Senator David Perdue Shares Lessons In Leadership At The University Of Georgia

“Our Founding Mothers and Fathers built this country so that you can be anything you want to be.”

ATHENS, GA – U.S. Senator David Perdue (R-GA) participated in a forum on leadership at the University of Georgia’s Institute for Leadership Advancement. Allison Fine, a business and political science student, interviewed the Senator about the leadership lessons he has learned as businessman, CEO, and now as a U.S. Senator.

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On True Leadership: “Many times the leader is in the back row, and she doesn’t say much until there is a moment of crisis. Then she says something that’s really got backbone, and everyone listens. To me, that’s the mark of a true leader. Someone who can hold it together, keep their priorities in place, and not jabber just to jabber. I think that’s a hard lesson for all of us to learn, because we all want people to think we’re the smartest person in the room. Get over that. What you have to do is listen to people.”

On Life Lessons That Guided His Business Career: “My dad always said, ‘Never worry about the next job. Take care of the job you’ve got, and good things will happen.’ The other was something my grandfather told me. He was a farmer, and my mother and father were the first in their families to get a college education. My grandfather said, ‘Try to add value wherever you are in life.’ So that’s what I’ve tried to do. The other thing my grandfather said was ‘Treat everyone the way you want to be treated. Treat everyone in the room the exact same, from the janitor to the CEO.’”

On Starting His Business Career: “I took the best job I could find right out of school. In that particular year, I was part of the less than ten percent that got a job right out of school. It was a pretty bad economic period. I chose to go to a consulting firm, and they said, ‘Do you have a passport?’ I said, ‘No, I don’t think I’ve been out of the state but one time.’ My wife and I met in first grade, and we got married the summer we both graduated. So we got passports and took off as a young married couple. I was with that consulting firm for a little more than a decade and lived and worked all around the world. I focused on trying to help companies fix something that was broken or take advantage of opportunities. I got a chance to see workforces around the world, leadership around the world, and government laws and how they affected business. That’s when I got pulled into Fortune 500 companies that required turnarounds.”

On Personal Values: “My three pillars are integrity, humility, and courage. To be a leader, you have to have the courage to do something unpopular, and you have to be true to yourself, even when your opinion is different than those you’re trying to influence. Humility is what leads you to be a good listener. My dad taught me that. He was Superintendent of Houston County Schools and integrated the first school system in Georgia. He had a heart for people. He encouraged me to get my first job at a HeadStart Program. My dad wanted me to listen and see that not everybody comes to the game with the same tools. And later in life, as God would have it, He made me chairman of an adult literacy program. My entire career was bracketed around people who didn’t have the same benefits. That created a strong sense of courage and humility.”

On Representing Your Beliefs: “Whether you’re in law, business, or politics, you’re a salesperson. You’re always selling ideas. You’re trying to convince somebody that you have a value add. This is why it’s so important to listen before you speak. You have to understand the perspective of the other person. Look, I changed my view on some things just since I’ve been elected because I’ve been listening. Unfortunately, often when our country gets into the political arena, we divide teams up like it’s a football game. I cheer for my team, you cheer for your team, and we’re never going to get together. Well that’s not what our Founders had in mind.” ?

On Graduating To The Real Word: “Keep your sense of humor. Life is such a blessing. You’re living in the United States of America in your early 20s, and there is no limit because of what we built here. Our Founding Mothers and Fathers built this country so that you can be anything you want to be. There may be a day when America is no longer the world’s largest economy, but we can always be the shining city on a hill. I’m talking about our ethos, values, and posture with our government.”


 When Senator Perdue was elected, he was the only Fortune 500 CEO in Congress. He is serving his first term in the United States Senate, where he represents Georgia on the Armed Services, Banking, Budget, and Agriculture Committees.