Ross Perot: The Blunt, Audacious Billionaire Was One Of A Kind
While Millennials may not know his name, most Baby Boomers do. Ross Perot died Tuesday, July 9, 2019, in his home in Dallas. He was 89 years old and had leukemia.
Many Boomers may remember Dana Carvey’s impersonations of Mr. Perot on “Saturday Night Live” or his somewhat quirky interviews with Larry King in the 1990’s. But here’s what I know for sure: This man was no quitter. An Eagle Scout, an Annapolis Navy Officer, a top IBM sales rep, and founder of a hugely successful data processing enterprise are just a few of his successes.
His passionate stance against drugs and his extravagant attempt to fly food and meds to Vietnam American prisoners of war made him somewhat of a folk hero to me.
In 1979 Perot orchestrated a commando raid to free two of his employees. Though stories differ on what really happened, the bottom line is his employees were able to escape.
Coming from humble means, he excelled wherever he landed. He was born in Texarkana on June 27 1930, just one year after the Wall Street Crash that plunged the country into the Great Depression. Like many, his family struggled.
Young Perot started working at age seven. He earned spending money by using a pony named Miss Bee to deliver newspapers to poor communities.
Perot would later say that he had been so successful at selling newspapers that his boss had tried to lower his commission rate. But – when he complained to the publisher directly – the paper backed down.
“Since then, whenever I have a problem, I go straight to the top,” he told the New York Times in 1992.
Mr. Perot first ruffled feathers in the political scene in 1992 by declaring his run for president as an independent and would spend up to $100 million of his own money to do it.
George H.W. Bush and Mr. Perot, both well-known Texans, deeply disliked each other. Moreover, the Perot campaign was widely thought of as a direct affront to Bush’s re-election. Perot used regular appearances on TV talk shows to raise alarm about excessive spending and bad management in D.C.
As it turned out, Governor Bill Clinton, beat both President Bush and Mr. Perot to become our 42nd president.
He ran again in 1996 and but was unsuccessful both times. Quoted widely, he said, “The people in Washington are good people. We just have a bad system.” And, “Talk is cheap, words are plentiful, deeds are precious.”
Perot attended the U.S. Naval Academy and served in the Navy for four years then joined IBM. His brilliance at selling Big Blue’s hardware and services became quickly apparent: Year one, he surpassed his annual sales quota in just three months. But Perot left his successful career at IBM when management nixed his idea of starting up a new division to focus on “turnkey” computer packages instead of just selling hardware and advice.
So, on his 32nd birthday he resigned and founded Electronic Data Systems (EDS) with $1000 of his own money.
EDS quickly grew and in 1984 GM bought it for $2.5 billion. Mr. Perot stayed on and GM promised him lots of autonomy, according to the Wall Street Journal(7/10/10). But he was at odds with GM Chairman, Roger Smith. Perot believed GM was moving too slow on seizing the electronics revolution. In December 1986, GM and Mr. Perot split with GM agreeing to pay him $750 million for his 11.4 million shares.
On the national stage, a most memorable remark was comparing the federal budget deficit to “the crazy aunt tucked away in the room upstairs that nobody talks about.”
Here’s my five Ross Perot leadership lessons:
–When you have a problem, that you are unable to settle with your manager, go to the top for resolution.
—Work hard where you are planted and pay attention to what you do best, and leverage those skills.
—When your learning curve has topped out where you are, take your skills and apply them to new horizons. You are always worth more on the outside than the inside.
—Don’t be afraid to call a “spade a spade.” Get involved in causes you believe in.
May you rest in peace, Mr. Perot. You were truly one of a kind.