Don Tyson, who turned his family’s Arkansas chicken company into one of the largest industrial meat and poultry producers in the world, has died of cancer at age 80. Tyson became president of the company in 1966 and served as CEO and chairman from 1967 to 1991. He officially retired from the company in 1995.

The son of the company’s founder and the father of its current chairman, grew into a world protein leader under Tyson’s management. The Wall Street Journal notes that he was credited with bringing industrial scale to chicken farming. Annual revenue rose under his watch to more than $10 billion from about $50 million a year.

Through most of the 1950s Tyson worked with his father to grow the family business, then known as Tyson Feed and Hatchery, supplying feed and baby chicks to local poultry producers in Northwest Arkansas. In 1958 the company became "vertically integrated" by building its first chicken processing plant in Springdale, with Tyson overseeing the construction and then becoming its first plant manager.

The company soon began to grow by acquiring other area poultry operations, and then went public with its initial public offering of stock in 1963 under the name Tyson's Foods, Inc. This was the company name until 1972 when it was changed to Tyson Foods, Inc.

The company continued to grow through the 1970s and 1980s with Don leading a series of acquisitions including Val-Mac, Lane Poultry and the 1989 purchase of Holly Farms, which more than doubled the size of the company and made it the largest poultry producer in the country.

After ending his active day-to-day involvement with the operations of Tyson Foods Inc., Tyson continued to serve as a consultant and on the company's Board of Directors, and was also the managing general partner of the Tyson Limited Partnership (TLP). With his death, the TLP will maintain effective control of Tyson Foods Inc., with management of the TLP residing with a small group of Tyson family members, former Tyson executives, and trusted confidants of Don Tyson.

"My sisters, my children, Barbara Tyson and I are truly saddened by the loss of our father, as are many, many friends, business associates and Tyson team members," said John Tyson. "He was a true visionary who led Tyson Foods from a small regional chicken company to a multi-billion dollar food processing enterprise. He will be missed by everyone who knew him. An era has passed, but Tyson Foods and the Tyson family remain committed to the City of Springdale where our corporate headquarters is located, all our plant communities and other stakeholders."

The National Chicken Council, which named Tyson a “Pioneer of the Industry” in 2004, issued a statement calling him a “titan of the modern chicken industry.”

"From the beginning of his leadership of his company, he saw the future of the industry and worked to make his vision a reality,” the statement continued. “He was a pioneer in moving beyond commodity chicken to value-added products and in the development of new products and international markets. Don Tyson was a key figure in transforming the industry into the powerhouse it is today. Not only his family and his company have suffered a loss, but the entire industry as well.”

A private family service has been planned with a public memorial service to be scheduled at a later time, a Tyson spokesman said in a statement.

Sources: Wall Street Journal,, Tyson Foods Inc., National Chicken Council