In the C-Suite: Jim Perdue
MILFORD — Years ago, Jim Perdue’s father told him that if you listen to the customers and provide quality products that are relevant to their needs and wants, the business will grow.
Today, as Perdue Farms is celebrating its 100th anniversary, Jim Perdue believes that still rings true. While a lot has changed in poultry farming and selling chicken in the last century, the Perdue family values of the company still remain the same.
“We still run our business today with the same values of quality, integrity, teamwork and stewardship, on which the company was built,” Perdue told Delaware Business Times. “I believe the most important thing is for us to continue to put our people first.”
As the grandson of company founders Arthur and Pearl Perdue, Jim Perdue is the chairman of one of the top chicken producers in America, operating in at least 13 states and producing $579 million in economic impact. Headquartered in Salisbury, Md., Perdue also operates one of the largest U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified organic chicken processing plants in the nation right in Milford.
While Perdue Farms started out by selling chicks to other farmers on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and later layer chicken, it became a nationally recognized name under second generation leader Frank Perdue. He became the company’s pitchman, appearing in 200 television commercials as well as radio and print ads between 1971 and 1994.
In an era where chicken was a commodity product, Jim Perdue said his father’s strategy to brand the product to consumers truly set Perdue apart from the flock.
“That was a seismic shift in the industry starting in the ‘70s,” he said. “He was laser-focused on quality, and understood the importance of listening – and responding to – our consumers while setting our products apart.”
Much like his father, Jim Perdue spent time away from the family business, but ultimately returned to the fold as an entry-level management trainee in 1983. After holding several management positions, he was named chairman in 1991 at a time when the company had 12,000 employees and $1 billion in annual sales, and has since grown even larger.
Now with $7 billion in annual revenue, Perdue Farms include five members of the next generation in the business. That includes Jim Perdue’s two sons, Ryan, who founded and runs its pet division, and Chris, the director of e-commerce. Both also serve as spokespeople for the company. Other family members include Chris Oliviero, who serves as general manager of the Niman Ranch business; Carlos Ayala, who does business development for its foods business; and Rick Lloyd, who does business development for Perdue AgriBusiness.
While quality remains a core value, Jim Perdue said the company has increased its emphasis on putting people first. That includes the hundreds of associates and farmers that raise the animals. For example, Perdue Farms established regional farmer councils to hear about their successes and challenges.
“It’s allowed us to get meaningful insights about how we can improve our business directly from our farmers,” he said. “Overall, a people-first culture has been critical to our business for several years, and more recently to our pandemic-response efforts.”
Speaking directly on the pandemic, Perdue Farms has also been leaning on its Wellness Centers to treat associates and their family members at all its facilities. Leading the way for others in the industry, the company started offering intensive sanitation, and mandated mask wearing, and adding other precautions as more information became available for the industry.
Perdue also took the extra step to increase pay for its staff and create flexible leave policies, as Jim Perdue wanted to ensure that each employee had some recourse in extraordinary times to take care of themselves or their loved ones.
“We are tremendously grateful to everyone in the food supply chain, including our dedicated associates, who are working tirelessly to ensure the continuation of food production across the country – and globally – to keep people fed as the world grapples with this significant challenge,” he said.
Other major changes in the past century include Perdue Farms’ decision to remove antibiotics from its products and to adopt new, industry-leading animal welfare standards – both of which were the result of external pressures on the industry, and the latter of which Jim Perdue said was for the better.
But he noted that listening to these critics and its customers, Perdue was swiftly able to trailblaze the path for the industry, leading to further success.
“Often when we see calls for change from outside our industry, Perdue finds there is more we and our critics agree about than not,” he said. “We’ve been able to build constructive partnerships with a number of advocacy organizations as a result, and from my perspective the changes we’ve made only make us a stronger company in the end.”
Looking ahead, Perdue Farms will continue to rely on its greatest strengths – listening to the customer’s desires – and evolve. This year, the company launched its first e-commerce website PerdueFarms.com to sell directly to customers in a time when direct-to-door orders have grown tremendously.
Whether it’s new taste and innovative products or further commitment to the communities where Perdue operates, Jim Perdue said the future will be about refining what it does best.
“Our path forward is about getting better, not bigger,” he said.
By Katie Tabeling