Mitzi Perdue is the daughter of a business titan who founded the Sheraton Hotel Chain. She is also the widow of another titan and poultry magnate, Frank Perdue. Mitzi is a businesswoman in her own right, having started a family wine and grape business, now one of the larger suppliers of wine grapes in California. She is an author as well as speaker, and has just come out with a book that she co-authored with Mark Victor Hansen called How To Be Up In Down Times.
2:34 – How To Be Up In Down Times book by Mitzi Perdue and co-authored by Mark Victor Hansen (Chicken Soup For The Soul)
8:58 – Father (Earnest Flag Henderson), creator of Sheraton hotels. The greatest pleasure with all my wealth is giving it away.
14:31 – Understand how the Sheraton Hotels was founded. People have a compulsion to live up to or down to your expectations. A leader’s job is to give people a better vision of themselves.
20:18 – Mary Stevens (Henderson) was mother. The name Sheraton came from an existing neon sign from hotel number 3
22:29 – What was the attitude lesson from your mother and how did they meet?
24:50 – Frank Perdue (founder of Perdue Chicken). A bizarre and unexpected courtship. Bob Dole.
30:50 – Perdue farms is the largest producer of organic chicken in the nation
32:00 – What was Frank’s attitude as a leader?
34:32 – Attitude through the decades. Attitude lesson of birth. Feeling wanted isn’t a weakness, it’s a strength
36:22 – Attitude lesson at the age of 10. The givers of the world are happy and the takers of the world are miserable.
40:10 – Attitude lesson at the age of 20. Harvard. Didn’t want to take advantage of father’s name. Embracing where you’re from.
42:16 – Attitude lesson at the age of 30. Overcoming a speech impediment.
46:33 – Attitude lesson at the age of 40. Mitzi’s Country Magazine.
49:43 – Attitude lesson at the age of 50. Married to a good man with values and is generous.
50:53 – Attitude lesson at the age of 60.
52:02 – Attitude lesson at the age of 70. Physical fitness and diet.
53:52 – Show close. A message of hope.
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We have the unbelievable Mitzi Perdue is with us. You might know Mitzi or you might not know Mitzi. She is the daughter of one family business titan. Her father was the founder of the Sheraton Hotel chain. She is also the widow of another titan. Her late husband was the family business poultry magnate, Frank Perdue. She is also a businesswoman in her own right. She started the family wine and grape business, one of the larger suppliers of wine grapes in California.
Mitzi is an author, a speaker and a professional podcast guest. Mitzi has come out with a book that she co-authored with Mark Victor Hansen called How To Be UP In Down Times. If there’s anything about the attitude that we need to know, it’s how do we stay up when everybody is so down and negative. Mitzi Perdue, welcome to the show.
It’s a sheer joy being here. For a good bit of my adult life, I’ve believed in the Buddhist idea that attitude is everything. It sure works for me.
There’s no doubt about it. I want to hit real quick on your book, How to be UP in Down Times. Give us one or two nuggets from that book. How do you help people? What is your advice on staying up in downtimes? What’s the general idea of that book that people can take with them after this interview and go, “I got this secret from Mitzi?”
It’s organized into 40 chapters, each of which is two pages long. Mark Victor Hansen, the Chicken Soup for the Soul guy and I, also his son who’s a world-class expert on physical fitness, were writing this book and we thought, “Nobody wants to read a 360-page tome. They want quick advice.” That’s what we provide. I will give you one.
Give me your favorite one and if you want, give me two.
The secret to happiness. Wouldn’t you like the secret to happiness?
We all want the secret to happiness, Mitzi. Tell me the secret.
It comes from Plato from 2,300 years ago. Plato’s students in ancient Athens asked him, “What does it take to be happy?” Plato answered, “There are three things that men think will make them happy. Power, money and fame. The problem with those is in a long time, they never make you happy because people always want more.” You’ve got some money, power and fame, you’d want more. It’s like a street drug, you always want a bigger and bigger dose.
Plato’s students asked him, “What does make people happy?” Plato answered, “Truth, beauty and goodness.” The reason that truth, beauty and goodness can make you happy is because each dose of it all by itself can make you happy. On the other hand, it’s unlike money, power and fame which don’t satisfy you long-term. Have we got time for me to illustrate that in a life or two lives that are pretty interesting?
Here’s the thing. We could stop the show. We’ve smashed it already but please.
I’m going to drive it home. This is going to be a bases-loaded home run.
I’m guessing that the two people we’re going to talk about would be your father and your late husband.
