After more than 20 years at the helm of one of the nation’s leading food companies, IBP Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Robert L. Peterson is retiring from active management, company officials announced yesterday.

Peterson, whose business is in the final stages of being acquired by Tyson Foods, will remain involved in the combined beef, pork and poultry company as a member of Tyson’s board of directors.

“As I have stated throughout the acquisition process, I believe IBP and Tyson will be a great team,” Peterson said. “I am anxious to assist the leadership of this new organization as they work on making this exciting combination a success.”

Peterson has been active in the livestock and meat processing industry for more than 45 years. The Nebraska native was one of IBP’s original cattle buyers when the company began in 1961 and moved up steadily through the management ranks learning procurement, sales, production and administration. He was named president and chief operating officer in July 1977, assumed the duties of chief executive officer in March 1980 and chairman in January 1981.

Under Peterson’s leadership, IBP has experienced tremendous growth. Since 1980, the company has expanded its fresh meat operations in North America, experienced major export growth and entered into joint venture operations in several foreign countries. The company has also become a diversified producer of hundreds of consumer-ready food products, from deli meats and pizza toppings to appetizers and pre-cooked roasts. During this time, IBP’s employment has increased from 9,500 to 52,000 people, while the company’s sales have grown from $4.6 billion to $16.9 billion.

“I have always respected and admired Bob for his business instincts and the straightforward, progressive way he runs his company,” Don Tyson, senior chairman of Tyson Foods, said. “I look forward to serving on our board with him. Together, we will counsel and advise the management team leading this great, combined company.”

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“Bob is a very direct, forward-thinking person who has used his management talents to make IBP the most successful red meat company in the world.” Richard Bond, IBP president and chief operating officer, said. “We appreciate his long-running dedication and commitment to IBP and its people.”

“Bob Peterson is a towering, tireless, titan of energy and presence,” Rosemary Mucklow, Executive Director of the National Meat Association, said. “In his leadership of IBP, he has left no stone unturned in his quest for the highest standards for innovative productivity and meat safety. His sheer velocity as the driving force of the nation’s, and even the world’s, largest beef processor will be missed. Men of the mettle of Big Bob Peterson come only rarely in a lifetime. He leaves a legacy imprinted on the beef processing industry of remarkable change and tenacity.”

“By virtue of his personality and business acumen, Bob Peterson built IBP into the market leader for low cost, high quality meat products, and in the process, helped transform the meatpacking industry,” according to Patrick Boyle, president and CEO of the American Meat Institute.

“I believe Bob is a man of tremendous leadership, courage and vision, who has played an instrumental role in helping make the U.S. pork industry a dominate world player in the production and marketing of consistent, high quality pork,” Al Tank, CEO of the National Pork Producers Council, said

“With Bob’s departure from IBP the industry is losing one of its icons,” said Chuck Schroeder, CEO of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. “He has always been an independent thinker and I have had a longstanding respect for his sense of innovation. The beef industry has clearly benefited from his commitment to food safety as well as his support of beef promotion efforts.”

Peterson was selected the most influential person in the meat and poultry industry by Meat Processing magazine’s 1997 Top 200 survey. The Wall Street Transcript named Peterson top chief executive in the commodity processing industry in 1981 and again in 1993. BEEF magazine selected him in 1989 as one of 25 individuals who have made a major contribution to the beef cattle industry during the last 25 years. His honors also include the “Business Leadership Award” from the University of Nebraska’s College of Business Administration and an honorary doctor of Commercial Science degree from Morningside College in Sioux City.

Peterson served from 1993 to 1998 on the board of directors of the Omaha branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. He was on the board of directors of Mid-American Energy Holding Company, a major energy company. Peterson has also been a board member of Occidental Petroleum Corporation and the National Livestock and Meat Board.

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