Jim Perdue: Propelling the Family Legacy through Servant Leadership

Jim Perdue

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The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of food supply chains and their complex processes of delivering products – from starting at the farm through frontline production, transportation, and much more. These challenges resulting from the pandemic continue to affect the industry while food producers strive to continuously meet consumers’ evolving needs. 

Several industry leaders have shown exemplary strength and adaptability throughout the pandemic, pivoting their businesses and executing strategized plans to surpass the challenges.

Jim Perdue (Chairman of Perdue Farms) is one such figurehead who has demonstrated utmost determination and flexibility to lead his company during these unprecedented times. Jim firmly upholds the company’s values and strives to preserve them. Moreover, he applauds his employees for helping deliver on the company’s commitments during the crisis, while also striving to keep them motivated. 

Carrying the Legacy

Perdue Farms is a fourth-generation, family-owned, U.S.-based food, and agriculture company established in 1920 by Jim’s grandparents, Arthur and Pearl Perdue. During his childhood, Jim watched his father, Frank Perdue, and grandfather grow the company with a priority on creating high-quality products and fundamental values that underscore every operation of the company. These include the values of quality, integrity, teamwork, and stewardship that still guide Perdue’s business today. 

Jim joined Perdue Farms during the early 1980s. In 1991, he was promoted as the CEO after undertaking several positions within the organization. Currently, he leads a team of 21,000 associates with the same values and dedication to making premium products–which was instilled within him by his grandfather and father. In 2020, Perdue celebrated its 100th year in business, and several members of the family currently work at the company.

Recognized Line of Services 

Perdue Farms is the nation’s number-one producer of USDA-certified organic chicken. Its brands are leaders in no-antibiotics-ever chicken, turkey, pork, beef, and lamb, and USDA-certified organic chicken and beef.

With the vision to be the most-trusted name in food and agricultural products, Perdue Farms’ premium protein portfolio includes its flagship PERDUE® brand, Niman Ranch®, Panorama Organic Grass-Fed Meats®, Coleman Natural®, and Yummy®, and pet brands include Spot Farms® and Full Moon®. Perdue AgriBusiness is an international agricultural products and services company.

A Modest Leader

Jim regards himself as the keeper of the company’s values, and carries the responsibility to continue conducting business in a way that aligns with these values and ensures that their significance reaches every associate within the company. Moreover, he focuses on people as he considers the company’s associates to be the driving force of the business.

Jim states, “One lesson I repeatedly heard from my father was to always listen to the consumer.” He adds that this philosophy is mirrored in the company’s decision-making process regarding various areas:

  • Raising animals with no antibiotics ever – which Perdue pioneered as the first major poultry company in the U.S. to eliminate routine use of all antibiotics;
  • Industry-leading animal welfare standards; and
  • The variety of premium products offered by the company. 

Ardent Stewardship

Perdue leads the industry in the establishment of a comprehensive associate health improvement system that was recognized as the best health system for a large company by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services over a decade ago. 

Perdue’s Wellness Centers are located at each production facility, free to all associates and their families, and enable the associates to consult a local healthcare provider while “on the clock” during their shift. 

During Jim’s leadership tenure, the company has formalized its animal welfare initiatives. In 2016, Perdue launched its Commitments to Animal Care program to foster a culture of animal husbandry across the company and pioneered real change across the industry as its competitors followed the company’s lead.

Adapting to Changes in Commerce

Before the onset of the global pandemic, Perdue launched its first-ever e-commerce platform to offer an assortment of frozen items across its most popular brands. It gained huge popularity during the pandemic. Jim adds “While the timing was coincidental, the popularity of e-commerce during and following the pandemic has led to the platform’s success.”

Consumers, according to Jim, are also looking for new innovative products. Perdue’s Chicken Plus – a chicken-and-vegetable blended product with one-quarter cup of vegetables in each serving – has achieved national distribution and high sales velocity. This product line serves as an example of Perdue’s commitment to providing solutions that fit easily into consumers’ lifestyles.

Lessons from the Pandemic

Perdue’s commitment to putting its people first has been its guiding light throughout the pandemic. This philosophy enabled the company to respond quickly as information available about the virus evolved, and work with health experts to enact safety standards to keep its associates safe and protected. For instance, Perdue immediately extended the work hours of its Wellness Centers and was able to rely on them for temperature checks, contract tracing, and much more. Perdue’s ability to answer the challenges of the pandemic swiftly validated the company’s people-first approach. 

Perdue has also worked to foster an ongoing dialogue with its farmers. The company adjusted the time between their flocks accordingly as demand for chicken fluctuated – allowing Perdue to avoid depopulating birds while keeping farmers financially whole. Jim shares, “There is no such thing as a perfect record in this pandemic, but we believe our efforts overall have made a positive impact.” Perdue is constantly re-evaluating and adjusting as necessary, according to CDC guidelines, educating its associates on vaccination, and partnering with health authorities. 

Enhanced Business Prospects 

Jim mentions that irrespective of the pandemic, consumers are increasingly shopping for options with improved animal husbandry practices – a fundamental part of Perdue’s business. 

In the past, Perdue had charted a new course in several key areas, especially for the animals in its care and the family farmers who raised them. This four-part “Commitments To Animal Care” plan includes an improved focus on the welfare of Perdue’s flocks based on “The Five Freedoms.” This helps the company to evaluate and implement production systems that are designed to go beyond just the needs of its chickens, and to include what its chickens “want.” Perdue also re-engaged its farmer partners in the process, dedicating itself to continuous improvement, and committed to doing all of this transparently.

COVID Lesson:

Jim Perdue quote

Read Full Magazine: The 10 Food and Beverage Leaders thriving Post-pandemic, 2021

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