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Tyson Foods Eyes Legal Unit Transformation with Walmart Hire (1)

Oct. 22, 2020, 9:56 AM; Updated: Oct. 22, 2020, 6:51 PM

Tyson Foods Inc., a food industry leader on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, has recruited a legal technology veteran from Walmart Inc.

Tyson, which considers Walmart one of its largest customers, hired Tariq Abdullah last month to be managing director of law business operations.

Abdullah spent the past seven years at Walmart, where he helped the retail behemoth embrace legal innovation and cut costs as managing counsel for global governance strategy and operations.

The move makes Abdullah one of at least a half-dozen lawyers hired by Tyson in recent months as it looks to navigate the Covid-19 fallout.

As the pandemic swept through U.S. meatpacking plants, Tyson was one of several companies to see thousands of employees test positive for the coronavirus. The company also faced workplace safety complaints and litigation.

Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said Abdullah will directly report to general counsel Amy Tu, a former in-house lawyer at Walmart who joined the company as its in-house legal chief in December 2017.

“Tariq will be responsible for driving transformational change across the organization and lead our focus on organizational improvement and financial performance,” said Mickelson in a statement.

Abdullah, who is based out of Tyson’s headquarters in Springdale, Ark., didn’t respond to a request for comment about his new role.

A spokeswoman for Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart, which in recent weeks has made several additions to its own corporate law department, declined to discuss Abdullah’s departure.

New Recruits

Two of the new in-house lawyers recruited by Tyson’s Tu come from the Boeing Co., where she spent nearly 17 years in-house prior to joining the meat processor.

Tu leads Tyson’s law department, while also overseeing government affairs, internal governance, corporate communications, and Tyson Ventures.

In a statement, Tu acknowledged the legal group changes taking place at Tyson.

“We’re making a purposeful investment in additional capabilities and skill sets to effectively support our growing global business while partnering with our businesses to deliver sustainable solutions for long-term success,” she said. “We’re exploring innovative technologies to optimize our functionality for more efficient and predictive delivery while navigating a dynamic external environment.”

The new additions include former Boeing chief counsel Gordon McGrath, who spent more than a decade at the aerospace outfit until leaving last year. He most recently served as vice president of corporate affairs for Bellevue, Wash.-based software security solutions provider Alitheon Inc. before jumping to Tyson in June as an associate general counsel.

Chevon Fuller, another longtime Boeing lawyer, joined Tyson last month as an associate general counsel. September also saw Tyson bring on Dentons commercial litigation associate Katherine Clements as a corporate counsel.

Another corporate counsel, Sainabou Musa-Sonko, is a former attorney at Mitchell, Williams, Selig, Gates & Woodyard in Little Rock, Ark., who joined Tyson this month.

Earlier this year Tyson added senior counsel for benefits law Jacob Barney from the Ford Motor Co., where he spent a half-dozen years, and Europe, Middle East, and Africa regional counsel Daniela Kazmaier. She most recently served as general counsel for London-based business management consultancy the Kubrick Group.

Tyson also hired Daniel Turton, a former public policy executive at General Motors Co. and Entergy Corp., in late June as senior vice president of global government affairs. Turton, who is not a lawyer, reports to Tu. Leslie Baledge, Tyson’s former general counsel, joined the company’s board in February.

(Adds statement from Tu in the 12th paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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