Author Mitzi Perdue to speak at FBLI event on how to make family businesses last

Wife of late poultry magnate Frank Perdue to offer insights April 11 at Marquette

Mitzi Perdue

Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:22 pm

Author Mitzi Perdue, the daughter of Sheraton Hotel founder Ernest Henderson and widow of poultry magnate Frank Perdue, will draw from her robust experience with family businesses when she speaks at an upcoming event presented by the Family Business Legacy Institute, in partnership with Marquette University and BizTimes Media.

Mitzi Perdue

Perdue will visit Marquette’s campus on April 11 to speak about her most recent book, “How to Make Your Family Business Last,” which examines the predictable problems family businesses face and resources to help navigate them.

“I’ve been fascinated by how some families are high functioning, how they flourish and support each other, and how others don’t,” she said. “It’s well known that only 30 percent of family businesses make it to the next generation. And I’ve come to the conclusion that the difference between those that make it and those that don’t is culture.”

Perdue’s family of origin began the Henderson Estate Company in 1890, while the Perdue family started its poultry business in 1920. Both remain family businesses today.

Maintaining a successful family businesses doesn’t come by accident, she said. Family members need to recognize two important lessons, she said: “You can’t always be right” and “Family relationships are more important than money.”

“Being part of a successful and ongoing family business is one of the greatest joys possible because it gives meaning to life,” she said. “It’s a wonderful engine for generating happiness, at its best. At its worst, it’s unending misery. The difference between the two states is: does family culture support keeping the family together and keeping the business in the family?”

Those involved in a family business can foster a supportive culture by spending time with one another, sharing meals, holding regular reunions and keeping members up-to-date on business matters, she said.

“Both of my families have regular reunions,” she said. ‘We also have newsletters that say what’s going on in the company and what’s happening among family members.”

They even have family newsletters for children, a forum for communicating values to the young family members and carrying on traditions, she said. The most recent Perdue family newsletter focused on the family’s value of frugality, for example.

“We talked about how we don’t believe in ostentation or living beyond your means,” she said. “If you leave it to accident, children don’t learn the things that they need to to be supportive of the family business.”

Perdue said the family holds annual meetings, in which discussions of selling the business sometimes arise. But, she said, the conclusion is generally unanimous that the family wouldn’t sell. Maintaining a family-run business allows the company to make long-term decisions, without having to worry about quarterly reports to stockholders, she said.

When Perdue Farms began focusing on producing organic chicken, for example, it took about a decade to get it right.

“If we were a publicly-owned company, the stockholders would have said, ‘It’s too expensive,’” she said. “But we believed in it.”

Today, Perdue is estimated to be the largest organic chicken producer in the U.S.

The event will be held from 7:30-10 a.m. on April 11 at Marquette University’s Alumni Memorial Union, 1442 W. Wisconsin Ave. Registration is available at

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