ROSS PEROT - LEADERSHIP 101
JAM VIEWS members love to study great leaders and innovators as we know this is the most successful strategy for becoming successful, ourselves. This week we celebrate the life of H. Ross Perot who passed away a few years back at age 89. A quick study of Ross Perot will ensure you never again complain your boss isn't fair, the government owes you, your back hurts, you never get the good leads, cold calling doesn't work, you're not tall enough, you lost because of company politics, or you're only one person who can't possibly make a difference.
With many thanks to the Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, and Todd Mason's book, Perot, I want to tell you a couple stories about Mr. Perot. He was born in 1930 in Texarkana, Texas where his father was a cotton trader and his mother a secretary. He started his legendary sales training as a boy selling garden seeds, The Saturday Evening Post, and the Texarkana Gazette. Foretelling his future of standing up for himself, he personally confronted the Gazette's Publisher when they attempted to cut his commission rates due to his unexpected success, and he was successful in holding the paper to its word. (see, JAM VIEWS' Don't have you kids take hourly jobs).
After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy and serving, he joined IBM where he sought out new clients and the most difficult accounts which would pay higher commissions. During one difficult installation at a trucking firm, Mr. Perot moved a cot into the computer room so he could feed more data cards into the machine when the reader stopped clicking at all hours of the night. Retired IBM salesman Dean Campbell said, "Right away you think this guy is not run-of-the-mill."
He then was a pioneer in selling large surplus mainframes to companies and negotiating contracts with separate companies and government agencies to lease the unused time, the now ubiquitous computer services and cloud computing model. Each year he surpassed his IBM 100% sales quota earlier and earlier, in 1961 hitting his target on January 19th! So, of course, IBM kept changing his commission structure because he was making too much money (Sales Management #1 Mistake).
Tired of IBM's refusal to move toward computer services and away from focusing on hardware, and tired of battling corporate B-Players, on his 32nd birthday Mr. Perot borrowed $1,000 from his wife Margot and started his own company, EDS. He had been at the barber shop earlier, had picked up an old Reader's Digest, and was struck by the significance of Henry David Thoreau's famous quote. "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."
He made 78 sales calls before he signed up his first client in Iowa, and then got his first big break by signing Frito-Lay. Mr. Perot hired and trained A-Players before we first used the term. He stated, "I want people who are smart, tough, self-reliant, with a history of success since childhood, a history of being the best at what they have done, people who love to win." EDS knocked the socks off their raving fans clients and crushed their competition.
With his great success, in 1969 Mr. Perot formed United We Stand, Inc. to assist Vietnam Prisoners of War. He leased two Boeing 707 jets to airlift 25 tons of packages with medicine, family messages, and Christmas dinners to 1,400 American POWs held in North Vietnam. Battling logistical nightmares with the Vietnamese and their Russian proxies, he sent 150 wives and children of POWs to Paris before Christmas to influence the peace talks with the North Vietnamese delegation.
Mr. Perot negotiated in Laos to deliver the packages but was again turned back. He flew to Bangkok to negotiate with the Russians but had to send the plane Peace on Earth back to Anchorage Alaska for FAA-regulated 12-hour crew rest. While there, Hanoi ruled that the packages could each not be more than 6.5 pounds, so the Red Cross organized over 1,000 Anchorage residents to turn out and repackage the supplies within 12 hours in order to head back. You can't make this up! After traveling 35,000 miles, he was again rejected. He sent another plane which failed again. He offered to personally pay the North Vietnamese Government $100 million in exchange for releasing all American POWs. They turned him down. Yet, the reporters around the world wrote about Perot's heroic missions, and soon the prisoners were receiving better food, mail, medicine, and clothing. Finally, in February 1973, the release of the prisoners began.
Now get this. In 1979, during the Iranian Revolution, two of Perot's employees were taken hostage by the revolutionary government. After weeks of failed negotiations and no help from the U.S. State Department, he said his mother, who was dying of cancer, told him he had to go rescue them. He hired Colonel Arthur Simons to train a commando group of EDS employees who had prior military experience. ("Hey Bob, drop the Pepsi account today. We have a new project for you"). They infiltrated Iran with Mr. Perot, himself, visiting the two employees in prison like a "regular guy with two bags of groceries" to brief them on the mission. A riot was induced, the employees escaped and made it 10 miles to a Hyatt Hotel where they met up with the team which escorted them another 500 miles to the Turkish border. For whipped cream on top, Mr. Perot then sued Iran for $20 million on the contract owed his company and received full payment!
And back to business, Mr. Perot sold EDS to General Motors in 1984 for $2.5 billion and attempted to help "right the ship" at GM. But, of course, his overachievers clashed mightily with GM's corporate sloths, so eventually Perot took another $700 million payout and let the GM management continue their unremarkable path.
But he wasn't finished. After his two-year non-compete expired, he hired eight former EDS executives and started a new computer services firm called Perot Systems. In 2009, Dell Inc. acquired Perot Systems for $3.9 billion. I swear I am not making this stuff up! Did I mention that the 5' 6" Mr. Perot also ran for President of the United States twice, even gaining a remarkable 19% of the vote as an independent? But, you probably already knew that. He spent the last few years enjoying his North Dallas estate with his wife of 63 years, and giving away hundreds of millions of dollars. He was once quoted as saying, "I had a friend who died at age 94, dancing with a beautiful woman. That's the way I want to go. And, I hope it's my wife."
I always wished I was able to meet Mr. Perot. Now, I bet you do, too. Get up earlier this week and knock it out of the park! Do not waste a day!
"I am looking for people who love to win. If I run out of those, I want people who hate to lose." - H. Ross Perot, 1930-2019
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Meade
Thank you to Rolling Stone for the great image.