“My role in life is that of the grain of sand to the oyster – it irritates the oyster and out comes a pearl.”
Ross Perot was born in 1930 in Texarkana, Texas. He started his working life early at the age of 7 and held a number of positions from selling garden seeds to bronco busting. He also joined the Eagle Scouts, which he credited as being a critical life changing experience. At 12, he wanted to have his own paper route but the local paper did not have any openings. He convinced the manager that he would open a new route in one of the most dangerous parts of town in return for a higher commission rate. The manager agreed and Perot delivered the papers by horseback to avoid dangerous people.
When he graduated high school, Perot joined the United States Naval Academy. He became a commander and spent four years there. At 27, he returned to civilian life and began working at IBM. At Big Blue, Perot quickly excelled as a salesman. He once passed his annual sales quota by January 19th.
Â Seeing an opportunity to sell more than just hardware, Perot thought IBM could profit by expanding into software and technical support. After hearing his pitch, the decision makers at IBM didn’t think it was an idea worth pursuing. Still upset at the decision, Perot went to his barber for a haircut. There he was reading Reader’s Digest and happened upon a quote which would impact the rest of his life. It was from Henry Thoreau’s Walden: 'The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.’ Perot was resolute to do something more meaningful with his life.
Starting The Business
Determined not to lead the life of quiet desperation, Perot decided to go into business for himself. On June 27, 1962, Perot turned 32 years old. With a $1,000 loan from his wife he started his first company, Electronic Systems Corp, or EDS.
With Perot’s great salesmanship, EDS quickly acquired clients. One of his first big deals was Frito-Lay. However, the real opportunity for EDS came in 1965 when the Medicare and Medicaid programs were first implemented. The sheer size of the operation led to a massive demand for the processing of medical-claims. Perot worked with Blue Cross / Blue Shield and individual states to help them get their medical billing systems from pen and paper to automated computerized functions.
In 1968, Perot focused his efforts on the insurance industry and some private sector clients. His business was worth $2.4 million. Later that year, EDS went public, making Perot a billionaire. Fortune magazine dubbed it 'the greatest personal coup in the history of American finance.’
With his newfound wealth, Perot decided to focus on social issues and try to improve the country that had provided him with the opportunity to succeed.
Building An Empire
Perot’s efforts focused on the war on drugs in Texas and helping find American soldiers who went missing in action. He was also actively engaged in providing support food and medicine for POWs during the Vietnam War.
On his 54th birthday, EDS was acquired by General Motors for a grand sum of $2.5 billion. As part of the deal, Perot agreed to serve on GM’s board of directors. GM bought EDS to continue operating the successful business but also help its own internal information systems. The company had over 100 data centers, none of which talked to each other in an organized way.
The cumbersome bureaucracy at GM, which made it challenging for him to put in place the changes that were required, quickly aggravated Perot. Perot began to openly criticize the company and its Chairman roger Smith. Only two years after the initial agreement had been made, GM bought out Perot’s remaining shares for roughly $700 million.
Not content with sitting still for too long, Perot soon started another company, Perot Systems. Among his first clients was none other than IBM. The company that rejected his ideas was now asking him for help to improve in the systems-management market.
In 1992, while on Larry King Live, host Larry King asked Perot if he would consider running for the Presidency of the United States. Perot’s answer was 'If you, the people, will on your own register me in 50 states, I’ll promise you this: Between now and the convention, we’ll get both parties’ heads straight!’ The audience responded and gave him the support he needed. In the election he won 16 percent of the popular vote.
After the election loss, Perot went back to building Perot Systems, which had slipped into a loss position while he was away. He immediately brought the company back to profitability and in 1999 took the company into an IPO. Perot’s drive and perseverance showed the nation that one person can achieve almost anything when he or she is fully committed to making it happen.