They carried out what I’m about to describe. Since people don’t know my late husband or maybe they do, they certainly don’t know my late father because he was born in 1897. I don’t think there are many people alive who would know him. I wanted to share a story. What I told you is how to be up in down time but there’s an illustration of the story that I cherish. It has to do with Napoleon Bonaparte, the Emperor of France and Mother Teresa.Each dose of truth, beauty, and goodness can make you truly happy in life. Click To Tweet
Napoleon Bonaparte had all the power, money, fame, riches. He owned three-quarters of the territory of all of Europe. He had palaces and all the status symbols you can think of, all the women, all the worldly goodies that life has to offer. Take a contrast, Mother Teresa. As a nun, her particular order allowed her to only have the following possessions and nothing more than this. Three cotton saris, which incidentally were made by lepers and the sandals on her feet. She lived among the Bengali women who were the poorest of the poor.
We have a contrast. Somebody who has all the money, fame and power that this earthly life has to offer. There aren’t many people who added on the scale that Napoleon did, or Mother Teresa with almost no earthly possessions and lives among lepers. Who was happier? Did the money, power and fame make Napoleon happy? We don’t have to guess because he wrote when he was in exile at the end of his days on an island in the South Atlantic. He said, “I cannot count six happy days in my whole life.” Take this as a contrast. Mother Theresa, we don’t have to guess about her either because she wrote, “My life has been a feast of unending joy.” Truth, beauty and goodness made her happy, a feast of unending joy and Napoleon, who couldn’t count six happy days.
We have interviewed on the show a gentleman by the name of Dr. Chuck Dietzen. Dr. Chuck is a global healer. He spent three weeks with Mother Teresa serving her in Kolkata. It was a pretty powerful episode. He talks about his time with Mother and the lessons that she taught him. It’s an overpowering and beautiful show. You’ll love it. Your story is so appropriate and fantastic. What a beautiful way to open up this episode. Anytime we can bring Mother Teresa to my show is a good thing.
Let’s talk about, if we can, that unbelievable father of yours. I didn’t know him but certainly, I know the Sheraton Hotels. I’ve spoken at Sheraton Hotels all over America. I’d love to know the attitude lesson that your father left you, maybe on a personal level and then the attitude lesson that you witnessed as a businesswoman or growing up. Hopefully, he got to be with you as you were older and didn’t die young. You can tell us that story. What was his attitude lesson for you as a dad and as a titan in business? Could you talk to us about both of those?
I’d like nothing more. One thing that impressed me to no end is I remember as a little girl I walked into his office. He had an office in his home as well as in the office building. There he was with all of these ledgers. They didn’t have excel spreadsheets back then. He’s deep into it and I asked him what he’s doing. He said that he was forming a foundation that would enable him to give away even more money. I asked him, “Why is that so important to you? He told me, “The greatest pleasure my wealth ever gave me is in giving it away.”
There’s more to it than that. For changing attitude and for being all that you can be, what a story he had. I’ll share it with you briefly. When he was 26 years old, he had gotten engaged to my mother. This is a little piece of family lore in my birth family. My mother came from West Virginia. She’s a Southern belle. She’s all in love and she’s just gotten engaged to my father. She meets her future mother-in-law for the first time, Grandmother Berta. She told my mother, “Don’t marry Ernest. He can never stick to anything. You’ll end up poor.” How’s that for a wake-up call. My mother’s answer was, “I don’t care. I love him.”
The marriage went forward and she didn’t end up poor. However, this was an extreme wake-up call for my father because his own mother is saying he can never stick to anything and he’s going to end up poor. He did something about it. He went to Johnson O’Connor, a career guidance counselor. We’re talking like 1923. Johnson O’Connor hadn’t gotten out of whatever was the Yellow Pages back then. He spent a whole eight hours with him giving him every test that you can think of. This was to try to find out why Ernest could never stick to anything and why he wasn’t good at holding a job.
Johnson O’Connor told him, “You have the worst human relations skills I’ve ever come across.” I agree with him. He said, “You’re clearly a bright fellow and you’ve got a Science background because you studied Engineering at MIT. I think you could make a career in a laboratory, where you didn’t have to interact with anybody else. You could use all those smarts that you’ve got but don’t ever try for anything outside of being alone in a laboratory.”
Father took this as a challenge. He told me about this. He reasoned that you’re never going to get anywhere in life if you don’t know how to get along with people. Getting along with people, as he told me is the key to everything. It’s the number one important skill. Now, that he had identified what he was terrible at, he spent the rest of his life learning what makes people tick. He read psychology books. He took the Dale Carnegie course. He took salesmanship courses. He took public speaking courses. It was a lifelong quest to try to understand what makes people tick.
