Tyson executives promise 'sense of urgency'

by Bryan Salvage
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SPRINGDALE, ARK. — Company leaders at Tyson Foods Inc. vowed on Feb. 6 to shareholders during the company’s 46th annual meeting they would maintain a "sense of urgency" in returning the company’s chicken business to profitability, even though poultry-market conditions are showing signs of improvement.

Leland Tollett, interim president and chief executive officer, said market fundamentals in the chicken business have been improving, with product values going up and input costs down. But he added the company can not just rely on better market conditions in its goal to continually improve.

"To be successful, we need to have efficient, high-performing operations, and we are making progress," Mr. Tollett said.

Tyson’s poultry yields, labor management and plant efficiencies are currently competitive and noted the company continues efforts to enhance product mix, as well as customer service and satisfaction, he added. "Although we’ve improved our execution, we must maintain our sense of urgency to return our chicken business to acceptable levels of profitability and regain our position as best in class," he said.

Despite challenges facing the company, Mr. Tollett told shareholders, "We’re doing a lot of things right. We’ve got the right core strategies for the company. We’re getting the chicken business turned around. Beef, pork and prepared foods are solid, well run businesses." (See "Tyson's Tollet addresses the state of the company" in the Feb. 6 posting of MEATPOULTRY.com) for details of a press briefing that followed the company meeting.)

Meanwhile, Dennis Leatherby, Tyson chief financial officer, also expressed confidence in the direction of the company. He noted Tyson’s liquidity, which was $1.1 billion at the end of the first quarter of fiscal 2009, enabled the company to make international acquisitions and fund its renewable products efforts.

When asked what Tyson senior management has done to calm layoff fears among its own "team members", company spokesman Gary Mickelson iterated to MEATPOULTRY.com, "The most recent example of our internal communications efforts is last month's distribution of a video featuring Leland Tollett. The video and a transcript were posted on the Tyson intranet system. Copies of the video were also distributed to our plant locations. During the video presentation, Mr. Tollett indicated no major layoffs are planned."

When asked about Tyson’s capital spending plans for fiscal 2009 in light of the flagging economy, Mr. Mickelson said, "Our chief financial officer, Dennis Leatherby, reported during our most-recent earnings call that we have reduced our outlook for fiscal 2009 capital expenditures to under $500 million. We previously reported in our 2008 annual reported that we expected capital spending for fiscal 2009 to be $600 -$650 million."

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