An Interview with Mitzi Perdue

Thanks to FFI Fellow Paul Karofsky for this week’s blog, highlighting some key elements of his interview with Mitzi Perdue, whose life and career have spanned two major family businesses.

Mitzi Perdue understands the world of family enterprise on two levels. First, as the daughter of Ernest Henderson, co-founder of the Sheraton Hotel chain, and second, from her 17 year marriage to the late chicken icon, Frank Perdue.

As the only daughter of Ernest Henderson, Mitzi was never considered for a role in Sheraton Hotels. Nor did she consider one for herself. As she puts it, “My father was born in 1897, and I think the idea of having a daughter work in the business simply never occurred to him. For that matter, it didn’t occur to me. I don’t think it ever occurred to him to even encourage me to be a business woman.”

Nonetheless, Mitzi, herself, became an entrepreneur, clearly inspired by her father’s abundant business theories – his belief in persistence, his generosity and his commitment to life-long learning. A copious student of agricultural economics, farming and land development, she used her knowledge to build her inheritance.

In her book, Tough Man, Tender Chicken, Mitzi switches gears from the parental influence of Ernest Henderson and describes some of the business and life lessons learned from her late husband, Frank Perdue. Although many of the observations may sound familiar to advisors to family companies, her commentary on family cohesion is an interesting twist on the “family retreat.” She and Frank were committed to a culture that kept the family together across time.

“In a geographically dispersed family, having the cousins spend time together and play together can mean building friendship and trust that only happens when they spend time together.” (Mitzi Perdue) In this setting, the family is able to keep future generations bonding together and preserve the values that made the enterprise possible in the first place.

Go here for Paul’s interview with Mitzi Perdue.

About the contributor

Paul Karofsky, Transition Consulting Group, is an FFI Fellow, GEN faculty member, former FFI board member, and co-chair of the Miami Program Committee for the 2016 annual global conference. He can be contacted at [email protected].