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#019: Founder of Win This Fight, Author, Philanthropist & Heiress to Sheraton Hotels – Mitzi Perdue

In a cruel world where money-making often overtakes human principles and ethics, it is important to remember how far compassion and empathy can take us. Mitzi Perdue is the heiress of Sheraton Hotel Chain, widow of another family business poultry magnate, Franke Perdue, a businesswoman in her own right, and an author. On top of that, Mitzi is also a philanthropist. In this episode, she talks about Win This Fight, a movement she started to help victims of human trafficking and support organizations that do the same. Her passion and empathy are also reflected in how she handles her employees. She shares what she’s learned from both her father and her husband when it comes to being an inspirational leader.

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About Mitzi Perdue

TJP 19 Mitzi Perdue | Human Trafficking

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. Mitzi is happy to share actionable advice on how they created and maintained their family businesses.

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. 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.

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.

Mitzi speaks on how to make your family business last across the generations, and she also talks about success tips from mega-successful people.

Over 40 million people are victims of human trafficking. It’s the fastest-growing crime in the world. A $150 billion industry and disproportionately affects women and children. Mitzi Perdue is the Founder of Win This Fight! It’s a nonprofit dedicated to eradicating this vicious crime. She is also the daughter of Ernest Henderson, the Founder of Sheraton Hotels. Her husband is the late Frank Perdue, the CEO of Perdue Farms and Perdue Chicken. Mitzi is also one of the most syndicated environmental journalists in history. The owner of rice farms and wineries and the former President of American Agri-Women, an organization of over 30,000 women leaders in agriculture.

She joined me on this episode for a candid discussion of labor and sex trafficking. The effect it’s taking on women and children, and how her nonprofit has pioneered a method of donation through auctioning high-value items their owners don’t need. Join the fight to raise $100 million by visiting WinThisFight.org. Mitzi and I reviewed the history of Sheraton’s rise to the largest hotel chain in the world. The leadership required to build and community when acquiring distressed assets and how airing your dirty laundry will destroy any family business.

She also reminisced about her shotgun wedding to the Chicken King and his leadership principles including, “No one is as smart as all of us,” and every employee has a critical role to play in a company’s success. If you think this pioneer isn’t willing to push herself for more, she explains her constant need for education. He current classes in business and public speaking, and she even calls out her rival in the battle for Hotel Heiress Primacy, Paris Hilton.

Mitzi, welcome to show.

What a complete joy to be with you and I love the premise of your show. I’m so honored to be here and I will give it my all, I promise.

That’s our goal. We don’t have royalty in the US but if we did, you, your family, the lineage that you come from would be at the top of that list to fill that gap for American royalty. You are the heiress to the Sheraton Hotel chain. One of the world’s most iconic brands started by your father. Your late husband was Frank Perdue, the Chicken Man, as he’s called and the former CEO of Perdue Farms, one of the leading chicken companies in the world. You are a self-made journalist, an author and a businesswoman, having started successful businesses in rice and grape cultivation.

Now, you are heavily involved in philanthropy. You are a business consultant. These things that you have done are truly amazing. As you now speak about family-run businesses and how to make successful leaders, you take lessons from your own life, your father and your late husband. Your father served in World War I and your brother served in World War II and we thank them for their service. You are a fellow Bostonian so we will always have that bond, which I love but it is truly an honor to be here with you.

The honor is entirely the other way around but I will take it.

Mitzi, we have many things to talk about. We are going to talk about Sheraton Hotels, the influence of your father, Perdue Farms and your late husband, Frank Perdue. I want to start with the initiative that you are involved in and it ties to human trafficking. It’s called Win This Fight! Can you describe what it is?

I would like nothing better and I’m eager to talk about my late father, Sheraton, my late husband and Perdue Farms. Human trafficking is one of the absolute worst atrocities that happen in the face of the Earth. It’s a $150 billion industry. It’s the second-largest source of income for organized crime. There are almost 1 million children who are being sex trafficked. When you are a sex trafficked child, let’s say you started at ten, your life expectancy is only seven years. By seven years, you will almost certainly be dead of an overdose or suicide. How about having your organs harvested? It’s an incredibly monstrous affliction for humanity and I want to spend the rest of my time on Earth combating this.

I want to help win this fight. I’m not expecting that any one person can do it. I write a column once a week. I work for Psychology Today. I write a column on human trafficking and generally the subjects are people who are working on doing something about it. Between Psychology Today and some other outlets that I write for, I’ve written at least 60 articles in the last couple of years. One thing that I have learned at every other trafficking organization that exists and there are tens of thousands of them, that all of them could use more money to deliver more services but they also want more awareness of human trafficking.

New York, New York – October 31, 2017: Mitzi Perdue in Union Square. CREDIT: Stephen Speranza for the New York Times

Every single person reading this, if they are in a town of any size, they are probably within 5 or 10 miles of somebody who’s being trafficked. I was talking with a policeman from Florida and he’s part of the Fight Squad and he was telling me some of the things that happened to people who are trafficked. In not like the movie Pretty Woman where there’s this beautiful prostitute who’s wearing glorious clothes and being taken to the Opera. It’s more a woman and we are going to call her Susan but Susan was trafficked for four years.

If you are a trafficker, you would like to “break” the person that you are trafficking so that she’s so discouraged and demoralized that there’s almost nothing left to her. She’s on automatic pilot and does whatever you want. He described the breaking of Susan. She started as a stripper but a guy in the audience told her all these wonderful things about how pretty and mature she was for her age, “I wanted to be friends with you.” That was grooming talk and it was effective because she had never heard anybody say, “You are so smart. You are so mature for your age. You are beautiful,” and she totally fell for it. That’s the Romeo part of being a trafficker. He quickly converted into the gorilla part. Romeo gorilla is a typical progression that happens to a girl, probably to a boy, too but this is about Susan so we will stick with Susan.

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Within a couple of days, he was selling her to his friends at parties. To break her, he had a situation where there were 30 men and they went at it with her for two minutes per man. After she had gone through 30 men, in terrible pain and bleeding, they began beating her up. One of them was using the handle of a broom to beat her. She was describing it to the policeman who I was interviewing. She told him, “I felt like a piece of raw hamburger. There was no dignity. It was as if I had died.”

