Perdue flies far to rule the roost

Beechjet 400A and King Air B200 help SBY-based poultry and agribusiness giant reach outlying markets.

By Phil Rose
Managing Editor

Perdue flight dept with Beechjet 400A, King Air B200 and tractor trailer in the early morning at SBY. (L–R) Senior Dir of Purchasing Howard Long, Flight Dept Mgr & Chief Pilot Paul Bradham, Senior Capt Clayton Pauze, and Pilots James Martin and Steve Cross with Scheduler Jan Haddock. Pink shirts reflect Perdue’s support throughout October for Susan G Komen for the Cure.

Perdue is marking its 90th anniversary this year. A privately held company with annual sales in excess of $4.6 billion, Perdue is the 3rd largest poultry company in the US. It is also a leading agribusiness company.

Its food products division operates live production and processing facilities throughout the eastern US, including contracts with more than 2000 independent poultry farmers, and sells chicken and turkey products via retail food stores and food service customers throughout the world. Perdue also has its own laboratories for product-testing and microbiology.

And while the name Perdue is synonymous with poultry, the firm’s agribusiness ventures include grain and oilseed operations, vegetable oil, feed ingredients and organic fertilizer. In 1917, company founder Arthur Perdue was a railroad agent on Maryland’s rural eastern shore. Realizing that there was money to be made in the poultry business, he and his new wife, Pearl, raised a backyard flock while they saved enough money to go into the business full-time.

Three years later, in 1920—the year their son Frank was born—Arthur Perdue went into business for himself with a backyard table-egg business. It was a farsighted move, although the early years saw little expansion. Arthur Perdue headed the company that bears his name for the next 30 years, and remained active in the firm until his death in 1977 at the age of 91.

Frank Perdue had been helping his father since he was a child. In 1939, when he left college, he joined what was still a modest family-run firm as only its 3rd full-time employee. In 1950, Frank Perdue took over the leadership of the company and headed it through a period of unprecedented growth.

By the early 1950s Perdue was achieving $6 million a year in sales. Frank Perdue’s investment in grain facilities, feed mills, soybean refinery and processing plants allowed Perdue to expand into fresh poultry. By the 60s—with the help of major advertising campaigns—these calculated moves toward vertical integration made the Perdue brand a household name.

Frank Perdue continued to work for the firm his father had started until his death in 2005. Today, Frank’s son Jim Perdue is the company chairman and CEO. Like his father, he grew up in the family business, but trained as a marine biologist before accepting his father’s invitation to return to the family business in 1983. Jim Perdue joined the company as an entry-level management trainee, earned a master’s degree in business, and became chairman in 1991. He also took over from his father as advertising spokesperson.

In Oct 2010, Perdue Farms is donating $150,000 to Susan G Komen for the Cure to help its mission of ending breast cancer. In the past 2 years, Perdue Farms has donated over $275,000 to this cause. Throughout October, Perdue will be highlighting its support for Susan G Komen for the Cure through 1 million specially marked “pink ribbon” packages of Perdue Perfect Portions boneless chicken breasts and Perdue Short Cuts carved breast strips.

Flight department origins

Perdue’s original flight department was fairly short-lived. It consisted of 2 Cessna Conquests which were operated in the 1970s. Their sale a few years later brought Perdue’s flight operations to a close. It was only in 1995 that Perdue resumed flight ops.

In that year, Perdue bought Showell Poultry, which at the time operated a Rockwell Sabre, a Swearingen Merlin IIIC and a Piper Aztec. Perdue had acquired a flight department once again, this time by inheritance.

However, while the company recognized the need for a flight department of its own—mostly to ferry associates to outlying plants and back the same day—business needs did not favor keeping all 3 aircraft, and Perdue sold first the Sabre and then the Aztec, leaving only the Merlin.

Some time later, when this aircraft suffered an accident, Perdue bought a refurbished Ray­theon King Air 200 and hired 2 pilots—Steve Golden (now with Darden Restaurants) and Steve Sherbine. Today, Perdue’s flight department has 4 full-time pilots and operates a Beechjet 400A and a King Air B200. Home base is a 9900 sq ft hangar at SBY (Salisbury MD), built to Perdue’s specifications and close to the company’s corporate headquarters.

Team organization

Flight Dept Mgr & Chief Pilot Paul Bradham is a 9000-hr pilot, qualified as an ATP and CFI. He has been with Perdue since 1999. A former construction engineer for a Baltimore company, Bradham learned to fly at W18 (Laurel MD) in 1982.

After working for an aircraft charter and management firm at SBY, he went to work for Purity Farms in 1992, filling in from time to time as a pilot for Perdue, until in 1999 he joined the company full-time. The flight department is a small, stable unit and turnover is low. Bradham is responsible for hiring.

An initial list of prospective qualified pilots is narrowed down to 2 or 3 finalists by means of flight department interviews. This group is then interviewed by a management team, and Bradham makes his choice based on those interview results. Applicants need at least comm-multi-inst licenses and a first-class medical.

Turbine time is desirable, and total flight hours are taken into account, but Bradham considers overall experience just as important. Also, because Perdue is a family-run company, candidates need to “fit in.” If the economy should improve sufficiently, Bradham says that he can envisage taking on a 5th pilot—for now, however, having 4 is working very well.

The other 3 pilots—Clayton Pauze, James Martin and Steve Cross—report to Bradham, who as head of the flight department reports directly to Senior Dir of Purchasing Howard Long. Long in turn reports to Senior VP Oper­ations and Supply Chain Clint Rivers, who reports to Food Products Pres Mike Roberts, and Roberts reports to Chairman Jim Perdue.

Senior Capt Clayton Pauze has 7500 hrs TT and joined Perdue only 3 months after Bradham in 1999. He holds an ATP license. “Flying is all I’ve ever done,” he says. After college Pauze worked for several years as a pilot and flight instructor in Florida and Alabama before coming to Perdue. Pilot James Martin has 1800 hrs TT and is a King Air captain.

He joined Perdue in early 2006. After attaining a bachelor’s degree at K-State he worked as a King Air 350 contract pilot and a flight instructor. Although Perdue was looking for a Beechjet/King Air 200 pilot, Bradham hired him anyway for what Martin calls “my first true professional job.” Bradham’s goal is for all pilots to be dual-rated, and Martin will start Beechjet 400A training this fall.

Pilot Steve Cross joined Perdue in Mar 2008. A former regional pilot, he has 4800 hrs TT, including time in Beech 1900s, Embraer ERJs, King Air 200s and 350s. Cross learned to fly the Beechjet after he was hired by Perdue.


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