Family, Philanthropy & A New Book: Q&A With Mitzi Perdue
MarketCurrents WealthNet spoke with Mitzi Perdue about her family legacy, passion for philanthropy, and her new book entitled “What It Means to Be Us” due out May 15th.
What is your family’s history?
I’m fortunate to have two family histories to talk about. I was born into the Henderson Family, which began as a family business 180 years ago. The Henderson Estate Company began in New York City back in 1840. We’ve been in a variety of businesses since then, including ostrich feathers, rubber tires, subways, and the Sheraton Hotel Chain which my father and uncle co-founded. We’re about to celebrate our 130th Reunion, although this time it will be done virtually.
I married into the Perdue Family, and we’ve been a family business since 1920. The Perdues are still an operating business, in contrast to the Hendersons, where we have a family office and invest together.
How important is philanthropy to your family and do you have favorite causes you support?
Philanthropy is one of the biggest factors that have kept the Hendersons and the Perdues together over the years. Not everyone is going to work in the family business, but everyone can feel good about being a part of a family that benefits others. Having an active philanthropy program, often in the form of a foundation, is an additional reason for family members to care about being part of the family. It’s family glue.
The families agree on various charities, such the Food Bank, or environmental charities, or cultural ones. My personal area of interest in organizations that combat human trafficking.
Available on Amazon after May 15th
What are you currently working on that would interest other families?
The Hendersons have completed a “What It Means to Be Us” book, and the Perdues are working on one. Every family member who’s old enough, gets to write a 200 to 500-word essay on what it means to them to be a part of this family. We put the information together into a coffee table-style book. Each person has their own page, along with photographs, their birthday, and in some cases, their personal motto.
It’s a great thing first because if you’re thinking about what it means to be us, you’re not taking being part of the family for granted. Second, it’s a superb way for, say, an 80-year-old member to know what a 12-year-old is thinking and vice versa. Third, it’s a great part of the “welcome package” to give to a newly marrying-in fiancé or fiancée.
A look inside What it Means to be Us
Do you have advice for families as they navigate today’s challenging environment?
Both the family I was born into and the family I married into put enormous value on spending time together and learning our stories. It’s stories that help us have a strong culture. It’s stories that give us our identity and give us guidelines for what’s right or wrong.
To learn the stories and to care about the stories, it’s important to spend time together. Both the Henderson Family and the Perdue Family have endowed vacations, and it’s these that assure that we stay together across the generations. If you don’t have a thought-out mechanism for staying together after the patriarch or matriarch passes on, you know what happens!
I’ll spell it out. For the first couple of years, the family gets together for holidays. But then members begin skipping Thanksgiving. In four or five years, they only get together for weddings and funerals. In ten years, they don’t get together at all, and the once-wonderful family has gone poof.
That’s why I’d advise families to have a mechanism for the members to get together at least every year or 18 months. Set money aside in a trust or other vehicle that’s dedicated to paying for family members to get together.
Something else: Both families put a lot of effort into the culture of how we handle conflict. The rule for both families is, it’s good to get disagreements out in the open, as forcefully as need be.
However, the second part of that rule is, we never go to the press or to adversarial lawyers when we have a disagreement. I grew up from childhood with the notion that, “We don’t wash our dirty linen in public.” The Perdues express the same idea by calling it “the Covenant.” We solve disagreements within the family.
The Hendersons resolve issues by long discussion and for the most part, by consensus. The Perdues have a more codified approach involving voting.
Perdues put a lot of thought into deciding which kinds of disagreements get solved by a majority or a plurality or the need for consensus. That approach is something that I recommend because if you know the rules way ahead of time and you’ve signed onto them way ahead of time, it’s easier to achieve harmony.
One last thought: both of the families are large enough to have a spectrum of political views. Our rule is, we don’t discuss politics. We focus on what unites us and not what divides us.