Ross Perot was a legend. The eccentric Texan billionaire, lived a colorful and adventurous life, founding major companies and twice running for president as an independent.
Mr. Perot handily passed the ethics test with flying colors, deliberately choosing to take a stand and doing the right thing. He knew ethics is good business and his companies were beacons that stood out in our community as a result.
Many dignitaries have paid tribute to Mr. Perot, from Al Gore who said he’d “always had the utmost respect for Ross Perot, for his patriotism, love of country, and extraordinary commitment to our veterans;” to Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, who said Perot was “a stick of dynamite in the pond of US politics back in 1992, and he was an American original, who got a larger portion of the vote [as a third-party candidate] than anyone since Bull Moose’s Teddy Roosevelt in 1912.”
Regardless of his colorful business past and even more colorful political involvement, few would disagree regarding Mr. Perot’s basic character. He was a man of integrity. His basic philosophy was: “If not me, who? And if not now, when?” This behavior was evident in all he did, whether it was popular or not.
Mr. Perot worked for IBM before founding his own computer services giant, Electronic Data Systems (EDS), his first computer services company, in 1962 with $1,000 in savings. It later became an industry leader which went public in 1968, and eventually was sold to General Motors for $2.5 billion in 1984. He then founded Perot Systems, which was sold to Dell for $3.9 billion in 2009.
In 1992, Mr. Perot jumped into the presidential race as an independent, spending $63.5 million of his own money, reaching voters with appearances on CNN and buying his own 30-minute TV spots in which he used charts and graphs to make points he summarized with a line that became a national catchphrase: “It’s just that simple.”
His campaign focused on cutting the national debt, protecting American workers from outsourcing, and campaign reform. He peaked at 40% in the polls and drew the biggest percentage of the vote for a third-party candidate in 80 years.
Many Republicans and historians believe Mr. Perot cost George HW Bush the presidency in 1992 when he took 19% of the vote and Bill Clinton won the White House.
And there is serious conversation that says Perot prefigured or paved the way for the rise of Donald Trump, when he first flirted with a run for the presidency in 2000, seeking the nomination of the Reform Party, which Perot founded after his first campaign and led in his second.
Mr. Perot worked to support families of prisoners of war in Vietnam, challenging the claim that thousands of POW’s were left in the country after the end of the war. In 1979, he financed and oversaw a commando-style rescue of two EDS employees from an Iranian prison, an escapade which inspired a book and a film.
“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 compassion, he touched the lives of countless people through his unwavering support of the military and veterans and through his charitable endeavors,” James Fuller, a representative for the Perot family, said in a statement.
Ethics is about promise-keeping, loyalty, caring and compassion, accountability, leadership and commitment to excellence. He was committed to doing the right thing for his employees, customers and the community. The results of his efforts paid off. He early on realized if you do the right thing you just might make a profit.
Mr. Perot epitomized ethical business and civic character with his philosophy of “What is the right thing to do?” It paid off.