Later on in life, when he was more successful, he didn’t give up. Some of the world’s most famous psychologists of that time were guests in their home like Eddie Bernays, the father of modern advertising. He is a great psychologist. B.F. Skinner, a behavioral psychologist and just a whole lot of famous people. For the rest of his life, he wanted to learn what makes people tick and he mastered it. He had 400 hotels at the time of his death. I used to guess that there would be few people other than national politicians who interact with people more than this genial host of the Sheraton Hotels.
He was a real hands-on owner. He would go to each one of those hotels and kibitz with the guests.
Allow me to share another story with him. This is something that he told me. Sheraton Hotels got its start in the 1930s. That was a time when hotels were going bankrupt right and left. Everybody was running away from real estate. In particular, they were running away from hotels. Clearly, they had reason to run away from them because, at the height of the Great Depression with 25% unemployment, the occupancy rate was approaching zero. These properties were going bankrupt.
How could father make a success out of an industry that was falling apart and crashing? This is something of a lesson for this day. How did he make a success when everybody else was failing? It boils down 100% to the fact that by the 1930s, he probably knew more about human relations, how to get along with people, and what makes them tick than any of his competitors. He said that whenever he’d bought a new hotel, the day he took possession, he’d invite all the employees. There might be 400 to 800. He’d invite all of them into the ballroom. He knew that every one of them was just demoralized and probably scared because back then if you lost your job when there’s 25% unemployment, you’re not going to get another.
Imagine you’re walking into the ballroom and there’s the new owner. You’re probably terrified that he’s going to clean house and bring in his own friends, cousins and uncles. Father knew that nobody was going to listen to a word he’ll say until he addressed their pain and fear. The first words out of his mouth in every case were always, “I want every one of you to keep your job. I want you to keep your job because I know that you work better than anybody else in the world. It’s my job to give you the resources and the encouragement to show the world how good you are.”
That’s not the end of the story. He told me, “Those are just words and they sound good.” He had more to say. He told the people in the ballroom, “You’ll see in a couple of months, this is all going to turn around. This is going to be the most popular, the best served, the most financially stable hotel in the city. Together as a team, we’re going to show the rest of the city that things can turn around.” That’s not the end of the story. Will you allow me to go on?
It’s bad manners to monologue, that’s why I asked.
It’s good manners on my show. To understand how the Sheraton Hotel chain was found by the attitude. He took the definition that was given to him as somebody with no personal skills as a challenge. That is what’s ringing through to me. These hotels are going bankrupt. That’s the definition. He said no, “That’s the challenge and here’s the answer.” Please continue.
He said, “First of all, people have the compulsion to live up to or down to your expectations.” He’s setting the table that we’re going to accomplish great things but those are just words. The next day, the employees there would see armies of people coming in like electricians, decorators and plumbers. The important part is they didn’t go to the areas that the paying public would see. They’re refurbishing and sprucing up the areas that only the employees would see like the employee dining room, lockers and showers. The areas where the employees only would be enjoying and being impressed by that.
As a little girl, I’m asking my father, “Why would you spend money where you’re not going to get any money back from it?” He said, “A leader’s job is to give people a better vision of themselves.” By showing how important they were to him and that he’d spend the first money on them was the secret of Sheraton’s success. Not only did he have a great attitude, but he was also instilling in the people who worked with him an attitude that they’re winners and they’re part of a team that’s making this the best hotel in the city.You're never getting anywhere in life if you don't know how to get along with people. Click To Tweet
That’s part of Attitude Booster number 10, Be a Part of Something Bigger Than You. That’s what he was doing and that’s so wonderful. His name was Ernest. What was his middle and last name?
Ernest Flagg Henderson.
Flagg had to have been a family name. What was your beautiful mother’s name from West Virginia?
Mary Stephens, eventually Henderson. I’m named after her. Although you call me Mitzi, my legal name is Mary and I love being Mitzi.
This begs the question, why wasn’t it called Henderson Hotels? How did the name Sheraton come about?
It’s an attitude thing. The third hotel that father ever bought was in Springfield, Massachusetts. It had a $10,000 neon sign, which was the height of being modern back then. I bet it would be like $200,000 in today’s money. I’m guessing but $10,000 at the height of the Great Depression was a lot of money. My father was a good New England Yankee. He had the attitude that you just don’t waste. He couldn’t bear the idea of tearing down a $10,000 sign. By then, he had three hotels. It’s easier to advertise under the same name. Here was his thought process and even told me. He said he thought Sheraton had a ring to it. He thought Henderson did not have a ring to it which I thought was an attitude of humility that I cherish. To avoid being wasteful and to have a name that sounded good, Sheraton got its name with that third hotel. From then on, it’s Sheraton.
