When Leland Tollett joined Tyson Foods, Inc. in 1959 the company was known as Tyson’s Feed and Hatchery, a small Northwest Arkansas broiler business, struggling to grow and process chickens for local consumption. Tollett began his career with the company as Director of Research and Nutrition at a time when Tyson had net sales of less than $11 million with one processing plant.
In 1965 he was named General Manager of the Broiler Division assuming responsibility for all aspects of live poultry production. Tollett held different management positions with increasing responsibilities until being promoted to Chief Operating Officer in 1981 and President in 1983. The following year he was elected to the board of directors. Tollett was named Chief Executive Officer in 1991 and chairman of the board in 1995.
Under Tollett’s leadership Tyson Foods successfully built or integrated 23 major production facilities between 1981 and ’89. The company’s acquisition in 1989 of Holly Farms with its 16 processing plants, consolidated its position as the world’s largest poultry producer. From 1990 through 1998 Tyson acquired interest in or the entire assets of another 15 poultry and food companies, including majority interest in what is known as Tyson de Mexico.
At the time of Tollett’s retirement in 1998, net sales for the company had reached $7.4 billion. He continued to serve on the board until 2008. His many honors include being named Man of the Year by the Poultry Federation in 1989 and being inducted into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame in 2011.
Tollett’s vision complimented that of John W. and Don Tyson in building a global company that now employs more than 23,000 people in Arkansas with an annual payroll of nearly $970 million. Tollett’s legacy at Tyson Foods will last for years as those he mentored lead the company in its continued global expansion.