At that point, she didn’t even bother to fight him. He was convincing her in every interaction that he had with her that she deserved this and that she wasn’t worthy of anything better, and that’s how she began to think of herself. It’s the evilest thing in the whole world so anything that I can do to help combat this. My two ways are raising money but raising money is working. We have a project called Support Our Survivors and the goal eventually is to go to every state in the United States and find an anti-trafficking organization that restores women or men who have been trafficked.

Typically, it takes 1 or 2 years. Support Our Survivors raises $20,000 and gives a check to the organizations that are working to restore the victims of trafficking. I will tell you how to do charity. They have already arranged for radio, television, newspaper, podcasts and even billboards to cover the $20,000 check by handing it over. The New Jersey State Legislators are even going to be introducing anti-trafficking legislation. Can I give everybody a number that they can text?

Absolutely, please.

Text ELEVATE to 55312. We have six in the pipeline but the donations come $5 at a time but hundreds and hundreds of them. If you text ELEVATE to 55312, you are allowed to make a donation of $5 and quite a few people give a lot more. In a week, there’s $34,000 that have come in. My experience is when people read about this, they want to do something. Here’s a way to do something.

There are two kinds of human trafficking. You spoke about sex trafficking and some of the stats behind that. Women and girls make up 96% of victims of sex trafficking but sex trafficking is also 71% of all human trafficking. Fifty-two percent involve children right here in the US. Not only is this something that happens globally but this is an issue here in the US as well. About 99 billion of the 150 billion, greater than 2/3, is debt it is going to sex trafficking. It’s one of the world’s fastest-growing crimes.

There’s also the labor trafficking piece, which is labor traffickers in many forms like debt bondage, forced labor and involuntary child labor. You see this in industries construction, manufacturing, mining and hospitality. There’s an example that you used of a worker who was paid $808 for a 78-hour workweek in Germany but according to law, a 39-hour workweek should have been paid over $2,500 so the labor peace is also a big part of this.

In some cases, they are paid something but I’m thinking of a story I did on Malaysia and palm oil. There are huge giant plantations where the people are paid nothing. You can make a big profit if you have all this labor and they are paid nothing.

In hospitality, labor and food is the highest cost. If you eliminate labor costs, it’s all profit.

They are making hand over fist. The United States is doing something admirable, which is we have laws that are being enforced or being acted upon. There’s a palm oil company in Malaysia. They have the ability and they are doing this to block entry into the United States market. Like Hershey’s, they use palm oil. Hershey’s will stop using any product that we can prove was made with slave labor but the US government can even keep it from getting into the country. The huge, wonderful benefit of that is if you’ve got one of these great giant palm oil plantations, it’s a fast way ticket to bankruptcy if you can’t sell to the Americans so you have to change your labor practices. You are not going to get cleared until somebody from the US government or somebody can prove that it’s not slave labor anymore. Going after them economically is remarkably effective.

You have highlighted fundraising for this initiative in ways that those of us who don’t have a tremendous amount of money can donate $5, $10 or whatever we feel comfortable with or as much money as we want. You also created a model for this program and for Win this Fight! that was based on the auction of goods and sale of goods outside of cash and to generate cash. Can you talk about that? This is unique and this is a great opportunity that you saw in this coming from your background, where you look around and you see all these assets and you say, “These assets are worth a lot of money. Do I need them? If I don’t need them, can I give them away and put the money to charity?”

We get a tax deduction. When I first started Win This Fight!, I wanted to give a great big personal check to combating human trafficking. As I looked around where my charitable stuff is, I realized that If I’m writing one great big check to a new charity, I’m going to have to cut back the food bank, Red Cross, other things that I’m already committed to or certain environmental things. I’m thinking, “Who do I cut back?” I then had this idea. I inherited what we think is a desk that belonged to a Dominici Cardinal probably 500 years ago. I thought, “I could sell that.” I had an idea of what it’s worth and you could rescue 100 children if we auction that. I’m thinking, “Would I rather have this desk that I inherited or would I rather save 100 children?” Guess which won out?

I thought, “If I’m in that situation where it’s hard for me to write a big check without cutting back someplace else, there have to be a whole lot of other people like movie stars, sports stars or your friendly neighborhood billionaire.” The idea was to ask them to donate items that would be sold and they could say, which anti-trafficking organization it would go to. The only thing is this is on hold because COVID-19 meant that the economy was a little bit uncertain. There are some smart people that I respect a whole lot. People in finance and banks said, “Wait until COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror before you schedule a year ahead of time.” We have something better. This is one of those examples of one door shuts and another burst open. Instead of asking people to sell items in one great big auction, there’s a guy who wants to auction rental jewelry. One of the donations is a $1 million necklace that belonged to Marlene Dietrich.

Supposing you are one of those 37 billionaire friends that you have living in your town, supposing a wife of one of them is going to the Oscars, Met Gala or something, he could afford to buy a $1 million necklace but that’s not a good investment if you are only going to wear it twice. In the year, you don’t get to wear it. The amortization of the use of this thing is not high. If you could rent it, it could make sense. Maybe it’s a big event in your life. You sold your company for $100 million and you want to celebrate.

The idea is you rent high-value, knock-your-eyes-out jewelry. I’m going to put up my Atocha Emerald, which is my engagement ring. The hope is that people will be even more forthcoming instead of spending $1 million, I don’t know what it will rent for. We will have to see how it works. Suppose you could wear something astonishing to remember the rest of your life for $20,000 but the owner still gets to keep their goodie. It would raise money, raise awareness and will be a lot of fun.

It’s impactful to the cause.

$20,000 to a typical anti-trafficking organization, there are giant ones with budgets of tens of millions. A lot of them that I come across, their budget might be $200,000. You suddenly get $20,000 in addition, it’s amazing to them.

That’s meaningful numbers. I want to start with the Sheraton Hotel chain and your father, Ernest Henderson. I’m going to give a little bit of quick history on the chain. In 1933, Harvard classmates Ernest Henderson and his partner, Robert Moore, purchased the Continental Hotel in Cambridge, Massachusetts. That’s their first hotel. In 1944, they bought the Copley Plaza Hotel. I have spent a good amount of time in and out of there. In 1947, the Sheraton became the first hotel chain to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

In 1949, the first hotel chain to use the telex reservation system. In 1962, you opened the franchise division. In 1985, you are the first international hotel chain to operate in China. In 1987, it’s the largest hotel chain in the world. It’s an amazing growth path in a relatively short time if you look at companies that have existed for decades and decades. The success of the franchise has been credited to the relationship that initially began between your father and his business partner, Robert Moore. That was a relationship that set the culture for the company and it continues to resonate now. You see examples all over founders who are best friends and there are tight-knit families but there are also founders who argue and publicly go at each other. They work on different agendas. I have seen this even in my own experience. I’m wondering from your perspective, as you watch this growth and occur, what was so important about their relationship that set the company up for success?

