Son Now Beats Perdue Drumstick Frank Perdue Passes the Marketing Mantle to His Son, Jim, Who Is Taking over at Perdue Farms, America's Third-Biggest Poultry Producer

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IT takes a tough man to follow in the footsteps of a famous father.

During a recent cab ride in Boston, Jim Perdue began talking about the poultry business with the driver. The cabbie, unaware of whom he was talking to, mentioned that he ate Perdue chickens because they have more breast meat. He also said he had seen the latest Perdue Farms commercial, "the one where Frank introduces his son."

"The only thing is," the driver said, "the son doesn't look like a chicken."

Jim may not look the part, but nonetheless, after 24 years as television spokesman for Perdue Farms, Frank Perdue is passing the marketing mantle of the nation's third-largest poultry firm to his son.

"Having me take over is unchartered waters in many ways," Jim Perdue says in an interview, obviously less comfortable with the duties. "Not many {advertising} campaigns have transitioned this way."

But the rather public handoff isn't the first generational transition at Perdue Farms in Salisbury, Md. Arthur Perdue, Jim's grandfather, started the company in 1920, when he built a coop for 50 egg-laying chickens.

Frank joined in 1939, and under his leadership Perdue became a household name. His 1968 decision to process and market chickens under his own name was the launching pad for his television stint as the thin-necked, "tough man who makes a tender chicken."

Three years ago, Jim became chairman. Though he says his father will remain an important part of the management team, the time has come to pass the torch publicly. In January, in the first of several commercials, Frank introduced Jim as "his greatest achievement."

As the cabbie's comments indicate, the ads created by Lowe & Partners/SMS, Perdue's advertising agency from the beginning, are being noticed.

And looks are not the only way the soft-spoken Perdue differs from his more famous father. "In terms of running the business, we both have the same end in sight," he says. "But the way we get it done is probably different."

His father was an entrepreneur, Perdue says, and made most of the decisions himself. Today the $1.1 billion company - the largest poultry producer in the Northeast - requires a different management style. "I like the decisions to be made as close to the product as possible instead of at the top," Perdue says. "We've got to depend on the people in the satellite operations making the right decisions."

George Watts, president of the National Broiler Council, a trade group, says Frank is more intense, more in a hurry, and more likely to ruffle feathers than is his son. Jim is more deliberate and considerate, and is more likely to involve others in management decisions, Mr. Watts says.

"There are differences in style and differences in the way they operate," he says. "But Jim is just as serious and committed in terms of quality and operation of the company."

Perdue Farms has more than 18,600 employees, with facilities in Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Indiana, and North Carolina, among others. …