and the company has now launched a venture capital fund worth $150 million to invest in startups that develop meat substitutes.

“If you take a look at the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) stats, protein consumption is growing around the world — and it continues to grow,” Hayes told Fox Business. “It’s not just hot in the U.S.; it’s hot everywhere, people want protein, so whether it’s animal-based protein or plant-based protein, they have an appetite for it. Plant-based protein is growing almost, at this point, a little faster than animal-based, so I think the migration may continue in that direction.”

In fact, the entire food production industry needs to step up to the plate, Hayes told “Mad Money” host Jim Cramer.

“Here’s the issue: If we’re going to feed nine and a half billion people around the world by 2050, we have to be part of the solution,” he says. “Big food has to get in the ballgame.”

Thomas Hayes is No. 76 on Chief Executive and RHR International’s CEO1000 Tracker, a ranking of the top 1,000 public/private companies.

Thomas Hayes

Positions: President, CEO

Number of Employees: 114,000

Age: 52

Year started as CEO: 2016 (internal hire)

Undergraduate School: University of New Hampshire, Durham

Graduate School: Northwestern University

Graduate Studies: MBA


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events