My father met the person who became his business partner for life on almost the first day. He was a Harvard undergraduate and he met the person that we call Uncle Bob and he said that they have been close friends but there’s even an added dimension to this. I remember when I was maybe ten years old and starting school, I hadn’t slept that night because I was starting at a new school. It’s unsettling. My father picked up the next morning that I hadn’t slept well and I was unhappy. He asked what’s wrong and I said, “I’m afraid nobody will like me.” Father said two points. He said, “First of all, you are a likable kid and they will like you. Second, you don’t need a lot of friends. In fact, in my life, I only have one close friend other than family members and that’s Uncle Bob.” It wasn’t just close. It was his only real friend that he could let his hair down with and tell everything, worry with or whatever. Otherwise, according to what he told me, he only had one friend his whole life.

That bond is what then resonated throughout the company.

I want to add something else to it, which is when my father died, and we did sell the chain shortly after my father’s death but Uncle Bob attended the funeral. At that time, I was probably 26 or something. I’m not a terribly observant person but even I could see that Uncle Bob was a ghost. He was pale and trembling. To make conversation with him in this hugely emotional moment where he lost his best friend, I asked him, “What was it like with my father? Did you quarrel a lot?” He said, “No. It would have been impossible to quarrel.” He held up his left hand and his right hand and said, “It would be like having your left-hand quarrel with your right hand. It can’t be done.” That’s how close they were.

You referenced your father’s ability to inspire people and drive them to elite performance. On the show, we define characteristics of elite performance in terms of drive, resiliency, adaptability, humility, integrity, effective intelligence, team ability, curiosity and emotional strength. Your father and Robert started the business in the Great Depression when hotels were going bankrupt and closing. No one was going to two hotels and spending money. The business model, to some extent, was to buy some of these depressed hotels, some of the ones that were failing, going into bankruptcy, and turn them around. They started with zero employees. They grew to 400 locations with 20,000 employees at the time of your father’s death. Your father believed that a leader’s job was to give people a better vision of themselves.

A good portion of my work in change management, turnaround strategy and operations is about making people better. The people are the core of everything. We say that in Special Operations. People are more important than hardware. Your father had a quote, in which he said, “Employees at every level are what will determine the success or failure of a company. People will live up to or down to your expectations.” Can you speak a bit more about that? That’s truly fascinating because it is the expectations of the leader but then as to be executed on and they have to hold people accountable.

I know the answer to this because I asked him. Like this little girl, maybe 10 or 12, it was so clear to me that my daddy was a really successful guy. My little friends didn’t have houses with a ballroom that held 200 people so it was clear to me that daddy was a successful guy, I’m always asking him. The overall answer that he would always give was, “It’s the people who work with us.” Within that, we are zeroing in answering your question, he told me how he made that happen.

Here’s a story that he told me. He said whenever he would take over a hotel and there has been at least at the period that we are describing, it was the height of the Great Depression, 25% unemployment. He knew that all the employees of whatever hotel that he had taken over were probably terrified that they are going to lose their job. If you lost your job back then, it meant the breadline. You couldn’t go out and get another job.

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The day that he would take possession of a hotel, he would invite all the employees to come into the hotel ballroom. He told me that he knew that they would have great difficulty listening to a single word he said because they would have it in their mind, “This is the day I’m going to get fired. What am I going to tell my spouse? How am I going to put food on the table?” They are a totally demoralized group of people. He knew that. He stands up on the stage of the ballroom and takes the mic. He’s looking at his whole audience and the first words out of his mouth were, “I want every one of you to keep your job.”

At that point, there’s a great gasp of relief from everybody. His next words were, “I have a reason for wanting you to keep your job because you know your job better than anybody else in the world and my job is to give you the resources and the encouragement to show the world how good you are. We all know this hotel has been on the verge of bankruptcy but you will see in a few months this will become the most successful hotel in the city. We, as a team, are going to be the creators of the most successful hotel in the city. We are going to be an inspiration to people that even though it’s downtimes and discouraging times, there’s hope. The hotel is going to be the most popular, the best served and the most financially stable and this team is going to make it happen.”

It was interesting to learn about this because I noticed that he then would take concrete steps into proving that to the employees because getting up in front of everyone and telling them, “This is what we are going to do,” you still have to come through. You still have to prove that you are not getting fired. It was interesting because he would make investments in the employee’s spaces first.

Fran, you have absolutely zero in on what I take to be the most important part of this, which is, he told me that words aren’t enough. He said that, “On the next day, the employees would see cavalcades of people coming in like decorators, plumbers and electricians to refurbish the hotel,” because if it’s a hotel that has been neglected and on the verge of bankruptcy for a long time, it’s coming down to the seed. You have to invest money in bringing it up to an attractive state.

Father told me that all those electricians, decorators, plumbers, whoever else, wouldn’t go to the areas that the public would see. They would go to the areas that only the employees would see like the employee dining room, the employee lockers and showers. He deliberately spent the first money that he ever spent on any hotel he ever bought on upgrading and sprucing up the places that were only the employees would see. He said that the reason to do that was to communicate to the employees how important they were to him and how much he valued them.

There are three ways that you have quantified employee engagement. Intimidation, bribery and inspiration. I’m wondering if you break those three down because they are genius if you think about so many leaders who get up because you only have those three ways. I don’t know if there is any other way to stand up in front of a group of folks and say, “This is how we are going to get things done.”

What you told me is cool for me to hear because maybe there are 100 ways to get people to do what you want but, in his world, there were three. Two of them, he doesn’t use them. They are not good and one was the answer. The first one, you mentioned intimidation. He told me that on that first day could have stood up in front of everybody and said, “Shape up or you are fired.” He told me, “You could probably get people to do what you want. You could, except they will do it grudgingly and they will do the least that they can get by and their heart’s not in it.”

In his world, there were three and I’m delighted to hear that that’s generally accepted but the second way was bribery. He said, “I could have stood up there in front of them all and I could have said, ‘Do a great job and there’s a raise in it for you. Do a good job, and there’s a bonus in it for you.’” He also said that the problem with that is people don’t stay bribed. You have to keep upping the ante and on top of that people work for the bribe rather than for the good of the whole organization.