Was Sheraton on the sign or was it a name that he invented?
The $10,000 neon sign said, “Sheraton.” That’s what he was unwilling to tear down because it would be wasteful to tear down a perfectly good sign. That is how Sheraton got its name.
My wife and I were talking. She said, “Why in the world do women take men’s last name?” I said, “Probably, because men used to be the providers and it was easier for them to keep their name to continue to provide.” Talk to me real quick, when it comes to the beautiful, Mary Stephens, what was her attitude lesson? What was life like for her? What was the one lesson she taught you about attitude?
I’ve already explained that father innately and inherently wasn’t born with human relations skills. It’s probably the worst career guidance counselor he had ever seen, but I would say it was an extreme case of opposites attract. Because mother as a Southern belle was the warmest, understanding and embracing the person that you’ve ever come across. She had such inherent insight into what made people tick. Although father eventually got very good at it, it didn’t come naturally at all. Her warmth and his intellect were made in heaven. They each cherished what the other had to offer.
What was their love story? Did they meet at college? How did they meet?
Being from West Virginia, she had a cousin in Cambridge, Massachusetts. There was a dance in Cambridge. She might have been 22 or something. They did fall in love and agreed to marry. When they did get married, the wedding was in Wheeling, West Virginia. At that time, you get from West Virginia back to Cambridge, Massachusetts by train. It was some kind of overnight thing. I have her diary.
That’s got to be priceless.
It’s the coolest thing in the world because she’s getting cold feet. She’s writing in her diary, “What have I gotten into? I love Ernie. I’m going to a place where the people are cold. The climate is cold. My children are going to grow up Yankees.”
The bottom line is the realness of that is there’s probably a lot of women out there that felt the same way as they were going to do what they were doing. Let’s shift from that love affair to the next titan in your life. The next man in your life who I’m sure you supported, helped and molded. I’d love to know about Frank Perdue and how you two met. What it was like to be married to the chicken titan of America?
First of all, it was heaven. He is my hero from beginning to end. We had a somewhat odd courtship because I was living in California. I’d spent a week in Washington, DC working on the campaign of a presidential candidate who washed up. It turns out that he was a supporter of that candidate. There was an event celebrating his washing up in the primaries.
Who was the candidate? I got to know.
It was Bob Dole and we’re talking 1988. There’s this party given by Bob Dole. He had lost the primaries and was out of the game but he did have a party. I had to leave early and Frank Perdue arrived late. We only had ten minutes of overlap. We’re both singles at that point. We’re both divorced. The first five minutes were spent talking about how we would never consider the possibility or the notion of the concept of marrying again because we’ve been unhappy in our previous marriages.
Somewhere around five minutes into it, we started agreeing that this was unfortunate because it meant growing old alone, but that was our fate because we’d never trust anybody again. I looked up at him and he said, “I believe I could trust you.” I answered, “I believe I could trust you.” We spent the next four minutes talking about what our marriage would be like when we did marry. We’d known each other in person for six weeks and three days.
You know when you know. I don’t think it takes a lot of time. That’s just me and you probably agree with me.
It’s been an endless puzzle to me how we could both commit after knowing each other for five minutes. By the way, when he gave me my engagement ring, I’d known him for five hours.
That is incredible.
My favorite moment in life was our church has a six weeks prenuptial counseling period. They won’t let you get married faster than that which is why I said it was six weeks and three days. We went to call on the minister who married us. The third time I saw Frank in my life was in the rectory of the church. The reverend said, “I’m so happy for you. Marriage is a wonderful institution. How long have you known each other?” I said, “Do you mean in person?” He said, “Yes.” I looked at my watch and said, “36 hours.”
The message is that although it’s an anomaly, if you’re out there, ladies, maybe you’ve gone through a marital reversal or a relationship reversal, Mitzi’s story always provides hope because I believe there’s always a chance. I always believe in love. God sends us people that He knows more than us. The fact that you were walking out, he was walking in, and you took those ten minutes. What happened after the ten minutes? Did you say, “Call me later?” Did you wait outside? What went on there? Did you say I’m not leaving now? Did you turn around and go back in? What was going on?A leader's job is to give people a better vision of themselves. Click To Tweet
I was president of American Agri-Women which is a 40,000-member organization now. I had a speaking tour, visiting the different chapters of American Agri-Women. I had a plane to catch. I didn’t get back home to California for ten days. We didn’t speak for ten days. When I got home, there were all these nice while you were out messages and they were from Frank. When we did speak, he said, “I want you to know I’ve never been more serious in my life.” I said, “Me too.” Since in our audience, there are people who may be going through horrible divorces, separations, infidelities or all sorts of ghastly things, I’m living proof that things can turn around in a dime. From one day to the next, I went from misery to joy.
