Perdue CEO Randy Day Talks Food Production, the Wealth of Jobs Available in Agriculture, and the Link Between Industry and Academia

An Intimate Q&A with the College of AGNR

Randy Day, CEO of Perdue

February 28, 2019 Graham Binder

This March 26th, the college’s alumni network will host Eat, Drink and be Maryland, a celebration of our valued alumni and recent success stories within the college. All of our readers are invited to attend (details in link). As part of the event, we are thrilled to honor Randy Day, Chief Executive Officer for Perdue, with the elite Distinguished Terrapin Award. We recently sat down with Randy to discuss his history with the college, his impressive career path, and for some sage advice to current students, graduates, and faculty, and staff.  
 

AGNR: The distinguished Terrapin award is given to AGNR alums who have made a lasting impact in Maryland with both their professional and personal accomplishments. Which of those are you most proud of?

Randy Day: Personally, I am most proud of my family. My three children, and a beautiful 40-year marriage to my wife Debbie. Each of them are extraordinarily successful in their own realm. My oldest son is the mayor of Salisbury, Md, as well as a US army officer. My daughter is a school teacher and working on her graduate degree in guidance counseling. My youngest son is a farmer. I couldn’t be more proud.

Professionally, I have enjoyed a long and fruitful career. My time spent with Perdue has certainly not been a flash in the pan. I’ve been here for 39 years, and I am only the 2nd non-family president and CEO in the company’s 99-year history. I take some pride in that.

Back in 1998, the president of Perdue Farms came to me and said they were losing money in the food service business. He asked me to step in and help. I was thrown directly into the deep end, but it turned out to be a wonderful business for the company. Later, when I became the head of Perdue Foods, I started looking at our brand performance. We made the decision to take 100% of our animals to no antibiotics ever as well as implement an animal care program. This has really elevated our tradition of quality, and we’re raising healthier chickens. We are now the largest organic chicken producer in the country.


AGNR: What did your time at the University of Maryland teach you about your professional options for the future?

Randy Day: When you go to a college or a university it is a transformational experience. When I went to graduate school, it was kind of like going from little league to big leagues. I remember there being a strong emotional transition. You go through that transformation, and you come out with a real clarity of purpose. I established my focus early on with nutrition, but ultimately realized I wanted to work on the business side. However, that did not weaken my commitment to finishing my path as a scientist. And I’m a better leader at Perdue as a result of my scientific training.


AGNR: Can you recount one of your fondest memories as a master’s student in AGNR?

Randy Day: The single most important conversation I’ve ever had was an interaction with Dr. Owen Thomas, the man in charge of my fate as an admitted graduate student.

He said, “You know Randy, I’m looking at your resume, your grades are poor and you obviously spend a lot of time with extracurriculars. But I see something in your GREs and our conversation today tells me I should take a chance on you.” I swore in that moment that I would never let him down.
 

AGNR: As CEO of Perdue and passionate advocate for the state’s #1 agricultural industry, can you speak to the importance of a sound partnership between private industry and academia?

Randy Day: As I see it, there are three important connections.

The University can turn out students and future employees, leaders, and contributors to agriculture whether it be Perdue or some other company. This February was the international poultry show in Atlanta with 600 college students there looking for jobs.

Number two, universities are where exploration is conducted, which helps industry with relevant research to solve consumer-facing problems.

And finally, together, we need to advocate for agriculture. Agriculture gets a bad name. We face criticism every day. Only two percent of the population is involved in production agriculture with very few of us producing our own food. Consumers and agriculture have grown apart over the last 50 years or so. Agriculture has not paid enough attention to evolving consumer preferences and consumers have continually moved away from food production. There is a need for dialogue and transparency, and academia can help bridge that gap.
 

AGNR: What piece of advice would you offer current students and recent graduates when considering a career path in agriculture and natural resources?

Randy Day: Research shows there is no alternative to food. We all have to eat, and the need for food is exploding. What discerning consumers want out of their food is evolving. Food comes from agriculture and aquaculture, and the opportunity is so unlimited for the rising workforce to make a measurable impact. On the short list, there are GMOs and the human health impacts, genetics, microbiology, legal, finance, or logistics.

Additionally, there is a massive need in the world of food production, whether it’s small farming or large farming, five or 5000 acres. There are myriad professional opportunities in whatever discipline you choose. Look at me, I chose nutrition, and I’ve done everything but!

Interested in a career opportunity with Perdue? Check out what's available for an AGNR grad here