Growing up as the son of a farmer and teacher during the post-war boom that fueled the rise of the American middle class, former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue didn’t think much about the world beyond his state.
That changed over the decades, especially after he became governor. During his eight years in office, Mr. Perdue took trade missions to 25 countries.
“I grew up in middle Georgia in the 1950s, and we were very nationalistic. We didn’t think that much existed outside of our world, either local, state or the United States, but my eyes have been opened, obviously,” Mr. Perdue told GlobalAtlanta in an interview.
As he has studied the world, Mr. Perdue has noticed an indelible macroeconomic trend: Previously poor countries, from China and India to Indonesia and Russia, were gradually following the path to prosperity that his generation took in the U.S.
The “good news” is that this new class of overseas buyers needs quality goods that American companies still produce competitively, Mr. Perdue said.
Perdue Partners LLC hopes to bridge this gap. The company, an equal partnership formed by Mr. Perdue and three of his former state appointees, officially launched April 18.
“Our premise is built on the fact that much of the world’s consumption, the growing part of the world’s consumption, will be outside our shores,” he said.
The partners include the former governor, Heidi Green, who briefly served as commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development; David Perdue, the former governor’s first cousin and the former CEO of Dollar General Corp. and Trey Childress, who recently stepped down from his post as the state’s chief operating officer.
Though the firm has well-established connections with the state, foreign government officials and a small portfolio of clients, the partners are approaching the new company as a startup, with each wearing multiple hats at the outset.
“We’re all in sales, we’re all in operations, we’re all in administration, literally,” said the former governor, who now lives in Bonaire, Ga.
Still, they acknowledge that each partner brings a specific set of strengths and connections to the venture.
David Perdue, a Georgia Institute of Technology alumnus, was appointed by his cousin to the Georgia Ports Authority‘s board after a seasoned corporate career that included significant stints in Asia.
In the 1970s, he opened Sara Lee‘s Asia office in Hong Kong. He held a number of executive positions for retail companies like Haggar Inc. and served as CEO of Reebok, Pillowtex and Dollar General.
Leading major retail brands, he learned about how the proliferation of trading companies in Asia helped U.S. firms source goods from low-cost countries.
Since U.S. consumers drove the global economy for so long, there’s a well-established conduit for Asian companies exporting to the U.S., but emerging markets are new and sometimes daunting territory for small U.S. firms, he said.
“The small- to mid-cap guys can compete; they just don’t know how to do it yet,” he said, adding that Perdue Partners hopes to serve as an “ambassador” for such firms.
Over the last three years, David Perdue has spent most of his time working on retail projects in India, which he believes is poised to “explode” as a consumer market.
“You can see it on the streets there. They have cash. There’s a growing middle class – it’s actually twice the size of our middle class – and it’s for real and it’s not going away. The genie’s out of the bottle in Asia,” he told GlobalAtlanta.
In many ways, the new firm will do in the private sector what Gov. Perdue and Ms. Green focused on in the public sector.
Though she ended her career at the state’s economic development department as commissioner, Ms. Green spent the better part of four years there promoting Georgia exports and selling the state’s advantages to foreign investors.
Citing the struggles of Chinese companies setting up factories in Georgia, she believes the inbound opportunities lie in helping companies from emerging markets do business here.
“They’ve been exporting for a long time, but they’ve not done foreign direct investment here. We’ve seen it in this state. It’s a challenge for them to understand that it’s different here,” Ms. Green said.
Many foreign firms fail to see that business in the U.S. is less tied to government than back home. Government permitting at various levels – federal, state and city or county – can also be confusing, she said.
Perdue Partners doesn’t see itself competing with the state’s economic-development arm, which Ms. Green praised as having one of the best trade programs in the country.
She said the new venture will actually be a customer of the state, hopefully helping generate jobs and tax revenues.
The venture won’t be limited to Georgia, though it will naturally start here because of the group’s connections and the state’s natural business advantages, namely the strong logistics infrastructure that Gov. Perdue sold while in office and used with his own trucking and commodities companies.
The partners vacillated on the name of the company but settled on Perdue Partners because they were satisfied with the former governor’s reputation and thought the name would help them tap into the cachet overseas businesspeople ascribe to political leaders.
For more information, visit www.perduepartners.com.