Frank Perdue, CEO of Perdue Farms, Died at 84


Franklin Parsons “Frank” Perdue  died on March 31, 2005 at the age of 84, he was for many years the president and CEO of Perdue Farms, now one of the largest chicken-producing companies in the United States.

Born on May 9, 1920 Perdue Farms was founded in 1920 by Arthur Perdue with his wife, Pearl Perdue who had been keeping a small flock of chickens.  He grew up on a chicken farm and left college to help with his father’s business.

He became president of Perdue Farms in 1952. Through a national ad campaign, Perdue transformed his family’s business into one of the largest poultry processors.

Their son, Frank, joined the company in 1939 at age 19 after dropping out of college. In 1971, Perdue Farm embarked on its first major advertising campaign and had contracted the firm of Scali, McCabe, Sloves.

The firm came up with the idea of putting Perdue on television himself, with the tag line, “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken.”

This was fairly radical because at the time, CEOs were not usually public spokespersons for their firms.

The first commercial, shot in the city park in Salisbury, was ranked by Advertising Age as one of the best campaigns of the year.

It was so successful that he went on to appear in over 200 of Perdue Farms’ television commercials, although he was also known for his shyness as well.

He spent $50,000 in 1968 for radio ads to bring the previously anonymous fresh poultry industry to the public, making his name synonymous with chicken.

Over his career, Perdue transformed a family backyard egg business into the nation’s fourth-largest integrated food processor.

When he became president of Perdue Farms Inc. in 1952, the company was averaging revenues of $6 million, and exceeded $35 million by 1967.

The only child of Arthur W. and Pearl Perdue, Franklin Parsons Perdue was born in 1920 in Salisbury, Maryland.

His father Arthur gave up his job as a Railway Express agent and, with the help of his wife, raised 50 Leghorn chickens that he bought for $5.

The venture grew, and the family sold enough eggs to stay out of debt and prosper, even through the Depression.

Frank Perdue was the quintessential entrepreneur, marketer, and businessman, a man whose life lessons are applicable to anyone searching for inspiration and encouragement.

The factory-farming practices developed by Perdue include cramming tens of thousands of chickens into sheds that reek of ammonia fumes from accumulated waste.

(Typically, sheds are only cleaned out after the birds have been trucked off for slaughter.) Each bird lives in an amount of space about as wide as a standard sheet of paper.