I have been blessed to build a friendship over the past few years with a business leader who “gets it” about as well as any I know. Donnie Smith, new CEO of Tyson Foods (located here in northwest Arkansas), has worked at Tyson Foods for 30 years.
On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal published a feature interview with Donnie. I have enclosed excerpts of the interview here (the entire interview is here). This is powerful. Whether you are just out of college and getting started in your career, a millennial trying to decide how you want to live at work, or a boomer still “working it out”, Donnie’s words will inspire you.
Finally these men said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.” Daniel 6:5
Mr. Smith, who teaches a Sunday school class, says one of his most important jobs as CEO is to promote an ethical culture. The company employs 120 chaplains and he blogs about integrity.
From his egg-shaped office, Mr. Smith shared his views on leading his flock.
WSJ: What’s your management style?
Mr. Smith: I’ve got this little saying: the answer is always in the room. We have to free people up to operate in an environment where there is no fear. We are going to make mistakes. Don’t worry about it. Let’s fail fast and fail forward. Then take that empowering spirit, and let’s go solve some problems.
WSJ: On your internal company blog, you mention the Bible as a favorite book. Does your faith affect the way you manage?
Mr. Smith: I don’t think you can say, “I do all my church stuff on Sunday between nine and noon, and the rest of the time I am either out for myself or running my business.”
My faith influences how I think, what I do, what I say. There are a lot of great biblical principles that are fundamental to operating a good business. Being fair and telling the truth are biblical principles.
WSJ: How moral can a company be?
Mr. Smith: We are going to do what is right. And we’re going to do what is right for one reason: because it is right. Now listen, we’ve got 117,000 people. There might be somebody that steps out of line occasionally. We will correct that.
WSJ: The Bible says the chances of a rich man getting into Heaven aren’t good. Can a Fortune 500 CEO get into Heaven?
Mr. Smith: This one will, because I did what the Bible said I had to do to get into heaven. Feeding people is a laudable purpose in life.
WSJ: The recession has brought widespread complaints of Wall Street greed. What do you think?
Mr. Smith: There seems to be this attitude that big is bad. And it really does bother me. Big banks are bad. Big Ag is bad. And you know what? We’re not bad.
We provide jobs for 117,000 people around the world. We make great, safe food products.
WSJ: Last thing: Which of your beef customers makes the best hamburger?
Mr. Smith: There is zero chance I am answering that question. No, I will tell you who makes the best hamburger: I do.
WSJ: So it’s not McDonald’s? Burger King? Wendy’s?
Mr. Smith: On my grill.
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