If you were living on the East Coast of the USA from about 1970 through the mid-1990s, it was next to impossible to miss Frank Perdue. Balding, big-nosed, deadpan expression, squeaky-voice – and company CEO – for two decades Perdue spread the message that it took a tough man to make tender chicken.
The ads – still visible today on YouTube – made Perdue a star. Fifteen years after the ad campaign began, telephone surveys indicated that 97 percent of people on the East Coast when asked to name a brand of chicken came up with Perdue.
While before the ads Perdue Farms Inc was anything but a light-weight – the Maryland-based company had sales of $56 million in 1971 when the ads began – sales shot to more than $1.2 billion in 20-years-time.
Not bad for a man who actually looked like a chicken.
If you want to know about the personal life of Frank Perdue, Tough Man, Tender Chicken is not the book for you. If personal experiences cannot be tied into business learning experiences, they’re not to be found between these 270 pages.
However, if you want to know how Frank transformed Perdue Farms, made the chicken company the USA’s third largest, or if you desire a text book on business success in a tough industry, then this book is exactly what you’re looking for.
Mitzi Perdue had no intentions on creating a biography of her late husband in Tough Man…, but instead wanted to pass on this self-made man’s business savvy.
She says that her book was written not just to share Frank’s inspirational leadership, but also to serve as a primer for business school students. “I was hoping for part road map, part inspiration, and part simply a sense of Frank’s reaching across the decades to accomplish big things,” says Mitzi.
Frank Perdue’s father, Arthur, was working for the railroad in 1915 when he noticed that farmers bringing in eggs to ship seemed to be the most prosperous. In 1920, he decided to go into the table egg business, producing the eggs that people ate for breakfast.
”I always helped my father with the farm, from the time I was so small that I had to hold an egg with two hands,” Frank Perdue told Fortune magazine in 2003. ”I helped pick up eggs and pack them into crates.”
When he was 10, his father gave him 50 laying hens for a 4-H club project. They were ”culls,” rejects, but the youngster gave them tender, loving care and they matched their more promising sisters in egg production. He made between $10 and $20 a month on his 50-chicken brood, a lot of money during the Depression. ”That experience,” he told Fortune, ”gave me a taste for the business.”
Following graduation from high school in 1937, he enrolled at a teachers’ college, but after two years decided he didn’t want to grade papers all his life and never make any money. He went back to work for his father.
The Perdues switched from selling eggs to selling chickens in the early 1940s. After the war, they began selling chicken feed, and in 1968 went into processing. The business took off when Frank Perdue decided to sell his chickens in New York City, a decision that prompted the advertising campaign.
Not all chickens alike
According to Joe Holley of the Washington Post, it was in 1971 when Perdue hit upon the idea of selling brand-name chicken on TV.
The business had always been competitive, with extremely thin profit margins, but Perdue decided he could convince consumers that not all chickens were alike, that one brand was better than another. If successful, he could sell Perdue Farms chickens at a premium price.
Perdue went to over 45 New York advertising agencies before finding Ed McCabe, a copywriter at Scali, McCabe, and Stoves, who believed that chickens could indeed be hawked, but the spots had to be funny.
Perdue was skeptical until the results proved these ads helped create a brand that became a household name.
While today many of Perdue’s ideas might seem ordinary, at the time they were anything but. Not only did Perdue himself have an uncanny marketing sense, he also had the ability to shift through marketing chaff and find the seeds of brilliance which would lead to profits. This even want to changing the feed of chickens to affect their color, realizing that in some areas of the US, raw chicken was expected to be yellow, while in other areas premium chicken was white.
Not all of his ideas turned to gold and definitely not all who met him became a friend, but he was a man ahead of his times. Perdue retired in 1991 and passed away in 2005 at age 84. Today, with Perdue’s son Jim at the helm, Perdue Inc, has 20,000 employees and is worth around $6 billion.
At times Mitzi Perdue’s writing comes across as being too close to the source and you have to wonder if someone else should have written the book. Also, you might find that the basic book design – font size, paragraphs, spacing and over-use of capital letters – makes it appear to have been done on the cheap. This is a pity because the information inside is far from this. If you are in the business, hoping to be, or wish to increase sales and want to learn from one of the best, this book should be on your nightstand table.