Those two aren’t good, it’s the third one that you mentioned. Inspiration is where he felt the answer. When he was standing up in front of them and telling them, “As a team, we are going to make this a shining example that things can turn around.” That means that the woman who’s making beds or the bartender who’s pouring drinks are not just making beds or pouring drinks. They are part of this great big team that’s going to turn this failing enterprise around and make it an inspiration to the rest of the city. That’s what regularly happened and the hotels became so successful with this model that with the money that he would make from one he would go buy another until there were 400.

It’s empowering to the team because he was able to stand up there to show them that they are a part. It’s easy as a leader to stand up in front of an organization, especially a complex organization like a hotel chain and say, “You have a small part because you wash dishes or you make beds,” but in that person’s world, that is the big part. That’s everything that they do. A lot of times as leaders, we forget that. We forget what we may see as a small cog in the wheel or even if it’s a critical cog in the wheel, to that person who executes that every day, that’s their world. That’s their big wheel. The ability as a leader to stand up in front of everyone and say, “This is why what you do, regardless of what it is, is so critical to the team in the team’s success.”

I thought father’s great gift was understanding enough of human nature to realize that it makes people feel important, valued and treasured. To quote what you said and these are his words, “People have a compulsion to live up to or down to your expectations and he proved it.” His whole life was proof of that.

I think about the first one too, intimidation. You can go up there and say, “You are going to get fired. You are not going to get this.” There’s also intimidation, which is more subtle. There’s intimidation of, “I’m the boss and because I’m the boss, you are going to do what I say.” That’s common in a lot of younger leaders. I was a victim of that. I know that I did it myself as I look back and I have internalized different conversations. I have different ways to approach when entering organizations when I was a young leader in the military. I tell a story about this where I walked in and I thought that I was the greatest thing that was ever going to come to this unit. I quickly was humbled by this organization of folks who had been there for a long time and had tremendous more experience than I did. You come in and say, “I’m the boss, now I have the rank and everybody here is going to do what I say,” but that doesn’t work.

You have to have them engaged and want to do it and there is a way. I thought it was genius on his part. The techniques he used as far as I can tell, he invented them because I’m unaware of any of his competitors doing anything like that but the idea is if you have a whole team working together for something bigger than themselves, first of all, everybody is happier. If you are focused on, “What can I get out of this?” You are probably going to be disappointed and miserable. On the other hand, if you are part of a team that’s building something successful, you are energized and you want to come to work.

That’s the bribery aspect, “Give me a little I want more and you need more to get me to do the same thing. When you up to it, to do the same thing, I need more than you gave me last time.”

Except for the inspiration, we are a winning team. He believed that people wanted to be on winning teams. The whole camaraderie of working together in something bigger than yourselves is motivating, especially if you are valued.

Transition in business is difficult. Mergers, acquisitions and exits exist for the seller to move on for whatever that reason maybe but it’s stressful for both the buyers and the sellers. I’m running a project where I’m leading the acquisition strategy of our family business in the acquisition of another family business. There are tensions and emotions on both sides of that thing. Your family had to decide to exit the Sheraton brand.

There are a lot of emotions behind that. You have many brothers and sisters so there are a lot of different personalities and perspectives. I know that when those conversations initially started, it wasn’t everybody sitting around the table saying, “This is exactly what we are going to do and this is the way we are going to do it.” I’m hoping you can maybe tell the story about how those conversations went and how you came together as a group when initially started in different positions and an emotional event for a lot of folks.

The emotions involved were quite hot. The reason why is, when you have the division that has to do with your identity and we see that in politics. If you are to the left or the right, that’s who you are. There are three sisters to which I’m one, of course, and two brothers. The sisters didn’t want to sell. For us, it was our identity, we felt that nobody would care more about the employees than we would. We felt like it was practically stomping on our father’s grave. We strongly didn’t want to sell the company but I have two brothers who are both business school graduates. Through a lot of fiery discussions, they eventually did convince the sisters to sell.

The way our family makes decisions, it’s going to vary but in general, if it’s a great big decision, we want it to be by consensus. We have a rule in the family, which I recommend any family business at all, which is, we don’t take our quarrels public. The way we phrased it was, “We don’t wash our dirty linen in public.” The other part is we don’t go to adversarial lawyers. We can go to lawyers who will advise the whole family what to do but there’s not going to be one lawyer representing me against my brother. That couldn’t happen according to our family culture.

Eventually, the brothers were able to point out why it would be good for the company, good for us and absolutely the right thing to do. We did sell but the advantage to us of having sold it by consensus means that years later we still have family reunions. We still love each other as a family and we still invest together. That wouldn’t have happened if we had allowed the quarrel to go public or to get adversarial lawyers with us fighting with each other.

That’s an interesting part of this conversation because it is so easy in a high-profile family to have those things exposed. As a journalist, you can certainly appreciate that there’s a need to have the story and get the scandal out there and everybody would have loved to have that scandal in the family. I think about the Hilton family. They are the nemesis of the Sheraton family.

I have a little inside baseball story. We grew up looking over our shoulders at the Hilton’s and getting our identity a little bit by that we were different. I have a brother who’s the same age as Nicky Hilton, which means that if they were both alive, they would be in their 90s. One morning we read the newspaper or however we heard but Nicky Hilton had married Elizabeth Taylor. My brother, Ernest, says to my father, “Daddy, buy me one of those.” We are extremely conscious of them but as good Bostonians, we were much more low-key than the Texan Hiltons.

My son lives in Texas now so I love Texas. Marrying movie stars and so forth was not going to happen in our world and it didn’t happen. I was so fascinated that Paris Hilton, the hotel heiress who’s somewhat in my position but a million times more beautiful, her father or her grandfather gave 97% of the Hilton Hotel fortune to a Catholic charity, deliberately and publicly disinheriting her for dishonoring the Hilton name. That couldn’t happen with the Hendersons.

That was the grandfather if I remember correctly. It was a couple of years ago.

I would love to meet Paris Hilton because we grew up in somewhat similar ways but also different ways. I admire her business success. I’m not sure that there are many women more beautiful than her. She’s got star quality so I admire her.

We will make that request to the team to make that introduction for you to track her down and make you that introduction.

If you don't push people to failure, they won't try. And people won't push themselves to failure if there's a fear of repercussions. Click To Tweet

We would both enjoy it.

Although you may have a better time getting in touch with her than we would.

