- Associated Press - Sunday, March 8, 2015

SALISBURY, Md. (AP) - Soon after meeting her future husband Frank, Mitzi Perdue began to take notes.

Frank, of course, is Frank Perdue of the Salisbury-based Perdue Farms Inc. chicken company. When Frank began working at Perdue, it was him and his father, Mitzi Perdue said.

But by the time Frank Perdue died in 2005, the company - of which Frank’s son, Jim Perdue, is now chairman - had grown to many thousands of employees.

More than 25 years after Frank and Mitzi’s first meeting, and after interviews with 134 people, she’s written a biography of her husband Frank that can also serve as a business guide. The anecdote about taking notes is one from her book, titled “Tough Man, Tender Chicken: Business & Life Lessons from Frank Perdue.”

She wrote a previous biography of him, “Frank Perdue: Fifty Years of Building on a Solid Foundation,” published in 1989.

Mitzi Perdue has been a columnist - including previously for The Daily Times - and currently writes a blog for the Academy of Women’s Health and writes for Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News. She’s also on the board of the Perdue Foundation.

She had been planning to write a different, unrelated book, but when that didn’t work out, a now-executive with her book publisher, Significance Press, suggested she write about Frank Perdue.

Mitzi Perdue, 73, said in an interview this winter she doesn’t know if her late husband, Frank Perdue, would like the biography. She writes a family newsletter, and she used to have Frank Perdue read it first.

“He just, without exception, would take out anything that was like a glowing report,” Mitzi Perdue said.

Although she admits that she’s biased as his widow, she didn’t edit out the people who didn’t rave about him. Actually, she said, the book would have been boring - and wouldn’t have been fair to Frank Perdue - if she’d only been positive.

She acknowledged the unique opportunity she had.

“I think there wouldn’t be many biographers who would get a chance to ask their subject in real time at any moment what’s going on,” she said.

Mitzi Perdue said she originally planned for her book on Frank Perdue, published last fall, to be for business students. But she also realized other people were just interested in Frank Perdue or about the chicken industry.

“This book is about the life and work of Frank Perdue and it’s really meant to be inspirational,” Mitzi Perdue said. “I think when you read it maybe you’ll just possibly think a little bit bigger.”

The book is separated into 22 chapters relating to different aspects of Frank Perdue and business, from his childhood to marketing, packaging, accounting and loyalty. Each chapter ends with a few key points from the chapter: “Frank Perdue’s Lessons.”

Words of wisdom from Frank Perdue are also compiled in the form of quotes at the end, among them:

- “You can go to the worst operator there is and find something in his operation that’s better than you are.”

- “Do things right, treat people right, be honest in your dealings, and the business will grow; it will grow because you did things right, not because you wish it was big.”

- “There is no substitute for high quality. Quality is the one absolutely necessary ingredient of all the most successful companies in the world.”

Through her interviews with others - including people who knew him before she did - she was able to learn more about her late husband.

“He was very different at home than he was at work,” Mitzi Perdue said. “He was really pretty easygoing at home. And at work, he really was a tough man. On the other hand, almost everybody I interviewed had stayed with him for life and wouldn’t have it any other way.”

He was not only successful in business, but involved in his community and family, Mitzi Perdue said.

She said she misses Frank Perdue, who she married in 1988.

“I look back on the years with him as absolutely the best of my life,” Mitzi Perdue said.

She said she enjoyed writing the book, which she wrote and did most of the interviews for between March and June of last year - that was 15-hour days, seven days a week, she said.

“I’ve been happier writing this book than I have been since the time of his passing,” Mitzi Perdue said.

Frank Perdue did very well with growing the business, Mitzi Perdue said.

“From his vast knowledge of the world that he got from so much reading and talking with people and research, he knew where he wanted to go, he figured out how to get there and most often how to get there meant learning new skills, overcoming old attitudes, just growing and becoming a bigger and bigger person,” Mitzi Perdue said. “And I think the book gives that advice over and over again, in different words.”

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