Donnie King, president of North American Operations and Food Service for Tyson Foods, Inc., one of the world’s largest processors and marketers of chicken, beef, pork, and processed foods, has been named the 53rd Distinguished Alumnus of the University of Arkansas at Monticello.
King will be honored during UAM’s commencement exercises May 8.
A native of Rison, King attended UAM from 1980 to 1984, pursuing a degree in business management, but never had time for the traditional college experience. He took classes Monday, Wednesday and Friday and worked at Tyson’s Pine Bluff plant on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. “If I wasn’t in class, I was working,” he said.
King became the youngest plant manager in Tyson history when, at 24, he took over the Berry Street plant in Springdale in 1986. In 1990, Tyson announced the construction of a new plant in Pine Bluff to produce boneless, skinless chicken for KFC. King asked for the opportunity to manage the plant from the ground up and spent the next three years running the Pine Bluff operation.
From there, King began a climb up the Tyson corporate ladder. In 1993 he became logistics manager at Tyson’s Springdale headquarters, then spent 13 months in Monett, Mo., managing Tyson’s complex of 1,000 plant workers and 500 growers. In 1996, Tyson bought McCarty Farms and King went to Jackson, Miss., to oversee five plants and a large grow-out operation.
In 1999 he returned to Springdale as vice president of several complexes and a few months later took over responsibility for all food service operations. Now he sits at the right hand of Tyson CEO Donnie Smith, supervising production of chicken, beef, pork and processed food while managing the company’s supply chain and food service division. Tyson Foods had annual sales of $42 billion last year; King was responsible for $36 billion of that total.
King doesn’t seem fazed by those numbers. In fact, the bigger the challenge, the more he seems to thrive. “I like dealing with people,” he explained. “I like the challenge. It’s like a large puzzle. I like planning and doing things that others can’t do or haven’t done. And I like getting better every day. I literally get to participate in feeding the world.”
King and his wife, Charlotte, have two children – daughter Kristen, 26, who works at Vanderbilt University while completing her degree as a nurse practitioner from the University of Tennessee; and son Mark, 24, who lives in Fayetteville and works in food service sales for Tyson.