How long were you in Frank together?
He passed away after seventeen years of marriage but the seventeen years were just bliss. I felt that I’ve known him forever. What made the marriage great from my point of view was he was a totally good person.
Was he building his chicken empire during these seventeen years? Had he already made it and was on his way weaning out so he could just enjoy you?
Here’s what happened. I mentioned that our courtship was a little bit odd. He told me, “I’m running a business. This happens to be a somewhat difficult time. It’s not going to be a normal courtship. I’m not going to be chasing you around or flowers or all the rest.” A lot of our six weeks was me accompanying him to business meetings. I loved it. He was definitely continuing to run the company. In his 80s, he began pulling back but I loved being part of his world. I loved the people I interacted with. I loved the mission. I’ll tell you something about Perdue Farms. We are the largest producer of organic chicken in the world. We have no antibiotics. A lot of the chickens are pasture-raised. Is that not cool?
Yeah. When you talked about the mission, what was the mission? You said you loved the mission of Perdue Farms.
It’s a several-part mission. It’s providing quality food at an affordable price while providing tens of thousands of people with good jobs.
As far as his leadership style or his attitude, can you maybe try to give us a feel for who he was, what his attitude was, and how he was as a leader?
One of the things that I’m really proud of comes from my background in the hospitality industry. When we were first married, we didn’t know each other all that well. We had come back from our honeymoon. We’re walking on a beach at Watch Hill, Rhode Island. We’re carrying our sandals. It’s the end of August but New England’s fall weather. It’s romantic but suddenly, I look up at him and I say, “Frank, we should entertain every single person who works for the company.”
He said, “Mitzi, you realized that there are 16,000 people.” At this point, that figure is right for 1988. He said, “You realized that’s not a practical idea.” I pretended that I wasn’t processing that he was saying no. I said, “We should have them a hundred at a time.” He’s saying, “No, that’s way too many.” I said, “I bet we could put it together in six weeks and start then.” “No, that’s way too soon.” As we continue talking about it, he was changing his mind gradually from, “What planet did she sat down from?” to “Maybe there’s something to it,” until finally, “I like it.”
Six weeks later, we did start. Throughout our marriage, three times a month, we would have groups of 100 people or more over for dinner in our house. It would be like the truckers, the accountants, the veterinarians and IT people. It was everyone in groups of 100. What was uniquely special to me about this is the living room of our home. We set up this great long buffet table and Frank Perdue would wait on his employees. He’d stand behind the buffet table and serve them.
Mitzi, you are amazing. Sixteen thousand, 100 at a time, it was absolutely unbelievable. Mitzi, you’re so captivating and enamoring to me. Thank you so much for sharing your stories. We close every show with a little game. You’re going to play a game with me. Is that okay?
I’m up for it.
We call this the Attitude through the Decades Game. What I’m going to do is take you through your life. We are going to have fun. What we’re going to do is I’m going to walk you through your life from the day you were born to when you were 10, 20, 30, 40. You can tell me what was going on in your life and what the attitude lesson is. As we walk through your life, our GAPers as what we call our audience can walk through their life. Quite possibly the lessons that you’ve learned over your many beautiful years will inspire, enrich and will encourage our GAPers. I know that you may not remember being born, but when you think about an attitude lesson of birth and certainly you’ve probably seen a lot of chickens be born or whatever, what do you think the attitude lesson of birth is?
Mother had me at age 41 and I was always curious if I was an accident. She said the most reassuring thing. She said, “No, we prayed to have you.” I felt wanted which is a neat thing for a kid to feel.
Feeling wanted isn’t a weakness. When we look at attitude, feeling wanted is a strength that can be used.
It’s very affirming.
We haven’t had that answer. I have a feeling you’re going to go 7 for 7 of the stuff we’ve never heard. I want you to talk to us about when you were ten years old. That would put you in around 3rd or 4th grade. I would love to know where you were in the world at ten years old. If you remember your 3rd or 4th-grade teacher, what was the attitude lesson you think you learned in 3rd or 4th grade when you were ten years old?