I have never tried but it would be fun. One problem I would have been trying to get to her is probably the same problems that some people have when getting to me. I’m so skeptical. If Paris Hilton was reading that Mitzi Perdue wanted to meet her and she’s a Sheraton heiress, I wouldn’t believe it. There are so many fakes in this world, you wouldn’t believe how many fakes there are.

I hesitate every time I have to reach out to somebody and try to think about how I am going to phrase that this is real. You can believe that and this is not fake. Let’s talk about Frank Perdue and Perdue Farms. A little bit of background on Perdue Farms. Arthur Perdue, Frank’s father, founded the company in 1920 selling eggs and later chickens. In 1939, Frank Perdue left what could have been a baseball career to become the second paid employee there. In 1969, they opened the first processing plant. In the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, they scaled the business nationally and internationally.

In the 2000s, they led the industry in a move away from antibiotics. We have 21,000 employees and $7 billion in annual and the fourth generation leading that company. We know the stories of the first generation builds it, the second generation does okay, the third one loses the business. To have the fourth generation is truly amazing. He and your father shared a lot of the same or similar leadership qualities, principles and that was something that you have said attracted you to Frank in the first place.

This was an interesting love affair that you had with Frank and it’s a story that may resonate well as we come out of COVID with long distances, people locked down, and far apart from each other having to build meaningful and long-lasting relationships. I can’t tell the story, you should tell the story but talk about meeting Frank Perdue, the relationship that you had, I hesitate to call it shotgun marriage but this very quick marriage.

We met in 1988. I was living in California growing rice and he was living in Maryland growing chickens. There was a party in Washington, DC, where he arrived late and I had to leave early. We only overlapped by ten minutes but in those ten minutes, in the first five minutes of talking, we both discovered quickly that we were divorced. We began talking about how we would never consider the thought of the notion or the possibility of considering remarrying. Somewhere five minutes into it, we began talking about how that means growing old alone, how sad that is but we didn’t have a choice because we would never trust anybody again. Frank looked down at me and he said, “I believe I could trust you.” I looked up at him and I said, “I believe I could trust you.”

The next four minutes were spent describing what our marriage would be like. It would be supportive and not competitive. We would be there for each other during the good times and the bad. I had to leave. I was on a speaking tour because I was President of American Agri-Women at that point. We didn’t have internet so I hadn’t given a number where to reach me. I didn’t talk to him again for ten days until I returned to California. On my desk, there were pink while-you-were-out slips. There were probably 10 or 12 from Frank Perdue calling. His first words when he called again was, “I have never been more serious in my life.” I said, “Me, too.” When we married, we have known each other in person for 6 weeks and 3 days and it was happy.

Back to your point about long-distance relationships, I recommend that to everybody. It sure did well for us because we talk for 1 or 2 hours every night. When the physical relationship isn’t there, you get into a whole lot of things that maybe you might not if you were jumping in bed with each other. We talked about our morals, our values, aspirations and what his day had been like. When we did marry and we are living together, I felt that there was no adjustment period. I thought the person who had presented himself on the phone was exactly and precisely the same person who had presented himself in person. He gave me my engagement ring, the Atocha Emerald. I came back to see him after six weeks or so and he gave me my engagement ring after we had known each other for five hours.

You have quoted William James in your reference to Frank’s leadership style, saying that the deepest principle in human nature is the craving for appreciation. I’m reminded when I hear that quote of a conversation we had in early episodes with Peter Cancro, the Founder and CEO of Jersey Mike’s where he speaks about a culture of giving and building a company on a culture of giving. The investment of employees and franchisees is the reason for the success. That’s how they have gone from one store on the Jersey Shore to 2,000 stores across the world and $2 billion in revenue.

I think about that when I hear the story of Frank Perdue and the culture but you were instrumental in shaping their culture. You went to Frank early on in your relationship and spoke to him about things you could do and events you could hold to build culture. You are the one who drove that forward and that sense of community. Can you talk about your ideas behind that, how you pitch that to him and what you did to build a community and Perdue Farms?

I don’t want to grab more credit than it’s due but when we had gotten back from our honeymoon we had not known each other in person for long, I suddenly sprung him on the idea that we should entertain every single person who works for the Perdue company. He said, “That’s not possible. There are 16,000,” which it was at the time and as if I hadn’t understood that he had said no, I said, “We could have them 100 at a time.” He’s like, “That’s way too many.” “I bet we could have them three times a month with 100 at a time.” “That’s way too many.”

I said, “We could put it together in six weeks.” “That’s completely impossible.” We kept going round and round with him saying no to my idea of entertaining everybody who worked for the company. As we continued to talk about it, I could see that his attitude was changing from, “This is a wacko idea to maybe there’s something to it to finally, I like it.” I know why he was initially resistant because at heart Frank Perdue was a shy man and the idea of having thousands of people through his home was so far out of his comfort zone. Six weeks later, we did start. It was 100 of the time. We started with the administrative assistance with the deliberate idea that they could tell everybody else that our parties were fun and not scary.

I’m going to pick employee categories out of the air but imagine you are a trucker, a veterinarian or whoever. You haven’t mingled in high society and Frank was part of the Forbes 400 that it might be intimidating to go to the big boss’s house. Our thought was if we invite people in groups of 100 who know each other like the truckers, the veterinarians, the accountants, anybody, there’s safety in numbers. We deliberately invited people in groups that would know each other. I’m going to guess, Fran that you totally take it for granted how to behave at a cocktail party but not everybody does and we knew that. I have been growing up in the hospitality industry and I think that I’ve got the antenna out for what’s going to make somebody comfortable or miserable.

To get around the problem of you standing around you don’t know what to say, the place where our home was, we had a tennis court, a badminton court, a volleyball court, horseshoes, a pool table and the thing is, I would ask people in the invitation to dress for their sport. I said, “It’s against the rules to buy anything new.” I don’t want people spending their hard-earned money on a social occasion that they might never wear the things again so dress for your sport and that way people come in, if about volleyball, tennis or whatever, you are off and running. Supposing that you are more of a spectator, you watch somebody playing pool or play horseshoes. That way the party will start off with people mingling with people that they know what they are comfortable with.

One of the things that were extraordinary about Frank, I’m going to take credit for it has been my idea but boy did he run with that ball because, in our living room, we had a series of long buffet tables out there in one great big row because we are serving 100 people. Frank would stand behind the buffet table, along with some of the other kitchen helpers and he would wait on his employees. Can you imagine waiting on your employee? He did it with a full heart. As far as I can tell, his attitude was, “Every single person is equally important.”

