Who Was Ross Perot?
Ross Perot is best known as one of the most successful third-party presidential candidates in American history. From 1957 to 1962, Perot worked for IBM. He then formed his own company, Electronic Data Systems, which he sold to General Motors in 1984 for $2.5 billion. In 1992, Perot ran as an independent candidate for the U.S. presidency, winning nearly 19 percent of the popular vote. He founded the Reform Party in 1995 and ran for president again in 1996, though his candidacy didn't garner as much support as before. Perot also authored multiple books, including Ross Perot: My Life & the Principles for Success and United We Stand.
Born in Texarkana, Texas, on June 27, 1930, Ross Perot became one of the country's leading businessmen and later a political force to be reckoned with. He got some of his charm and business acumen from his father, Gabriel Ross Perot, who ran a cotton wholesaling company and had other ventures. Perot was the couple's third child, though his older brother, Gabriel Ross Perot Jr., died as a toddler. He also had an older sister named Bette.
Originally named Henry Ray Perot, he changed his name to Henry Ross Perot in his early teens. Perot was close to his father, and their trips to cattle auctions served as lessons in salesmanship. According to Ken Gross' Ross Perot: The Man Behind the Myth, he started out buying and selling saddles and other equipment and, later, animals themselves. "I was what they called a day trader," Perot once said. "You'd buy it in the morning and sell it in the afternoon and make a few dollars' profit if you were lucky." Perot also worked as a newspaper delivery boy.
In 1949, Perot enrolled at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. There he thrived, serving as class president in both his junior and senior years. During this time, Perot met his wife, Margot. The pair married in 1956 and eventually had five children together.
After leaving the U.S. Navy in 1957, Perot returned to Texas with his wife. He soon put his strong sales skills to work as an employee for IBM. Perot decided to branch out on his own after a few years, forming Electronic Data Systems in 1962. This new company provided other businesses with data processing systems and services.
What started out as a one-person operation grew into a thriving business. In 1968, Perot became a millionaire when he took EDS public. The values of his shares grew substantially, eventually making him a billionaire.
Outside of business, Perot was active in issues relating to prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action in the Vietnam War. He also orchestrated a daring rescue when two of his own employees were taken hostage in Iran in 1979. The operation to free these prisoners later became the basis for the Ken Follett book On Wings of Eagles.
In 1984, General Motors bought a controlling interest in EDS. The initial deal provided Perot with cash and GM shares, and he became a vocal critic of his new business partners. Two years later, Perot sold his GM stock back to the company at their request. He soon started a new business enterprise called Perot Systems.
Always politically outspoken, Perot decided to step off the sidelines and get into the action in the spring of 1992. He was disappointed in President George H.W. Bush and didn't like any of the potential Democratic candidates. Positioning himself as a political outsider, Perot wrote about his ideas for rebuilding a troubled America in United We Stand: How We Can Take Back Our Country. He also shared his political views in infomercials, using his substantial wealth to buy air time across the country.
Perot had a down-home style and a habit for speaking in snappy sound bites, which appealed to many members of the voting public. As journalist Paul Burka wrote in Texas Monthly, "Perot is the candidate of the disaffected, the disenchanted, the fed up: the people whose contempt for politics has passed beyond cynicism to despair."
His campaign seemed to gather momentum as the political race heated up. Perot promoted himself as a reformer, building on his success with the Texas Public Education system in the 1980s. However, he dropped out of the race in July, later claiming that the Republican Party had planned to embarrass his daughter Carolyn before her wedding. According to The New York Times, Perot believed that the Bush campaign was going to start a rumor about his daughter's sexuality.
Perot returned to the race in October with only weeks left before the election. Despite this setback, he managed to garner nearly 19 percent of the popular vote. Perot was the first independent candidate since Teddy Roosevelt in 1912 to receive this large of a share of the popular vote. Still the lion's share of voters chose Democrat Bill Clinton.
Perot went on to found the Reform Party in 1995. He faced off against Clinton for the presidency again in 1996, publishing Ross Perot: My Life & The Principles for Success to support his platform, though his candidacy failed to win over much public support.
Later Years and Death
Perot retired from the day-to-day operations of Perot Systems in 2000, though he stayed on as the company's chairman. His son, Ross Jr., took the reins of the business. It was later sold to Dell in 2009.
Perot didn't stay out of politics completely, however. In 2012, he threw his support behind Republican candidate Mitt Romney in the presidential race. "The fact is the United States is on an unsustainable course," Perot wrote in an opinion piece for the Des Moines Register. "At stake is nothing less than our position in the world, our standard of living at home and our constitutional freedoms."
Perot died of leukemia on July 9, 2019, at his home in Dallas. He was 89.
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