Ross Perot's billion-dollar journey, from top salesman to business magnate

By Business LeadersFOXBusiness

The life and times of Ross Perot

His two runs for the White House may not have been successful, but Ross Perot struck a chord with voters and shook-up America's political landscape in the process.

Ross Perot was known as a self-made billionaire from Texas who ran for president of the United States in 1992 and 1996 as a third-party candidate — but his successful career all began as a salesman at International Business Machines (IBM).

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Perot, who died Tuesday at 89, joined IBM in 1957 after serving in the U.S. Navy for several years, Bloomberg reported. He excelled at the company, quickly becoming one of the top salesmen. By 1962, his last year at the company, Perot met his sales quota for the year in January.

The Texas native — with a $1,000 loan from his wife, Margot — founded Electronic Data Systems (EDS), focused processing data for large corporations, at the age of 32. Perot found that hardware accounted for about 80 percent of the computer business, while the other 20 percent included services.

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The company's big break came in the mid-1960s when the federal government created Medicare and Medicaid, the health programs for seniors, the disabled and the poor. States needed help in running the programs, and EDS won contracts — starting in Texas — to handle the millions of claims.

Perot became a multimillionaire when EDS sold its first stock to the public in 1968. He was worth $350 million overnight, and his fortune continued to double and triple as his company’s stock steadily rose. Perot’s son, Perot Jr., later recalled in 2018 watching his father become the “Bill Gates of the ‘60s.”

“We watched Dad become the Bill Gates of the '60s. As I tell the children, ‘Fortune’ said he was 'the fastest, richest Texan ever,’” Perot Jr. said in a 2018 interview, according to the Dallas Morning News.

H. Ross Perot, Electronic Data Systems Corp. chairman, poses in Plano, Texas. Perot, the Texas billionaire who twice ran for president, has died, a family spokesperson said. (AP)

Perot made it on Forbes' first-ever ranking of the 400 richest Americans in 1982 despite losing a chunk of his fortune in the early 1970s when EDS shares plunged, Bloomberg reported. In 1984, Perot had reached billionaire status when he sold control of EDS to General Motors Corp. for $2.5 billion. He remained on General Motors’ board for two years before the carmaker bought Perot’s remaining shares of the company for at least $700 million.

Perot went on to establish another computer-services company, Perot Systems Corp, in 1988. He retired as CEO in 2000 and was succeeded by his son, Ross Perot Jr. In 2009, Dell Inc. bought Perot Systems and both father and son received another $1 billion from the deal, the Dallas Morning News reported.

Along with his successful career, Perot also ran for president as a third-party candidate against President George H.W. Bush and then-Democratic candidate Bill Clinton in the 1992 election. Perot managed to receive nearly 19 percent of the popular vote — still not enough to win the election but was the largest percentage of votes for a third-party challenger since former President Theodore Roosevelt's 1912 bid.

Ross Perot is shown on a screen in a paid 30-minute television commercial, during a media preview in Dallas. (AP)

Perot founded the Reform Party in 1995 and made another run for president in 1996. He still lost to Clinton, this time receiving about 8 percent of the vote.

Perot died Tuesday at his home in Dallas following a five-month battle with leukemia, the Dallas Morning News first reported. Family spokesman James Fuller said the 89-year-old was surrounded by family at the time of his death.

“In business and in life, Ross was a man of integrity and action. A true American patriot and a man of rare vision, principle and deep passion, he touched the lives of countless people through his unwavering support of the military and veterans and through his charitable endeavors,” his family said in a statement.

“Ross Perot will be deeply missed by all who loved him. He lives a long and honorable life,” his family added.

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Perot had an estimated net worth of $4.1 billion at the time of his death, according to Forbes.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.