Most innovators are mocked in their own time. Doubters and naysayers always do their best to stifle bold thinking, though in my case, I refused to let the negative voices get to me. I knew I’d live to see the day when my greatest idea would be vindicated, and that’s exactly what happened. They laughed me off as a crazy person when I said we were going to sell the common chicken as food. Well, you know what? I’m the one laughing now.
Back in 1991, when I took over Perdue Farms, everyone told me it was ludicrous to believe anyone would be interested in eating a simple farm bird. What about the beaks, they said, what about the feathers? They would wince and turn up their noses at the mere word “chicken.” But now you can’t walk into a grocery store anywhere in this country without seeing shelves full of the stuff, and it’s all thanks to yours truly.
I remember the day I first proposed to my colleagues the idea that chicken could be eaten. You should have seen the looks of revulsion on the Perdue board members’ faces. The moment the picture of the chicken popped up in my PowerPoint presentation, the entire table started to scoff and jeer. “That’s your big idea?” they said. “Those egg-laying creatures with the talons that scuttle around in their own shit? That’s absolutely disgusting.” They told me I would run the company into the ground if I didn’t give up on this unhinged scheme to put chicken on the shopping list of every American family. And when I persisted, every last one of them resigned.
Now I have a $6.5 billion empire built on the common chicken, and what do the people who doubted me have? Nothing!
Sure, it took a fair share of trial and error before I figured out how to make the common chicken edible. I tried everything—mashing their entire bodies into a pulp, boiling the waddles for hours on end, blending their necks and livers into a frothy soup—all the while convinced that if I just found the right method of preparation, the critics would be silenced. This went on for years. It wasn’t until I tried cutting off the head and feet and serving the meat instead of the bones that I realized I might have something big on my hands. Boy did I ever!
Dealing with the criticism wasn’t always easy, though. There were times when I had to ask myself, “Are they right about me and my chickens? Maybe they do belong in the coop as far away from people as possible.” But the more others called it madness to hack up chickens and stay awake for days on end cooking them in my basement, the more I knew I had to prove the cynics wrong.
And I showed them, by golly. I showed them all.
I had to sacrifice everything to achieve my goal of bringing the common chicken to the masses. My friends abandoned me, my father disowned me. My wife left me, too. She’d say, “Jim, why can’t you just sell cow like everybody else?” If I came upstairs with a single stray feather on my shirt, she’d gag and heave, and I never got her to eat one measly bite of chicken. Well, now that I’m a chicken billionaire, you can bet she’s eating her words.
These days, chicken is served the whole world over. The same people who used to say domesticated fowl should only be fed to criminals and dogs are now going out to their favorite restaurants and ordering—guess what?—chicken. And of course, every company wants a piece of the chicken action, whether it’s KFC, Tyson, or Chick-fil-A, but they’re imitators, imitators all! I was the first, and I laughed all the way to the bank.
I’ll be laughing even harder once my new line of 100-percent genuine chicken-skin jackets, shoes, and accessories takes off.