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Ex-White House challenger H. Ross Perot dies aged 89

In obtaining 19% of the vote, the third-party candidate may have helped Bill Clinton defeat incumbent president George H.W. Bush.

H. Ross Perot speaks at a rally (AP)
H. Ross Perot speaks at a rally (AP)

H. Ross Perot, the colourful, self-made Texas billionaire who rose from a childhood of Depression-era poverty and twice ran for president as a third-party candidate, has died aged 89.

Mr Perot, whose 19% of the vote in 1992 stands among the best showings by an independent candidate in the past century and is widely thought to have helped Bill Clinton defeat incumbent president George H.W. Bush, died in Dallas surrounded by his devoted family, family spokesman James Fuller said.

As a boy in Texarkana, Texas, Mr Perot delivered newspapers from the back of a pony.

He earned his billions in a more modern way, however.

After attending the US Naval Academy and becoming a salesman for IBM, he went his own way, creating and building Electronic Data Systems Corp, which helped other companies manage their computer networks.

President George H.W. Bush, left, talks with independent candidate Ross Perot as Democratic candidate Bill Clinton stands aside at the end of their second presidential debate (Marcy Nighswander/AP)

Yet the most famous event in his career did not involve sales and earnings; he financed a private commando raid in 1979 to free two EDS employees who were being held in a prison in Iran.

The tale was turned into a book and a movie.

Mr Perot first became known to Americans outside of business circles by claiming that the US government left behind hundreds of American soldiers who were missing or imprisoned at the end of the Vietnam War.

Mr Perot fanned the issue at home and discussed it privately with Vietnamese officials in the 1980s, angering the Reagan administration, which was formally negotiating with Vietnam’s government.

Mr Perot’s wealth, fame and confident prescription for the nation’s economic ills propelled his 1992 campaign against Mr Bush and Mr Clinton.

Some Republicans blamed him for Mr Bush’s loss to Mr Clinton as Mr Perot garnered the largest percentage of votes for a third-party candidate since former President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1912 bid.

During the campaign, Mr Perot spent 63.5 million US dollars  of his own money and bought 30-minute television spots.

He used charts and graphs to make his points, summarising them with a line that became a national catchphrase: “It’s just that simple.”

Mr Perot’s second campaign four years later was far less successful.

H. Ross Perot, of Texas, waves at a rally (AP)

He was shut out of presidential debates when organisers said he lacked sufficient support.

He got just 8% of the vote, and the Reform Party that he founded and hoped to build into a national political force began to fall apart.

However, Mr Perot’s ideas on trade and deficit reduction remained part of the political landscape.

He blamed both major parties for running up a huge federal budget deficit and allowing American jobs to be sent to other countries.

The movement of US jobs to Mexico, he said, created a “giant sucking sound”.

Mr Perot continued to speak out about federal spending for many years.

In 2008, he launched a website to highlight the nation’s debt with a ticker that tracked the rising total, a blog and a chart presentation.

Henry Ross Perot was born in Texarkana on June 27, 1930.

His father was a cotton broker; his mother a secretary.

Mr Perot said his family survived the Depression relatively well through hard work and by managing their money carefully.

H. Ross Perot is shown on a screen in a paid 30-minute television commercial (AP)

Young Mr Perot’s first job was delivering papers in a poor, mostly black part of town from his pony, Miss Bee.

When the newspaper tried to cut his commission, he said he complained to the publisher — and won.

He said that taught him to take problems straight to the top.

From Texarkana, Mr Perot went to the US Naval Academy even though he had never been on a ship or seen the ocean.

After the Navy, Mr Perot joined International Business Machines in 1955 and quickly became a top salesman.

In his last year at IBM, he filled his sales quota for the year in January.

In 1962, with 1,000 US dollars from his wife, Margot, Perot founded Electronic Data Systems.

Hardware accounted for about 80% of the computer business, Mr Perot said, and IBM was not interested in the other 20%, including services.

Many of the early hires at EDS were former military men, and they had to abide by Mr Perot’s strict dress code, white shirts, ties, no beards or moustaches — and long workdays.

Many had crew cuts, like Mr Perot.

The company’s big break came in the mid-1960s when the federal government created Medicare and Medicaid, the health programmes for seniors, the disabled and the poor.

States needed help in running the programmes, and EDS won contracts, starting in Texas, to handle the millions of claims.

EDS first sold stock to the public in 1968, and overnight, Mr Perot was worth 350 million US dollars.

His fortune doubled and tripled as the stock price rose steadily.

In 1984, he sold control of the company to General Motors Corp for 2.5 billion US dollars and received 700 million dollars in a buyout.

In 2008, EDS was sold to Hewlett-Packard Co.

Mr Perot went on to establish another computer-services company, Perot Systems Corp.

He retired as chief executive in 2000 and was succeeded by his son, Ross Perot Jr.

In 2009, Dell Inc. bought Perot Systems.

In September 2011, Forbes magazine estimated Mr Perot’s wealth at 3.5 billion US dollars and ranked him 91 on its list of richest Americans.



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