At the end of the evening, he would take questions from the employees, we call them associates and that’s got to be fabulous for employee engagement and feeling that you are part of things. You can talk with the big boss about whatever it is that you care about. At the end of the evening, he would say, in different words each time but it would boil down to, “The company wouldn’t be what it is now, without each of you. Thank you.” What that mean to somebody fairly far down in the organization to have dinner at the big boss’s house and be thanked by him and waited on by him?

There are two leadership principles that both your father and Frank spoke about that in my conversations with you in getting to know you that you exude so much. I hadn’t planned on doing this but I want to throw them out there and I want to get your definition. The first one is making someone feel that they are the most important person in the room in your interaction. Can you define that a little bit?

I will describe it. Personally, I feel fortunate that I’ve got to spend a lot of time with him and as a writer, this is a cool thing because I could be taking notes of what he did. One of the things that I noticed, to make somebody feel important, is to listen to them. That’s key but when he was listening to somebody, I used to notice that in the interactions, he would only speak 10% of the time, whether it was at the board meeting, a sales meeting, talking with a taxi or a bartender. Whoever he was interacting with that person at the time, that he’s interacting with him or her he’s asking questions and listening 90% of the time. Watching him, in my own mind, I described it as, “You are the most important person in the world.” He looked at the person as if that person was the most important person in the world. I believe at that moment, that person was. It wasn’t a question of Frank, looking around the room to see if there was somebody more important to talk with. Frank had a lot of charisma. When he’s talking with you but you are enveloped in almost his aura of you are important to him. He communicated that.

That’s hard to do now and that’s something that I have tried to be conscious of in my conversations with leaders. I had a guy who worked with me because he followed me to a couple of different jobs and he’s amazing. He’s one of the most proficient people I have ever worked with. I was in a meeting with him once and I had my iPhone on the table, I had my Apple Watch on my wrist and they were going off. I kept looking at my wrist every time it went on. He put his notebook down on the table and he said, “Do you want to handle that?” This is a moment where I’m a Senior Executive in this company. This is one of my department heads but one of my employees, who has now in a sense, called me out and said, “You are being rude.”

Maybe I should caveat this meeting that we were having, we had tried to have it 2 or 3 times. I kept having to cancel it and he had been preparing for this. At that moment that he said that to me, I put my phone down and I took my watch off because I’m like, “He’s right. I’m rude because this is a meeting that he has been waiting to have with me. This is important stuff and I need to be focused on this.” I always keep that in the back of my mind and as I read this in your book and as I hear you tell the story, I think about that moment. It is so important and impactful that people understand number one, that you care about what they are saying but you, as a leader, can focus. If you can’t focus, you don’t hear them and that’s a wasted interaction.

Speaking of wasted interactions, I have an opinion that in a lot of conversations, you are listening to the person but not much because you are thinking about what you are going to answer back. As far as I can tell, Frank didn’t do that. He was totally listening and, at the moment, had responded to whatever they had said, it wasn’t as if you have said something and he’s often running thinking of something else. He’s totally in the moment of listening to you and responding to what you have said.

The second principle is, “No one is as smart as all of us.”

I came across this when I was noticing his listening skills. You can be with a group of salesmen, veterinarians, accountants or anybody at all but maybe they are 10 or 12 and he’s attending a meeting. I have already stipulated that I am a writer so it’s my business to notice things like this. I used to notice that when he would come into the room, he’s Mr. Big. He’s the person whose name appears in their paychecks. You could expect that the super alpha man, which Frank was, when he walked into one of these rooms, would have a leader’s posture of shoulders back, standing straight, big arm gestures, taking up and commanding the room. Have I explained that well enough, that somebody who takes up space is indicating that they are the boss? Frank didn’t do that.

This is a good concept because people will say, “That person owns the room.” When they come in you know.

That’s real. People who study body language like Amy Cuddy, for example, said to notice it from now on if you haven’t noticed it yet. People do come in and you can tell who owns the room but Frank Perdue did not do that. When he would come in, he would have a posture of how about taking up less space. Maybe his shoulders instead of being back and chest out, he would almost be humble. He didn’t have his head way back. It was slightly downcast and slightly looking up. He was communicating through body language that he wanted to hear everybody else. The phrase that he used and you quoted, the PS to that phrase was, “There are a lot of knowledge, wisdom and experience in this room and my job is to tap into it. I don’t want them to know what I want to hear. I want their ideas.”

The givers of the world are happy. The takers of the world are miserable. Click To Tweet

I wrote a biography on Frank and I interviewed 134 people for it. One of the things that I heard over and over again when I’m interviewing people was, they would comment that at any of these meetings, they didn’t know what answer he wanted. He would play that card close to the chest. The reason why is he wanted their knowledge, wisdom, talent and experience. There’s no point in the meeting unless you are there to hear them. Frank was aware that people have a tendency to bend into a pretzel to say what the boss wants to hear but they can’t do it if they don’t know what he wants to hear.

He had an award that he gave out. That rewarded failure. It was called the Great Failed Project Award. This is a concept that we have spoken about in many episodes here on the show. Laura Wilkinson spoke about it. She’s an Olympic diver, a gold medalist. She has a great phrase that says, “Every time I fail, it’s an opportunity to learn.” I read this about Frank and Perdue Farms where there’s an award for failure. Mike Sarraille from the Talent War Group talks about rewarding failure, having the courage as a leader to reward failure and go to someone to say, “That’s okay. We accept it. We learn from it. Now get at it and do something else.” Can you talk more about that award?

Frank was conscious of the importance of awards for culture because an award, in general, is not about handing somebody a certificate, a gift or something. That’s 5% of the awards. About 95% of the awards are communicating to the rest of the company what we value, what’s important and what’s rewarded. The cultural aspects, which he was keenly aware of, is 95% of what it communicates to everybody else.

There was a guy, his name was Owen Schweers, who had a particular specialty, something that he had studied in college, it was package design. This is what he does eight hours a day if not twelve hours a day designing the most perfect packages that you can have. One day, he had a great idea. There’s a standard box that you pack chickens in. They fit on the trucks and most chicken companies probably have something similar. Owen’s idea was, “If you made the box a little bit longer and a little less high, it would weigh 40 pounds, which is something that pallets hold well and so forth. If you change the shape of it slightly, you could improve how much it would fit in the trucks by maybe 10%. That counts for an enormous amount.” At that time, we had 5,000 trucks. If you make fewer trips, you are saving time, you are saving the environment on every count.

