Henry Ross Perot: Hit or Myth? Continued from cover Perot since 1982 and who wrote Perot: An Unauthorized Biography. That mission now appears to be the capture of the White House. Independent campaigns for Perot sprang up more or less spontaneousa TV talk show host in February he would run for President if the people put him on the ballots of all 50 states. Supporters collected nearly four times as many signatures as needed to put him on the Texas general election ballot; they presented the petitions to him on May 11. His speech on the Texas Capitol grounds applauded them for their activism and outlined his call for reform but was short on specifics; shortly afterward Perot went underground to bone up on the issues. While America waits for Perot the Candidate to reappear, his standing has soared in popularity polls, although the general public still knows little about him. Perot is a man of contradictions. His wealth is estimated at more than $3 billion, but he has dismissed money as “the most overrated thing”; he has dipped into his own pockets to seek the relief of American prisoners in North Vietnam, the return of American hostages in the Mideast and the location of American soldiers still listed as missing in action in Vietnam. He led a Texas War on Drugs and marshalled forces for statewide education reform. He has said he is willing to spend $100 million of his own money to run for President if the people put him on the ballot. Perot has portrayed himself as an outsider ready, if called upon by the people, to clean up Washington. But others depict him as a consummate insider whose life and business have been intertwined with state and federal government for decades. Although Perot leans Republican politically and he voted in the GOP primaries in 1988 and 1990, he has worked with and contributed to the campaigns of politicians of both the Democratic and Republican parties. He has played foreign policy roles for Republican presidents from Richard Nixon, at whose behest he attempted to fly food and medicine to American prisoners of war in North Vietnam in 1969, to Ronald Reagan, who named him to the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board in 1982. In both cases, Perot was frustrated by diplomatic bureaucrats. Perot, who commissioned the storming of a Tehran prison to free two executives of his company who were held there, opposed the Persian Gulf War. He blames the Reagan and Bush administrations for allowing the savings and loan and banking crises to fester and permitting a fourfold increase in the federal debt. He joins Republicans in a business-oriented call for industrial expansion to create jobs and enlarge America’s tax base. But he is a critic of American corporate management policies and 6 JUNE 5, 1992 rejects the proposed free-trade agreement with Mexico as an excuse to move blue-collar jobs south of the border. He plays down Bush’s education summits with governors, blasted Bush for his 1990 budget agreement with Congress and complains that Bush is “whining” over the lack of a line-item veto, although Perot said the President should have that tool to keep budgets in line. Perot, with roots in East Texas, is said to harbor a deep disdain for Bush, an Ivy Leaguer who moved to Texas after World War II to make a fortune in oil. Perot stands 5 feet, 6 inches and sports a military-style haircut. While he exudes a friendly demeanor and plain-spoken folksiness, he is also known for a quick temper, has a reputation for no-nonsense management. He ran Electronic Data Systems much like a military operation, with a corporate headquarters in Dallas encircled by barbed wire and patrolled by armed guards. At least until 1984, the Wall Street Journal reported, employees were expected to follow a strict dress code. Men were forbidden to wear beards and were required to wear light shirts, ties and short hair. The duties of a treasurer included measuring, with a tape measure, the length of women employees’ skirts to ensure proper lengths. Employees could be fired for a range of offenses that included engaging in extramarital affairs or discussing salaries. The Journal reported that EDS ran a sort of “boot camp” that included a training period of as long as two years for systems engineers who maintained and designed customer programs. An estimated one-fourth of trainees did not survive the boot camp. The resulting employees, while comparatively low-paid, had a phenomenal esprit de corps. Some old hands at EDS reportedly were dismayed when Perot, who sold the company to General Motors, started Perot Systems the day after a no-compete clause expired. Born on the Texas Side Henry Ray Perot was born in Texarkana, Texas, 61 years ago, the son of a cotton broker. The young Perot, whose middle name was changed to Ross in memory of an older brother who died, sold Christmas cards, garden seeds and the Saturday Evening Post before he started a paper route in Texarkana slums and collected delinquent accounts for the newspaper during the Depression. Perot was an Eagle Scout, but otherwise he was an unremarkable 1947 graduate of Texarkana High School. He blossomed during his two years at Texarkana Junior College, where he was elected president of the student council in 1948, according to the Mason biography. Perot was graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1953 and he was assigned to a destroyer, the U.S.S. Sigourney, where his career advanced until a change of command in 1955 left a captain with whom Perot clashed. Scott Rothschild of the Associated Press reported that Perot’s father wrote both Texas senators in 1955 asking for help in getting his son off active Navy duty. Perot wrote a letter to the secretary of the Navy complaining about the foul language and immoral behavior he encountered aboard ship. “I have found the Navy to be a fairly Godless organization,” he wrote. “I do not enjoy the prospect of continuing to stand on the quarterdeck as officer of the deck in foreign ports, being subjected to drunken tales of moral emptiness, passing out penicillin pills \(we must assume this was not done to ward part of married men.” Time has softened the memory of his duties. In a 1986 newspaper interview, he recalled his role as the ship’s prosecutor in courts martial. He got convictions of the 19 defendants he prosecuted, but showed a compassionate side when he defended a chief petty officer who hit a Marine MP in a drunken rage. “He should have been convicted,” Perot told the Dallas Morning News. “But I looked on this guy as an individual case, not a class. As a class, the was dead … But as a guy with 19 years experience and five kids, you didn’t want to send him to jail.” Business: The Early Years After his bid for an early discharge fell through, Perot completed his four-year obligation and left the Navy in 1957 to work as a salesman for IBM in Dallas. There he was handed two problem accounts: Southwestern Life Insurance Co. and Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Texas. Perot sold an IBM 7070 the largest IBM mainframe computer of the time by arranging for the insurance company to sell its unused computer time to the Agricultural Commodity Price Stabilization Service, Mason wrote. Perot would refine that concept a few years later into his data processing service, but in the meantime he set sales records, even as he alienated other sales representatives. Still, Perot chafed under the corporate rules at IBM. After meeting his 1962 sales quota in January, he quit IBM and joined Blue CrossBlue Shield as a consulting data processing manager. On June 27, 1962, his 32nd birthday, he wrote a $1,000 check to found Electronic Data Systems. He started reselling unused computer time on a mainframe computer. Four months later he had $100,000 in the bank. As his business grew, he raided IBM for talent. In 1964, EDS had 15 employees and $500,000 in annual revenues. The Health Care Windfall By 1966, the company was still relatively small potatoes, buying idle computer time at wholesale prices and reselling to smaller companies at retail. Perot was working part-time 4*, t 1.0 .1.-eo PO.Mptic.
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