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Billionaire H. Ross Perot Was Known in Texas for Development as Well as Presidential Run

JULY 09, 2019 | CANDACE CARLISLE

 

H. Ross Perot, an American businessman, also invested in land in North Texas. Photo: The Perot Family

H. Ross Perot, the Texas billionaire who died this week in Dallas, earned renown for building a technology business powerhouse and his unconventional run for president as a third-party candidate. But in Texas, he's also remembered for a gutsy development he took on, during an economic lull, that would transform part of the state.

The American businessman, who died at 89 after reportedly fighting leukemia, worked into his later years at the family office along Turtle Creek Boulevard in Dallas, which includes a museum devoted to his family's history. He founded Electronic Data Systems as well as Perot Systems after a career as a computer salesman for IBM. Later, he used his career in business as the basis of two U.S. presidential runs as a third-party candidate on a platform of protecting the U.S. worker from outsourcing and cutting the national debt. At the time of his death, his net worth was estimated to be $4.1 billion, according to Forbes.

Less known nationally is that Perot set in motion what later became AllianceTexas, a 26,000-acre master-planned, mixed-use development in North Texas centered on the country's first industrial airport, Alliance Airport. In the mid-to-late 1980s, the U.S. real estate market was tanking, but Perot began buying thousands of acres from generational family owners on the western side of the region. This was the beginning of AllianceTexas.

"He was buying land that everyone else was selling," said Robert Grunnah, a longtime land broker with Dallas-based Younger Partners, in an interview. "When I asked him why he was buying it, he said it wasn't for him or his children, but for his grandchildren."

Grunnah represented the sellers in up to 3,000 acres, forming the foundation of the massive development and the older Perot was the one sitting at the closing table. Later, his son, Ross Perot Jr., took his plans and founded Hillwood, the development company behind AllianceTexas and other major real estate development, investment and acquisition deals throughout the world.

"He had a great deal of foresight with a long-term goal, which he exceeded," Grunnah added.

The late Perot also developed the corporate campus for Electronic Data Systems Inc., which sold at the end of last year. The EDS campus helped set the tone for corporate campuses in the area such as Toyota's North American headquarters and major regional offices for NTT Data, FedEx Office, Liberty Mutual Insurance and JPMorgan Chase.

"In business and in life, Ross was a man of integrity and action," said the Perot family in a written statement issued Tuesday. "A true American patriot and a man of rare vision, principle and deep compassion, he touched the lives of countless people through his unwavering support of the military and veterans and through his charitable endeavors. Ross Perot will be deeply missed by all who loved him. He lived a long and honorable life."

Perot was born June 27, 1930, in Texarkana, Texas, to Gabriel Ross and Lulu May Perot. Throughout his life, he said even though he was born during the Great Depression, he was fortunate because of the love and example set by his parents. Perot credited his parents for laying a foundation that later led to his successes in business and life, with an emphasis on the importance of honesty, generosity, hard work and family.

An Eagle Scout who served as president of his class at Texarkana High School, he received an appointment to attend the United States Naval Academy. It was there he met his wife, Margot Birmingham, who was a student at Goucher College in Baltimore. The two were married Sept. 15, 1956, in Margot's hometown of Greensburg, Pennsylvania.

H. Ross Perot and Margot Perot on the couple's 50th wedding anniversary. Image: The Perot Family

After Perot graduated from the Naval Academy in 1953 as a battalion commander, he was commissioned as an ensign in the Navy during the country's last stages of the Korean War. As he was preparing to leave the Navy, he accepted a job as a salesman at IBM in Dallas.

The sales job capitalized on the business experience he learned working alongside his father selling saddles in Texarkana. Later, he began selling horses, buying a horse in the morning and later selling it in the afternoon for a small profit. At IBM, he excelled in his role to the point in January 1962, he met his sales quota for the entire year.

By that June, Perot decided to strike out on his own after IBM decided not to enter the computer support services business, taking $1,000 he saved from his work and Margot's teaching salary to found Electronic Data Systems. He ended up selling EDS to General Motors for $1.5 billion in 1986. In the coming years, he created a second company, Perot Systems, which he sold to Dell Computer for $3.9 billion in 2009.

In 1979, Perot was appointed by Texas Gov. Bill Clements to lead an effort to toughen drug laws in the state and boost public awareness. Years later, he led a statewide education revision initiative at the request of Gov. Mark White to recommend pay increases for teachers and more state aid to property-poor school districts.

Later, he ran two presidential campaigns, one in 1992 and the other in 1996, as a third-party candidate focused on campaign reform, protecting American workers from outsourcing and cutting the country's debt. In 1992, he won 19.7 million votes, or nearly 20% of the voters, which is more than any third-party candidate since Theodore Roosevelt ran on the Bull Moose ticket in 1912.

In his career, he received 19 honorary doctorates from universities.

He is survived by his wife Margot; his sister Bette Perot; son Ross Jr. and his wife Sarah Perot; daughter Nancy and her husband Rod Jones; daughter Suzanne and her husband Patrick McGee; daughter Carolyn and her husband Karl Rathjen; daughter Katherine and her husband Eric Reeves; and numerous grandchildren.

A public memorial service is expected, but details were not immediately available Tuesday.

H. Ross Perot breaking a horse in Texarkana, Texas, in 1947. Photo: The Perot Family

H. Ross Perot outside his Electronic Data Systems building in the 1960s. Photo: The Perot Family

H. Ross Perot during a POW mission trip in 1969. Photo: The Perot Family

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