The realization rates are going up on everything.

It should have been fabulous. It came the time for the great unveiling and you pilot things this and it was going to be in New York, the toughest market and the buyers hated it. The receivers hated it. They were used to what they were used to and they couldn’t tell that it was the same weight. If you took it to a scale, you would know but by lifting that because the weights distributed a little differently, it seemed lighter, it wasn’t but it seemed so. Frank was visiting different buyers and getting their reactions. Since they hated it and since Frank’s mantra was, “The customer’s always right,” even though it objectively was a far better package, it had to go. That meant telling poor Owen Schweers that something he had spent a year on and put his heart into and all his professional expertise in the marketplace failed.

Owen Schweers was devastated by this. Frank knew that that would be the case. Frank got the board of directors of the company, let’s say they are seven of them, created this great big thing. I haven’t seen it but it has been described. It’s probably 2×3 feet, bronze and huge. It was engraved with the names of the entire board of directors. The engraving on this bronze on a wooden plaque or walnut plaque said, “To Owen Schweers, the recipient of The Great Failed Project Award.”

They brought him in and presented this to him and he told me it was one of the best things that ever happened in this life because there is a huge element of humor to it and humor takes away the sting of a disappointment but it also meant a lot to him that Frank wasn’t saying, “Awful you.” It was celebrating the effort that he would put into it. I bet everybody would take different messages from that but the one that I take is that Frank was empathetic enough to know this guy is going to be feeling bad and he needs to be bucked up. This is a cool way to do it. I know it’s your show and you get to ask the questions but can I ask one?

Please go ahead.

Thank you. What I take out of that was that Frank was enormously insightful and empathetic, which my father would have done. He wouldn’t have done the same thing but he would have understood. What message do you take out of the Great Failed Project Award?

I take the message is if you don’t push people to failure, they won’t try and people won’t push themselves to failure if there’s a fear of repercussions. You see it in athletics and business. Some people will always push because they don’t fear failure. They say, “If I fall down, get knocked out or don’t make it, that’s okay because I will have now learned my limit.” Once I understand my limit, I understood what it took to get to that limit and now I understand what it takes to surpass it. I will make the necessary improvements and there’s a huge element of humility to this, too because you have to be able to internalize, “Why did I fail? Why did I not get to that end state that I set for myself?”

If you sit there, you blame others and say, “The environment was bad. I was hungry. I was tired. My boss didn’t support me. I didn’t have the resources.” You are never going to accept that there’s probably another reason that I felt maybe the concept was bad and you are not prepared. You are not learning that you can make necessary adjustments to now become successful the next time you do that. As a leader, the ability to look at someone and say, “It’s okay if you fail. I want you to push. I want you to go to the limit.” I want you to understand what that is and if you cross that limit and it doesn’t work out, that’s okay because I now have assumed that risk. I have pushed you to do that and I want you to do that. The next time we go and approach something, you are going to be more willing to find the new limit and breakthrough it and that’s where innovation happens. That’s where organizations, individuals and teams move forward. They move at a faster pace when it’s okay things don’t go well.

It’s funny that we are on that because this is something I have been obsessing over and it began with a conversation with a Chinese American friend that I’m close to. We are close enough so we call each other brothers and sisters so it’s a close relationship and we can say things to each other. He was telling me that he’s passionately pro-America and he’s mad at where his ancestors came from. He said that America is always going to do better long-term than the country that his ancestors came from. The reason why is because here, you can fail, which means that you are going to dare to try lots of things. There, failure is punished. He thought that this was a huge advantage that this country has that you can fail.

You have to be allowed to fail and you have to be willing to fail. If you are not, you are never going to get there. It doesn’t matter what you are doing, it doesn’t matter if it’s physically, emotionally, business, personally and professionally. Understanding the limit and pushing through it is what we are here for. We are put on Earth to do better, to drive things forward. If we don’t understand the limits of failure, we will never figure out how to get past them. If we are always fearful of what happens when we fail, we will never stand up again and say, “Let’s do it.”

That’s the story of my career because up until the age of 38, I hadn’t done much with my education. I was a rice grower, which I loved but my real dream was somewhat like yours was broadcasting, communication and also writing. What had held me back was I was so devastated by the thought of failing an audition or getting the rejection slips that I didn’t even try. In the magic year, when I was 38, I decided to redefine failure. Failure wasn’t that you don’t get to your immediate objective or don’t try and give it your all because even from an outsider, it might look like you were rejected or failed an audition or whatever. You learn so much in the process but you are farther ahead. By redefining failure, I became a radio host and a syndicated columnist.

Also, one of the most syndicated columnists ever, as well. Maybe we should say that.

In my field as an environmental writer, there was a period when I was the most widely syndicated columnist.

Your story behind that is interesting because you were so fearful of standing up and speaking in front of people that you had to take a course for it.

It was a phobia, the equivalent of snakes or dying. I’m worried that you won’t believe me because there’s nothing shy about me now. Up until the age of 38, I was shy. That it was hard for me to enter a room. The idea of entering a roomful of strangers was terror, which makes me a good hostess because it made me empathetic with the associates at Perdue who would be coming to our home. If you have a group of 100, there will be some people who are shy and uncomfortable but back to the story of needing to take a course, in my life, I haven’t counted but I bet I have taken 7 or 8 public speaking courses because it didn’t come naturally to me. I’m in complete total terror of public speaking and that’s long since gone. Now I look forward to it the way I would look forward to a date with somebody that I liked.

Now you are up in front of thousands.

“I want to be friends with you. I want to talk with you.

That’s an amazing testament, though, to your character as well and we should hit it here because you are a lifelong learner. You are always focused on learning.

When I was on television for years, I learned something that was staggering to me, which is, when things didn’t go right in a half-hour television show, the amazing thing was, I would get 20 to 30 times more fan mail than when a show had gone perfectly. I came to the conclusion and conviction that people like you for being human a lot more than they like you for being perfect. If there’s some noise in the background, I’m thinking, “I’m human.”

People want genuine. They don’t want to see a fake. They don’t want people who look like they are putting on a show. That’s why on social media, you can post so many cool things about what you do all day and if you post a picture of your family, it gets 10X the number of views and likes.