There are five siblings. Mother was very big on teaching us from an age in which we could comprehend that to have a good life, you need to put back in the bucket. You’re going to be happier and you’re going to be better off if you give more than you take. She used to say, “The givers of the world are happy. The takers of the world are miserable.” I’m trying to translate what she meant by the takers of the world are. I guess it’s whatever the opposite of giver is.
There are people that are not giving and they’re just flat-out taking. From a very early age, it was put in your soul that, “I need to be a giver. I need to make things better. I need to increase others.” I do want to acknowledge your beautiful work with human trafficking. If you wouldn’t mind, give us a little taste of what you’ve been doing and what you’ve been up to. If there’s a website people can go to and help with your mission, I would love to get a little lesson on that. That was quite possibly inspired in you as a ten-year-old.
Without question. Mother felt and father did too that we’re here to help others. We’re not here to be just takers. For human trafficking, it’s the worst scourge that exists in the world because there are 40 million people according to the United Nations who are being trafficked. If you’re being trafficked, you never have a good day. I talked with a psychiatrist who treats people who have been sex trafficked. He said, “Think of the most depressed you’ve ever been in your life. Maybe your mother died or whatever. That person who’s being sex trafficked is feeling that every hour of every day for years at a time.” When I heard that a twelve-year-old little girl may be forced to have sex with strangers 10 or 12 times a night, 365 days a year, I thought this is terrible. I can’t unsee this image. I’ve got to do something about it. I’m not going to be able to solve it myself. I can sure give whatever I can to do something about it.
Is there an organization that you work with or that you started to help with this issue?
It’s called WinThisFight.org. I have a way of helping people remember WinThisFight.org. Think of the initials of it. I’ll make it easy for you, it’s WTF, Win This Fight. That is absolutely no accident because that’s my attitude towards trafficking. It’s WTF for Win This Fight. The name came from a neuroscientist who told me that my original name for it, Anti-Trafficking Auction, sucks. There’s no call to action. It’s not memorable, but Win This Fight with its initials is memorable.
That is powerful and great, Mitzi. Thank you for sharing with us. We’ll be promoting that. Let’s go from the young girl at ten to you become a young woman and you’re twenty years old. Where were you at twenty? I read that you went to Harvard. Is that’s correct?
I was an undergraduate. I started out at Radcliffe. Radcliffe was absorbed by Harvard. I graduated in ’63. I loved Harvard as an undergraduate. It was as exciting and wonderful as anything could be.
What was the attitude lesson you learned at twenty?
In my twenties, I did everything I could to hide my background. I wanted to be accepted as me. I didn’t want to take advantage of my father’s name or money. I became a management intern at the Treasury Department for my first job. I did everything I could to have my colleagues not realize that I was filthy stinking rich.
We have a lot of influencers and innovators that are with us in season two who feel the same thing. Even though you may have incredible self-worth financially, you may not have independent self-worth inside. That’s probably refreshing. There are people that are from families that are extremely successful. There’s a lot of pressure that comes with that. To be able to acknowledge, “I want to be me for who I am and not that,” that’s beautiful. You’re embracing where you’re from now, which might be a little bit easier. Did you face any personal problems during your twenties? You had mentioned before that you had to overcome some challenges. You might want to share that with our audience.
Can we fast forward to the 30s then?
Let’s get to 30. Great attitude lesson for twenty. What’s the attitude lesson of 30 and let’s tell that story?
In my 30s, I wasn’t doing much with my education or my background or anything. There was a reason which was, as I got older, I got shyer and shyer. The reason was I had a pretty severe speech impediment. I had a lisp that was bad enough that not only do you hear it, but you could see it. You put your tongue in the wrong place when you’ve got a severe lisp.
Over the course of my life, somehow I became more sensitive to it in my 30s. People would tell me when they got to know me better that when they first met me, they thought that I was stupid. That built on itself. I’m meeting somebody and I’m knowing that they think I’m stupid. I got into a career change. I became a rice grower in Northern California. Because if you’re growing rice, you don’t have to interact with loads and loads of people.The givers of the world are happy. The takers of the world are miserable. Click To Tweet
Up until I was 38, I was becoming more and more shy and self-conscious. There was a man who worked for me. To protect the guilty, we will call him Peter Smith. Peter Smith had an IQ of 200 but he never had done anything with his life other than becoming an upstanding rice grower, which is a wonderful thing. He wasn’t living up to his potential. One day I realized why he wasn’t. He was afraid of failure. He was comfortable to not stretch himself.
