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Mitzi Perdue: “Leadership up close and personal”

I got to watch leadership up close and personal. I got to watch how my father built the Sheraton Hotel Chain from no employees to 20,000 at the time of his death. I also got to watch how my late husband, Frank Perdue, built his chicken company from no employees to almost 20,000 at the […]

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I got to watch leadership up close and personal. I got to watch how my father built the Sheraton Hotel Chain from no employees to 20,000 at the time of his death. I also got to watch how my late husband, Frank Perdue, built his chicken company from no employees to almost 20,000 at the time of his death. Both men told me that their companies grew because of the people who worked for them.

But then the question arises, what did these two men do to inspire people to stay with them for life (which regularly happened) and to be willing to make it a habit to go the extra mile for them?

My father used to say, “A leader’s job is to give people a better vision of themselves.” He worked to do that.

In the case of Frank, I saw how much he loved, valued, and appreciated the people who worked with him and he’d constantly go way out of his way to show it. As an example, we made a sincere effort to entertain every single one of the people who worked for Perdue.

For almost 17 years, we’d invite associates (that’s employees, in Perdue-speak) in groups of 100 to have dinner at our home. At the end of each of these dinners, Frank would tell our guests, “I know the company wouldn’t be what it is today without each of you. Thank you!”


As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mitzi Perdue

Founder and Chairman of the Board at Win This Fight, Mitzi Perdue, was astounded when she learned about the prevalence and scourge of human trafficking. Motivated by thinking, “that’s terrible” to “I want to do something about it,” Mitzi rallied and founded Win This Fight to stop human trafficking…for good! Recognized for countless initiatives, Mitzi is most known for her philanthropy, speaking, family farms, Sheraton hotels and a skilled business owner. Meeting 100-million-dollar goal is plausible because she has resided as president of a 35,000-member American Agri-Women organization; she’s also a former syndicated columnist for Scripps Howard and in the 1990s with the column, “The Environment and You “was the most widely-syndicated environmental column in the country; her television series, “Country Magazine,” was syndicated to 76 stations; and she held the position of United States Delegate for the United Nations Decade on Women in Nairobi. Mitzi holds a BA with honors from Harvard University and an MPA from the George Washington University. Extremely inspired by the work being accomplished all over the world, it is fitting to create a global organization to heighten awareness and raise funds, so the important work can be done and lives can be saved.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

It began on April 11th of last year when I heard a talk by Paul Hutchinson from the Child Liberation Foundation. He talked about sex slavery, including how an 11-year old girl might be forced to have sex with strangers 12 times a night.

I thought it was the most horrible thing I had ever heard of, and I wanted to write a great big check to support his efforts to combat this terrible crime. But then it occurred to me, if I wrote a check to his organization, it would mean cutting back on other charities that I care about. I sat there in the audience thinking, “Who could I cut back on?”

I was stuck because I couldn’t think of who to cut back on. But then an idea occurred to me: I could put up for auction a De Medici desk that we think belonged to a cardinal back in the 1600s.

I had inherited it from my parents, and it was emotionally important to me, but I thought, “Would I rather own this desk, or know that it helped save many dozens of children from what seems like a fate worse than death?”

The choice was clear, I wanted to help save people from modern day slavery. But then I thought, might there be other people in the same situation? People who didn’t have a lot of cash lying around, but who did have valuable possessions that they’d part with if they knew that doing so would save countless people from a life of utter, all-encompassing misery?

I began asking people and discovered that yes, there are many people who would be willing to donate possessions in order to turn them into cash to help combat human trafficking. That’s how “Win This Fight” was born.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading Win This Fight?

I was speaking at an event in Los Angeles, and at the end of my talk, a woman came up and donated to Win This Fight her most precious possession, a pair of earrings. They were precious to her partly because they were worth more than the price of her house and her car, but that wasn’t the biggest reason they were valuable to her.

Her mother had given them to years before, telling her, “Someday you’re going to be on the Red Carpet, and people will celebrate your success. I want you to have these to wear when that happens!”

The woman whose story I’m telling wants to remain anonymous, but the rest of the story is, she has appeared on the red carpet and her mother’s dream for her has come true. But when the donor heard about sex slavery, she wanted to do something about it.

As she listened, sitting there in the audience, she fingered her precious earrings and decided that donating them would fit in with one of her life’s goals: helping other women. She texted her mother and asked her mother if it would be OK to have the earrings be used to combat human trafficking.