Rude guests are asking you a question but doesn’t it feel that in your own personal experience that you like people who are authentic, human and warts and all rather than perfection? In the National Speakers Association, it’s recommended that you take a year-long course in public speaking. The thing that I walked away with from this year-long course is that the deeper it comes from you, the deeper it reaches your audience to the extent that you are perfectly reciting something ideal. You are probably going to lose them in their thinking of their shopping list, last night’s romantic encounter or whatever.

I have had that happen in preparation for events where if I have tried to script it out, you end up getting lost in the script. If you miss a word, you realize you missed a word and it’s not as genuine and it comes across that you are reading something versus if you can get up there and speak from the heart and tell the story. It may not be the same every single time. There might be a few nuances but if you can be comfortable in that, then the genuineness of that conversation is going to outweigh maybe some of the finer words or points that you missed if you had scripted the whole thing now. You are not coming across a robot.

Don’t focus on the negative. Focus on things that energize you and make you want to leap over tall buildings in a single bound. Click To Tweet

I experienced that. It was in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, one summer. I was present at a breakfast where I wasn’t expecting to speak but I happened to be standing and somebody asked a question and put a microphone on my hand on a subject that I have never spoken on before. To myself, I’m thinking, “OMG.”

“What am I going to say?”

They kept echoing back in my head, something from the National Speakers Association, which they said, “The humor of improv reaches deeply is because it’s in the moment.” There’s nothing scripted about improv. Your goal as a speaker is to be like somebody on a high wire without a net. Just talk. It’s amazing. It’s never happened to me before but I want to try it again because it was nice. At the end of my talking for fifteen minutes, people were yelling and screaming approval. I have never had such intense intimate interaction with an audience as when I had to speak completely unprepared.

You have to weigh in, “Are we in a situation where I’m winging it or are we going to see what happens?”

How about a fruitful combination of both? Trust me, I was winging it and I was curious to see. This was my test as a National Speakers Association rite. I don’t want to be fair to them or give a wrong impression because they want you to know your stuff and they want you to practice on everybody 40 times before you get paid for it. They are into preparation but they do say that, when it’s improv, it can be highly effective and don’t be afraid of it. That’s a good point and I have always been so afraid of it that I never put myself voluntarily in the position if it’s happening. When it did, “I want to do that again.”

The Jedburgh had to do three things to be successful in their everyday world. They had to be able to shoot, move and communicate. These were the foundational core tasks of their job. If they did these three things successfully every day, it didn’t matter what challenges came their way, they would find solutions to those problems because they could focus on them. They didn’t have to worry about the three things that set them up for success. What are the three things that you do every day that set the conditions for you to be successful and everything else?

The first thing I do is eat a live frog.

What?

This is an idea that comes from Mark Twain. He said that it’s a good idea to do the most difficult unpleasant job that’s going to face you during the day and he calls that your live frog. If you have two difficult unpleasant things to get through, eat the biggest live frog first. This is another tip that I have, which I do have a list that I prepare the night before of the things I want to get done that day. In the morning, I fire up my laptop and I see what’s on that list and then I figure out, which is the live frog and I do that first. The absolute joy of that is then this heavy, difficult, effortful thing is behind you and it’s not hanging over you the rest of the day. It’s such a good feeling because if your metaphorical live frog is probably something hard and difficult, it’s probably pretty important and impactful. To have that under your belt, you can motor through the rest of the day.

Many times, we get up and we do 5 or 6 different small things. It’s the middle of the day and we still realize we still have to do this, which is the real thing you had to do.

Making the list and eating a live frog first. Let’s see what the third one would be. I have an attitude, which is I try extremely hard simply not to process negative stuff. When I was writing my autobiography, I had a miserable first marriage. I was incapable of writing how difficult, bad and ghastly it was because it’s forbidding my mind to focus on the negative. Instead, I want to focus on things that energize me and make me want to leap over tall buildings in a single bound, which is quite an achievement. Those are my three positive mental attitudes, make a list and eat that live frog.

In every show, we highlight the nine characteristics of elite performance, drive, resiliency, adaptability, humility, integrity, effective intelligence, team ability, curiosity and emotional strength. We say that to be an elite performer, you have to exhibit all nine of these characteristics as part of you. Rarely do you exhibit all of them at the same time but based on the situation that you are in, you will demonstrate a couple of them at different times. Even though we say that I then look at each one of my guests and I say, “If I had to define you in one, what would that be?”

For you, I think of integrity, understanding what’s right and aligning your principles, your actions and your words to that right. I think about the Sheraton Hotel brand, Perdue Farms, Win This Fight!, taking care of people, the hospitality of the highest standard and you exhibit that every single day. Your family is a household name that’s touched every single one of us. You are the daughter and wife of visionaries. You are a transformative leader yourself. You are still leaping tall buildings and climbing mountains.

Before we even got on, you were talking about a course that you are in. There are not many people at your age who are still looking to educate themselves. That’s the drive and integrity. That’s a drive to always do better, always be better. You overcome a lot of things in your life to become amazingly successful. You are impactful to all of us and instrumental in these organizations that you grew up in. There’s a quote from your mother that you have highlighted and I want to conclude with it, “The givers of the world are happy. The takers of the world are miserable. If you want to be happy, think of what you can do for someone else. If you want to be miserable, think about what’s owed to you.”

Those are truly words to live by. We have to tell everybody, Text ELEVATE to 55312 and make a donation. Whatever you can, we are going to put it on everything. Eat the live frog first every day. Now we have to go find Paris Hilton as well to get you linked up. Thank you so much. I love this conversation. I love getting to know you. I look forward to many more conversations with you. Thank you for joining me on the show.

Thank you so much. It has been a pure joy from beginning to end, at least for me.

Same here.

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Fran Racioppi
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Francis Racioppi, CPP, CBCP, most recently led Genius Fund as the Chief Executive and Chief Operating Officer, a vertically integrated cannabis company in Los Angeles, CA. Prior to Genius, Fran served as the Director of Global Security for Snapchat where he was recruited to professionalize and scale the security organization across the globe and among all business units. Fran holds an MBA from New York University and graduated with honors from Boston University with a BA in Journalism and a minor in Political Science. Fran served 13 years in the United States Army as a Green Beret, deploying three times to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn. A lifelong sailor, Fran volunteers teaching Veterans to sail as the Race Director for Sailahead a Veterans service organization dedicated to reducing the Veteran suicide rate. Fran has also served as the Treasurer of the United War Veterans Council, an NYC-based non-profit focused on the wellness and healing of transitioning veterans, as well as the host of the annual NYC Veterans Day Parade.

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