Mitzi Perdue - Matriarch of the Sheraton Hotels and Perdue Chicken Families [The Business of Family]


1 February 2021

1 hr 2 mins 6 secs

Season 1

Your Host
Special Guest

About this Episode

Mitzi Perdue is the daughter of one family business titan (her father founded the Sheraton Hotel Chain) and the widow of another, (her late husband was the family business poultry magnate, Frank Perdue), and she is also a businesswoman in her own right. She started the family wine grape business, now one of the larger suppliers of wine grapes in California.

Mitzi likes nothing better than to share insider tips for successful family businesses. Her family of origin (the one that started the Sheraton Hotels) began with the family business, Henderson Estate Company, in 1840, and her Perdue family started in 1920 in the poultry business. These two families have a combined tradition of 276 years of staying together as a family.

Family Business Books by Mitzi Perdue

Standout Quotes:

  • "The odds of a family business lasting 100 years are 1 in 1000" - [Mitzi]
  • "The families who put a lot of effort into designing their cultures are the ones that survive, the ones that let things happen as they may, that rarely supports keeping the family business together over the generations" - [Mitzi]
  • "70% of family businesses won't make it to the next generation, so if you want your family to last, put a lot of intentionality into letting the family members know from the youngest age that they're part of something bigger than themselves" - [Mitzi]
  • "The biggest reason families don't last is family quarrels" - [Mitzi]
  • "So a big piece of advice I'd have for every family is, deal with the problems, get them out, come to a resolution but don't go the press, don't go to adversarial lawyers" - [Mitzi]
  • "We're measured by what you can give, not what you can get" - [Mitzi]
  • "I don't think you can be happy if you're not part of something bigger than yourself...
  • If you want to be happy, think what you can do for somebody else, if you really want to be miserable, think what's owed to you" - [Mitzi]
  • "In general, your family will be better functioning the more it knows its stories" - [Mitzi]
  • "If your children turn out right, nothing else matters, if your children turn out wrong, nothing else matters" - [Mitzi]

Key Takeaways:

  • Mitzi is a part of two multi-generational business families, each of which has lasted for over 100years and over 5 generations.
  • Mitzi explains that a lot of conscious effort was put into strengthening the families over the years, noting in particular one of the strategies being the "Service to the Family" award.
  • Every single family that exists has a culture, but is it a culture that came about by accident or by design?
  • It is critical to be intentional about designing and maintaining family culture as it plays a major role in the success of a family business over generations, rather than just allowing things to happen as they may.
  • People need a lot of guidance to be steered away from selfishness, and that takes intentionality.
  • Separating Ownership and Control helps create a perspective of the family as an entity bigger than any one person, and consequently gives a better understanding of the role of stewardship.
  • Mitzi explains her innovative idea to inculcate the family values in family members, right from childhood.
  • Noting the importance of knowing how to handle family quarrels, Mitzi strongly emphasizes avoiding the press or lawyers but rather encourages outspokenness within the family.
  • Three ways that a family can intentionally stay together: Family Newsletters, Family Reunions, and Philanthropy.
  • Mitzi highlights the positive effects of connecting with both present and past members of the family on the well-being, physically and mentally, of the family.
  • As a personal preference, Mitzi would rather use books as a means to archive family history compared to other forms of technology, as it may be difficult to access the archive in the future if the technology used to archive it is outdated by that time.
  • Mitzi recommends entering a new family with humility, observing them, noting what gains you points and what doesn't, also pointing out that while the two families had very different values, the values were very compatible.
  • Mitzi's letter to her kids: Be generous, be kind, be honest, work hard but be a good steward.

Episode Timeline:

  • [00:49] Introducing Mitzi Perdue, to discuss actionable advice on how her family has maintained their businesses and family dynamics for generations.
  • [02:28] Mitzi shares the origin stories of both business families she is a part of.
  • [04:46] What generation are you in each of these families and what generation are these families up to?
  • [10:08] Every family has a culture.
  • [13:22] About the family values and how they are inculcated with other members of the family.
  • [25:53]How big was the business when it went from family control to external control?
  • [34:02] How has the endowment grown to keep up with the growing size of the family?
  • [35:34] The 'What It Means To Be Us' book.
  • [38:35] Do you have a process or value system around how you keep records for the family?
  • [52:50] How was the process of assimilating two different value systems upon joining another family and what differences did you observe?
  • [57:15] Is there a constitution for the family?
  • [01:00:43] A letter from Mitzi to her children.

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