There have been rumors circulating for several years that Foster Farms might be sold, so when it was announced on June 7 that Atlas Holdings purchased the California-based poultry producer, it wasn’t overly surprising.

But what was surprising was Atlas’ choice of who would be the new CEO of the newly-acquired Foster Farms. Six years after retiring as the CEO of Tyson Foods, Donnie Smith was named to lead Foster Farms.

I say it was a surprise, but it was a pleasant surprise.

In the nearly 10 years that I have been covering the poultry industry for WATT Global Media, Tyson Foods has had 5 different CEOs, and with the hiring of Smith, Foster Farms is now on its fourth CEO within that same time frame.

In some cases when a person is chosen to lead a major agrifood company, I have to wonder why that particular person was chosen. Some just don’t seem to be the right fit. But I never felt that way about Smith. I heard him speak on numerous occasions, including quarterly earnings calls and investor conferences. He always came across as knowledgeable about all aspects of the diversified company. He always left me with the impression that he’s a person with a good business mind and conscience.

When Atlas Holdings announced the acquisition and Smith’s hiring, it hailed Smith, stating: Under his leadership, Tyson saw record growth, entered new markets and expanded its product offerings, staying true to Tyson's heritage while charting its path forward as one of the world's largest food companies.

Yet it was two times when he spoke after his retirement from Tyson Foods that impressed me the most. One was during a Heuermann Lecture at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2018, while the other was during the Alltech ONE Virtual Experience in 2020. On both occasions, he spoke about how he used his expertise for humanitarian purposes, through the African Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP), helping the people of Rwanda become more self-sufficient and food secure.

I definitely hope his involvement with ASAP continues, but it’s also good to see him again becoming more involved in the U.S. poultry industry.

"I love the poultry industry and am proud that Atlas has asked me to become the CEO of Foster Farms," Smith said in a press release. "I've long been an admirer of the Foster Family and the business they've built over the past eight decades. In this new era, we will maintain and further that legacy, rooted in animal welfare, superior product quality, customer service and community engagement."

Those are noble ambitions, and certainly ones I feel Smith is up to achieving.