Frank Perdue Dies at 84

Apr 01, 2005

Frank Perdue is shown in this July 30, 1984 photo. (AP Photo/Dan Miller)

Frank Perdue, the Maryland farmer who revolutionized the American poultry industry with the introduction of his brand-name chickens, transforming a backyard egg business into one of the nation’s largest food companies, died March 31, 2005 after a brief illness. He was 84.

At the time of his death, Perdue was chairman of the executive committee of the board of directors of Perdue Farms Inc., headquartered in Salisbury, Md.

The first hands-on CEO to become famous as a company advertising spokesperson, he appeared in approximately 200 television commercials, in addition to radio and print ads, between 1971 and 1994, until his son, James “Jim” Perdue, chairman of the board of Perdue Farms, took over the role. Frank Perdue’s stubborn commitment to product quality led to the creation of one of modern advertising’s most memorable lines, “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken.”

Frank Perdue attributed his success to determination, hard work, honest dealings, innovative marketing and, perhaps most importantly, an obsession with quality.

For more on Perdue's career and accomplishments, click here to access a story from the Atlanta Journal Constitution (free registration).

From the Perdue corporate website:


In memory of Franklin Parsons Perdue, May 9, 1920-March 31, 2005

Frank Perdue didn’t plan to grow up to become an innovative business leader and celebrity spokesperson for a brand bearing his name. Instead, he was a shy young man who dreamt of leaving the farm and becoming a baseball player.

Despite his success and fame, Frank Perdue remained a farm boy. Years after turning over to his son, Jim, the reins of what has become a multi-billion-dollar international food company, Frank continued to visit the company’s plants, and its poultry producers and grain farmers, and, during harvest, was often at the company’s grain elevators.

Honesty and hard work were among the values Frank learned from his father, “Mr. Arthur.” Even as his business grew, Frank never forgot the basics, and often reminded associates that consumers “buy chickens one at a time.”

Frank became known for his unwavering commitment to quality, expressed in the now-famous phrase, “it takes a tough man to make a tender chicken.” But to Frank Perdue, quality of character was every bit as important as product quality. Those who worked with Frank knew him as a plainspoken business leader who expected hard work and results, but, above all, demanded integrity.

The greatest testament to Frank is that the associates of Perdue Farms will continue to be guided by the values he learned on his father’s farm.

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