Former Gov. Bev Perdue speaks on leadership, 'The Little Engine That Could'


Bev Perdue speaks in the first event of the UNC School of Journalism’s Women in the Media Leadership Series.

Former Gov. Bev Perdue has a quote from a “great philosopher” framed. It’s been hanging on her wall for years.

And on Thursday at UNC, she led an audience of more than 200 in a rousing rendition of that quote: “I think I can; I think I can; I know I can.”

“The Little Engine That Could” inspired Perdue throughout her four years as governor and the rest of her political career, she said during the first Women in the Media Leadership Series event.

The event, hosted by the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication, featured Perdue sitting on a couch with Susan King, dean of the journalism school, Karen Gil, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and journalism students Averi Harper and Jessica Kennedy. The conversation focused on women in leadership positions.

“I find myself sometimes, even now, in rooms of guys where I’m the only woman, and that is tiresome to me,” Perdue said.

Perdue was North Carolina’s first female governor. She was succeeded by Gov. Pat McCrory after deciding not to seek re-election.

Perdue said that when she realized early in her term the significance of the state’s budget deficit she decided that she would not focus on re-election.

“I made a promise to myself that I would make each decision on the understanding that it would be the best thing for North Carolina, that I would be willing to suffer the political price for the state to be better off when I leave office,” she said.

And despite the low poll numbers that plagued her term, Perdue said, she hopes her legacy focuses on her leadership of the state through the Great Recession.

“I think I’ll be known as the governor who transformed this state,” she said.

She blamed social media, the “blogosphere” and the 24/7 news cycle for her low public approval ratings.

“I believe that as long as the economy is weak … They’ll think the person who is in charge is not doing a good job,” she said. “You can’t let that get you down.”

Now, Perdue is looking toward a new career. She said her next step will be announced Thursday. Perdue, who is also co-writing a book about her memories as governor, said she wants to be part of an educational foundation focusing on technology.

King, who launched the series to spotlight women leaders and encourage female students to aim high, said she enjoyed the discussion with Perdue.

“I saw a different side to her,” she said after the event.

Kennedy, one of the student interviewers, said the experience was nerve-wracking but exciting.

“I think the governor was really inspiring,” she said. “She had great things to say about women in politics.”

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