I decided one day that I would try to make my life the opposite of his, that I would not be afraid of failure. If I was going to try to do what I wanted to do, which was radio, television, newspapers, public speaking, that I have to overcome my lisp. I went to a speech therapist somewhere around 1978. The speech therapists in that period were unable to cure somebody with a severe lisp who’s 38 years old. I went to another therapist. She also told me it can’t be done. I went to a third one and it’s the same story. With the little minor wrinkle, she said, “I can’t help you, but I’d love to take your money. You can come if you want but I don’t think I can help you.”
I went for a full year. There was no progress for nine months but at the end of the year, I had overcome my lisp. I began auditioning for television. I began sending articles out to newspapers. Within a year, I had a television show. Within two years, it was syndicated to 76 stations. I’ve collected in my life a very great number of rejection letters for articles or written things that I’ve submitted.
Within five years, I was the most widely syndicated environmental writer in the country. It’s as if everything switched when I decided to make my life the opposite of Peter Smith. I would find out what my obstacles were. I would overcome them. I wouldn’t be afraid of failure. When I got a rejection letter or turned down for an audition, who cares? That’s a mark of success because I tried. Look where it got me.
“Thanks for the no,” it’s what we always tell people in sales. That’s a great attitude lesson for 30, how to overcome your biggest challenge. It sounds like when you go through your 40s, it may have been a bit of a reset. It may have been a new launch. I’d love to know, what was the name of your TV show? What was the attitude lesson in your 40s?
It was Mitzi’s Country Magazine. It started out as a farm show because I was also still growing rice.
What’s the attitude lesson in your 40s that somebody can take? There’s a female out there in her 40s that’s waiting for you to say, “Honey, let me tell you what I learned in my 40s. This is what I want to get to.”
I got myself out of a horrible marriage. I was single for about three years before I met Frank Perdue who was the love of my life. He was as great as a husband as my previous one was not great.
How did you muster the courage to get out of that situation? You were married probably for a long time, 15, 20 years with this person?
It was seventeen years and two children, but I have a religious belief that marriage is forever. I didn’t instigate the divorce. However, the good Lord was kind to me. I’ll use again a fake name to protect the guilty. Ronald met a Venezuelan oil heiress and he wanted a divorce. Ronald was a former Catholic monk. When we married, he had never bothered to go through the procedure for not becoming a priest. He was a priest when we married. Although, he hadn’t told me that. It turns out that the marriage was begun under false pretenses.
It’s probably annulled in the Catholic church maybe.
As far as my conscience goes, I didn’t need an annulment. It was enough to know that it could have been annulled because it was very conspicuously begun under false pretenses.
Ladies, if you’re sitting there and you’re in a marriage that you don’t want to be in, the attitude lesson is to introduce your husband that you no longer want to be married to a Venezuelan oil heiress. Things may change for you. Mitzi, do you remember your 50th birthday? Where were you? What’s your attitude lesson when you were working at 50 or in your 50s?
In my 50s, I was gloriously happy and married to a good man. He’s somebody with values who’s kind and generous and cares about people. I loved being part of his life. I mentioned that I was the most widely syndicated environmental writer. I kept that up because I needed some identity on my own. It worked out because being a writer, I could travel around the world with him. We could be selling in 50 different countries, maybe 70. Frank had a deep belief that it was a good thing to call on your customers, whether it’s Tokyo or Singapore or wherever.
Now, we move to 60. What were you doing when you were 60? What’s the attitude lesson for those GAPers, females or males? What did 60 teach you? Do you remember even turning 60? What was going on?
I loved my 60s, not as much as my 70s. I felt that by age 60, I didn’t feel like a particularly different person from when I was younger, except that I knew much more. I had so much more experience. I could evaluate things from a broader perspective. I was more into physical fitness and diet. I’m feeling better in my 60s than I did in my 40s.
That’s appreciation, which is Attitude Booster number 9. We based our book on the 10 Attitude Boosters, which is eat right and exercise. It sounds like that’s what was happening in your 60s. You’re not 80 yet. I’m not going to be able to ask you about your 80th and your knowledge through the decades but we haven’t talked about 70s so I’d love to know.
It’s the best ever. It’s hard for me to imagine how it could get better than this. In my 70s, I love being engaged. I have a personal rule, which I followed all my life. I want every year to take some kind of course. It might be First Aid, Nuclear Particle Physics, Art Appreciation or Computer Database Programming. I’d recommend that to everybody.
That means that at age 79, I have a bigger talent stack than I had when I was younger. When I’ve got a problem between people and knowledge, I’ve got ways of dealing with things. For me, the older the better. I’m more into physical fitness, diet and mental attitude than ever before. I feel better. I’ve got more energy. I feel that working on a project that I care about with all my heart and soul, namely combating human trafficking. I wish Frank were still alive but since that’s not on offer, this is the best time of my life.
