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It Takes A Tender Man To Make A Tough B-school

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With around 650 American colleges and universities currently offering graduate business degrees (up from 389 in 1974), some people wonder whether the country really needs another business school. But Frank Perdue isn't one of them. Indeed, the 67-year-old Perdue, whose angular face and twangy voice are as familiar in the Northeast as his tender chickens, has a bone to pick with the current flock of management programs. Accordingly, he's putting up $2.4 million to start a brand-new business school at Salisbury State College, a small public institution on Maryland's Eastern Shore. The gift is all the more interesting because Perdue (a Salisbury State dropout) and his father built their $1-billion, family-owned business with the benefit of not much scholarly training at all.

Putting one's name on the building -- the school will be known as the Franklin P. Perdue School of Management -- certainly isn't unprecedented at business schools. Last November, for instance, the University of Rochester renamed its graduate business school for former U.S. Treasury secretary William E. Simon, following the gift of $15 million he had raised. In 1984, Cornell University's business school was named after Samuel Curtis Johnson (of Johnson Wax fame), thanks to the family's contribution of $20 million. Other examples abound.

But the Maryland poultry king's aspirations for the new school are not what you'd expect. He hopes it will breed fewer Wall Street bankers than eastern Maryland managers, benefiting local businesses, including his own. Perdue Farms Inc. has operated for 67 years on the Eastern Shore, where the family has lived since the 1600s, and Perdue believes strongly in local ties. He also feels local businesses have suffered from the shortage of homegrown managers. "We often hire very well-trained people from places like Mississippi and Arkansas," he notes, "only to find that they want to go back home."

Perdue will urge his namesake, unlike other schools, to emphasize the importance of interpersonal skills. "One of the biggest problems I've observed with M.B.A.s is their inability to get along with people," he says. He also thinks the school should stress the nuts and bolts of how businesses work by offering internships and work-study arrangements. "When I meet a young consultant without any field experience," he says, "I really can't believe it. People need to understand that they don't know everything about everything, and that it's no sin to start at the bottom and work up."

Although Perdue doesn't seem to mind starring in his company's TV commercials, he had very mixed feelings, he concedes, about having his own name on the school. "Actually," he says, "I would have preferred that it be named for my father, Arthur W. Perdue, who taught me so much of what I know."

Last updated: May 1, 1987




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