The woman’s mother agreed that at this point in time, there could be no finer use for what she had given her daughter years before. The daughter came up to me afterwards, removed the earrings from her ears, and handed them to me.

I invited the woman to have breakfast with me the next morning because I was worried whether she still wanted to donate her earrings. I was worried that she might have been carried away the night before, and I only wanted her to donate the earrings if that’s what, in the cold light of day, she really wanted to do.

At breakfast, she told me that she kept waking up all night, the night before. But she was waking up with a feeling of joy! She knew what she had done had the potential for doing so much good that she was enjoying waking up and thinking about it.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The initial name for Win This Fight was the Anti-Trafficking Auction. A guy I hadn’t known before, Dr. Terry Wu, contacted me and told me in roughly these terms, “The name sucks! It’s hard to remember, it doesn’t role of the tongue, there’s no call to action.”

It turns out that Dr. Wu is a renowned neuromarketer, and a huge expert in the field of using neuroscience to influence marketing. What he told me made sense, so I asked what a good name would be.

He spent half a day, as a volunteer, looking to see if there was a name that wasn’t already taken that people could remember and that included a call to action. Win This Fight was his answer, and I immediately reserved the domain name.

But then came the best part. The initials of the new name are WTF, something generally regarded as a curse word.

Oh no!

But those initials turn out to be almost a gift from heaven. In marketing, you’d love to have a little bit of “wrongness” because it makes the name memorable. If it’s a plain vanilla name, nobody talks about it. But with our initials, people talk about it and remember it. I know because people mention this to me all the time.

And on top of that, I think WTF is exactly the right attitude towards the atrocity of human trafficking.

Can you describe how Win This Fight is making a significant social impact?

WTF is making a difference by solving a problem people often have. They want to help but they aren’t in a position to write as big a check as they’d like to. They don’t have a lot of cash lying around. But with WTF, they can convert property into cash which then goes to the anti-trafficking organization of their choice.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

1. Raise awareness of the extent of human trafficking. The UN estimates that there are more than 40 million people who are enslaved. People have to know about this before they can act on it.

2. Increase budgets for those in law enforcement for combatting human trafficking. Right now, the trafficker has almost no deterrent to selling other human beings. I’ve read estimates that globally, a trafficker has a one in 100 chance of doing time for his or her crime.

3. Donate to existing anti-trafficking organizations. With additional funds, they could extend their reach and do even better.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I got to watch leadership up close and personal. I got to watch how my father built the Sheraton Hotel Chain from no employees to 20,000 at the time of his death. I also got to watch how my late husband, Frank Perdue, built his chicken company from no employees to almost 20,000 at the time of his death. Both men told me that their companies grew because of the people who worked for them.

But then the question arises, what did these two men do to inspire people to stay with them for life (which regularly happened) and to be willing to make it a habit to go the extra mile for them?

My father used to say, “A leader’s job is to give people a better vision of themselves.” He worked to do that.

In the case of Frank, I saw how much he loved, valued, and appreciated the people who worked with him and he’d constantly go way out of his way to show it. As an example, we made a sincere effort to entertain every single one of the people who worked for Perdue.

For almost 17 years, we’d invite associates (that’s employees, in Perdue-speak) in groups of 100 to have dinner at our home. At the end of each of these dinners, Frank would tell our guests, “I know the company wouldn’t be what it is today without each of you. Thank you!”

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

I wish someone had pointed out to me how important it is to have a coach or an accountability partner and to get ideas from others. As Frank used to say, when he was looking for ideas, “None of us is as smart as all of us.”

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I could wave a magic wand and influence people to do something different, it would be to change the demand side of sex trafficking. I wish we could influence people who are buying sex to realize that it is wrong on every count and that it’s so shameful and abhorrent that they’re less inclined to do it. By the way, I know that’s not an easy ask. I’m not sure how to get there, but if someone could figure out a way to reduce the demand side of the human trafficking, that would help prevent almost unbelievable amounts of misery.

Can you please give us your favorite” Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My late husband left his descendants not only material goods but also a list of values that he felt would help them lead better lives. One of them, which I cherish particularly is, “If you want to be happy, think what you can do for someone else. If you want to be miserable, think what’s owed to you.” When I look at my life, it’s true in every case I can think of.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Ashton Kutcher, the actor, but equally important, the founder of the Anti-Trafficking organization Thorn. He has a steel trap mind, he seems able to talk on any subject, and he’s using his extraordinary talents to combat what seems to me the greatest evil on planet earth.

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