Why Tyson Foods’ interim CFO could be the board’s ‘safest bet’ for the long term

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Good morning. Tyson Foods is back in the news, not for its chicken, but because of the second arrest of its CFO in less than two years.

John R. Tyson, 34, son of company chairman John H. Tyson and the great-grandson of company founder John W. Tyson, was arrested by the University of Arkansas Police Department around 1:30 a.m. on Thursday and charged for driving under the influence, careless driving, and improperly making a U-turn, according to local news reports.

A Tyson Foods representative confirmed in an emailed statement that the CFO has since been suspended from all duties, effective immediately, and that Curt Calaway, SVP of finance, corporate development, and treasurer, has been named interim CFO.

Tyson’s first high-profile arrest was in November 2022, after a woman in Fayetteville, Ark., called the police when she found him—whom she did not know—in a bed in her home. The incident occurred just weeks after Tyson took over as EVP and CFO. During his first earnings call as CFO later that November, he said he was “embarrassed” and apologized.

The company’s board said in a statement a month later that it “supports Mr. Tyson and has continued confidence in his ability to lead Tyson Foods as CFO.” Tyson pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges in January 2023, paying fines and court fees.

'This is like an episode of "Succession"'

Tyson Foods may have been family founded, but it's also a public Fortune 500 company and Tyson's arrest is proving a “pivotal moment” for its corporate governance framework, according to James Bailey, a professor at the George Washington University School of Business. “Given the company's public status and the family’s control, it is crucial to reinforce trust,” Bailey told me.

John M. Veitch, dean for the School of Business and Management at Notre Dame de Namur University, put it this way: “Whatever ‘robust governance measures’ were put in place after the CFO's first drunk scandal, they don't seem to have worked.”

The company didn't appoint an interim CFO after Tyson's arrest in 2022, so does this mean the board is considering a permanent replacement? “Internally or externally, I’d suggest they conduct a qualified search,” said Shawn Cole, president and founding partner of Cowen Partners, a C-suite-focused executive search firm.

Calaway, who's worked at the company for almost 20 years, “would be the safest bet for the board to name as CFO,” Cole added. “Given that Tyson is a closely held and tightly controlled family business, it is likely that Mr. Calaway has been playing an outsized role at the company for years."

The board needs to communicate its intentions with Calaway to mutually set appropriate expectations, and to help with any day-to-day matters, said Cole, who added: "Staff and shareholders might be relieved by this transition, frankly. John Tyson needs to get help and I wish him and his family the best; this is like an episode of Succession."

Have a good weekend.

Sheryl Estrada
sheryl.estrada@fortune.com

This story was originally featured on Fortune.com

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