H. Ross Perot

From Famous Texans

H. Ross Perot

"Made more money faster. Lost more money in one day. Led the biggest jailbreak in history. He died. Footnote: The New York Times questioned whether he did the jailbreak or not." --answer Perot gave to the Dallas Morning News in 1981 when asked to write his own epitaph.
Best known for: Dallas computer billionaire, philanthropist, and independent (Reform Party) candidate for U.S. president in 1992 and 1996.
Born: June 27, 1930, in Texarkana, Texas
Family: Parents: Ross and Lulu May Perot; Sister: Bette; Wife: Margot Birmingham from Greensburg, Pennsylvania; Children: Ross, Jr., Nancy, Suzanne, Carolyn, and Katherine.
Education: Perot attended public schools and Texarkana Junior College. He entered the United States Naval Academy in 1949 and graduated in 1953. While there, he was class president, chairman of the honor committee, and battalion commander.
Profession: Founder of Electronic Data Systems (EDS) in Dallas.
Career: At age seven, Perot started working at various jobs throughout his childhood, including breaking horses, selling Christmas cards, magazines, and garden seeds, buying and selling bridles, saddles, horses and calves, delivering newspapers, and collecting for classified ads. After graduation from the Naval Academy, Perot served at sea for four years on a destroyer and an aircraft carrier.


​​In 1956, he married Margot, whom he met while at the Naval Academy. After being discharged from the Navy in 1957, Ross and Margot settled in Dallas where he went to work for IBM’s data processing division as a salesman. By the early 1990s, the couple owned two homes in the Dallas area, one on a twenty-two-acre estate in a posh neighborhood. Despite his wealth, Perot was known to drive a ten-year-old Oldsmobile. He bought a Jaguar for Margot, however.
Margot taught school during the early years of their marriage. In 1962, she loaned Perot $1,000 from her savings account to start EDS, a one-man data processing company. It cost at least that much to incorporate in Texas. Perot, at the time, had two regular paychecks and his wife had a third. The company ultimately became a multi-billion dollar corporation employing more than 70,000 people.
In 1969, Perot began to become more deeply involved with the "military-industrial complex," a term President Eisenhower coined nine years earlier while warning Americans about unwarranted influence in government. In what would become known in later decades as a hostile takeover, Perot attempted to take control, through a stock swap, of the Collins Radio Company, an Iowa-based CIA and military contractor with a division in the Richardson suburb of Dallas. A slump had hit the aerospace industry and Collins was having cash flow problems. In January, Perot approached Collins with merger plans that called for Perot assuming control of any combined company. Arthur Collins, the company's founder, was strangely determined that Perot not take over his company.
On March 24, EDS announced it was seeking at least 1.4 million Collins common shares to add to the 75,000 it already held. If successful, EDS would own fifty-one percent of the Collins outstanding shares. Perot was certain it would work with the consent of the ten institutional stockholders who controlled more than a million shares of Collins. Within weeks, Collins feared that the only way to prevent the takeover was by merging with, it seemed, any other company but Perot's. Exploratory talks were held with Harris-Intertype Corp., Burroughs Corp., Control Data, University Computing Co., and McDonnell Douglas. But a month after the EDS announcement the large stockholders, including Chase Manhattan Bank and Morgan Guaranty Trust, sided with Collins. Perot had no choice but to withdraw the tender offer.
Having avoided the only sure investment in his ailing company, Collins continued his apparent "anyone-but-Perot" merger search. In 1971, after talks with TRW fell through, North American Rockwell (which later became Rockwell International) finally stepped in with an investment offer that was finalized in September. Despite its initial promise to keep Collins management intact, Rockwell replaced Arthur Collins as president at the end of the first quarter of fiscal year 1972. Collins resigned January 14, 1972, and started a new company. In the end, he lost control of his thirty-nine-year-old company. After a three-year struggle, Collins succeeded only in saving it from Perot. Much might still be learned about Perot and CIA influence in Dallas business circles by further study of this largely forgotten, odd episode.
The same year Perot  tried to take control of CIA contractor Collins Radio, he also became involved in activities that led to more direct covert operations. In 1969, the Nixon administration asked Perot to determine what action might be taken to improve the treatment U.S. prisoners of war (POWs) were receiving in Southeast Asia. Perot continued to work on ways to help the POWs until the they were released at the end of the Vietnam War in 1972. According to Frank Snepp, a former CIA officer posted in Saigon, "Perot later acknowledged that the Vietnam mission was an insider deal from the start, conceived with the secret blessings of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger as a way of maintaining the appearance of action on the POW issue when, in fact, there hadn't been any."
Continuing such high-level, secret contacts in the early 1970s, Perot met a young Marine officer whose name would later become infamous in the minds of most Americans. Oliver North wanted to come to work for EDS, but Perot convinced him to stay in the Marines, which led to his later becoming the main villain in the Iran-Contra scandal. It would not be the last time Perot and North crossed paths, however.
In 1979, two EDS employees were taken hostage by the Iranian government. Perot directed a successful rescue mission composed of EDS employees and led by retired Green Beret Colonel Arthur “Bull” Simons. Perot himself went to Iran and entered the prison where his men were held. Ken Follett wrote a best selling novel, On Wings of Eagles, about the rescue. An NBC TV miniseries was later made from the book. Later in 1979, Governor William P. Clements, Jr. asked Perot to head Texas’ War on Drugs Committee. The group proposed five laws to deter illegal drug operations, all of which were passed by the legislature and signed into law. MORE