Hopefully, his spirit is with you. Certainly, his attitude has remained with you. What would your message of hope be for the people that aren’t 79, that are battling, that are trying to bridge the gap from where they are to where they want to be? From bridging the gap from who they are to who they wish to become because I know that gal at 20, 30, 40, isn’t the person I’m talking to now. The ability to bridge the gap is certainly there for everybody. What would your message of hope be? What is your mantra? What can you tell our people to keep them positive and happy?
I can remember horrible times in my 30s, 40s and in a seriously unhappy marriage to somebody. I used to think that if I hadn’t gotten out of the marriage, I might not even be alive. It was horrible but the message is things can change in the most unexpected ways. It looks as if you’ll never be happy again. You’re convinced you’ll never be happy again. There’s this curve in the road and things can change. If you’re going through a really tough time with health, finances and emotions, keep in mind that things can change. Believe in yourself and struggle through it because there can be good things on the other side.
It makes me think of the saying, “It’s always darkest before the dawn.” I want to thank you, Mitzi, because you are the sunshine that brought dawn to the show. Your smile is infectious. Your attitude is contagious. Your story is just so palpable and relevant for everybody that’s tuning in. We want to thank you so much. We’re grateful that you shared with us your story. All of our GAPers, thank you. We will look you up, WinTheFight.org. Let’s help Mitzi do what she’s meant to do. Thank you again, Mitzi, for being on the show.
- Mitzi Perdue
- How To Be UP In Down Times
- Chicken Soup for the Soul
- Chuck Dietzen – Previous episode
About Mitzi Perdue
Mitzi Perdue knows that every family business has a culture. The question is, does this culture come about by design or by default? The ones that come about by default rarely support keeping the family business in the family across the generations.
So, what can a family do to develop and strengthen a culture that will support their deepest goals and values?
Mitzi Perdue draws on the experience of her family of origin, the Henderson Estate Company which dates back to 1840 and was the forerunner of the Sheraton Hotels (her father was co-founder of the chain). She also looks to her marital family (she’s the widow of Frank Perdue from Perdue Farms) that began in 1920.
In both cases, family members in each generation put enormous effort into creating and maintaining strong, values-based cultures. Her talks stem from her lifelong observations not only of how her two families have kept together over a combined total of 280 years, but she’s also closely observed how other high net worth families, often ones she’s known since childhood, created and continuously strengthen positive cultures. She’s also observed almost countless cases where families that lacked a supportive culture failed spectacularly.
Mitzi’s talks contain practical tips for embedding a positive culture. She’s been a part of carrying out all of them, and in some cases, creating them. These are tips that work, they’re practical, and they can make a spectacular difference in whether the family continues across the generations, or becomes one of the 70% that fails to pass on their legacy to the next generation.
Mitzi is a businesswoman, author, and a master story teller. She holds degrees from Harvard University and George Washington University, is a past president of the 40,000 member American Agri-Women and was one of the U.S. Delegates to the United Nations Conference on Women in Nairobi. She currently writes for the Association of Foreign Press Correspondents and hosts EarthX TV’s show, The Pen and the Planet.
Most recently, she’s authored Tough Man, Tender Chicken: Business and Life Lessons from Frank Perdue. The book made #5 on Amazon’s Business Biographies, out of a field of 20,000. She’s also the author of, I Didn’t Bargain for This, her story of growing up as a hotel heiress.
A woman of many talents, she also programmed a computer app, B Healthy U, designed to help people track the interactions of lifestyle factors that influence their energy, sleep, hunger, mood, and ability to handle stress. In addition to being a programmer and software developer, Mitzi is also an artist and designer of EveningEggs™ handbags.
In addition, Mitzi the author of more than 1800 newspaper and magazine articles on family businesses, food, agriculture, the environment, philanthropy, biotechnology, genetic engineering, and women’s health.
She was a syndicated columnist for 22 years, and her weekly environmental columns were distributed first by California’s Capitol News and later, by Scripps Howard News Service, to roughly 420 newspapers. For two years she was a Commissioner on the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science.
Mitzi also produced and hosted more than 400 half hour interview shows, Mitzi’s Country Magazine on KXTV, the CBS affiliate in Sacramento, California. In addition, she hosted and produced more than 300 editions of Mitzi’s Country Comments, which was syndicated to 76 stations. Her radio series, Tips from the Farmer to You, was broadcast weekly for two years on the Coast to Coast Radio Network.