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Former Tyson Foods Chief Executive Donald J. Tyson dies at 80

January 6, 2011 | 10:20 am

Tyson Donald J. Tyson, the former Tyson Foods Inc. chief executive who led the poultry company to dominance in the industry, died Thursday in Little Rock, Ark. He was 80.

Company spokesman Gary Mickelson said Tyson died from complications from cancer, and passed away at home with his family.

In 1952 Tyson joined the business his father had founded in the '30s, and Donald Tyson became its president in 1966. The company became the world's largest poultry producer under his leadership, when it bought Holly Farms in 1989. Tyson retired as senior chairman of the Springdale, Ark.-based company in 2001

The former executive was recognized for his "no bad days" outlook and "was known by all to work hard, but also to play hard," the company said in a statement announcing Tyson's death.

Tyson was fined $700,000 by the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2005 and Tyson Foods paid $1.5 million to settle an investigation into lavish spending of company money between 1997 and 2001.

The SEC found that he used $3 million in company funds to pay for vacation properties in England and Mexico, and items that ranged from jewelry and artwork to a horse and clothing, all improperly documented in company regulatory filings.

Tyson Foods Inc. was founded by Don Tyson's father, John Tyson, in the early 1930s. Don Tyson added the titles of chairman and chief executive in 1967, the same year his father was killed in a car-train accident. He left the daily operation of the company in 1995 but remained chairman, when Leland Tollett became chief executive.

Under Don's son, John R. Tyson, the company became the leading meat company with its purchase of IBP Inc. in 2001.

The Stephens Media Group first reported Tyson's death.

-- Associated Press

Photo: Don Tyson in 2004. Credit: Associated Press