Though the late Ross Perot might be best-known for his two presidential bids, he deserved just as much attention for his incredibly savvy business acumen. As the founder of two companies and investor in many others, he built an empire worth an estimated $4.1 billion, according to Forbes.
However, this was not always the case. As reported in another Forbes article, Perot was born into humble circumstances as the son of a cotton broker. In order to move up in the world, he entered and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, and later spent four years at sea, during which time he learned the ins and outs of communications systems — a foundation for his later enterprises.
Once out of the navy, Perot joined IBM as a salesman, and quickly found enormous success. He was so successful that, in one year, he met his annual sales quota for data processing systems within the first three weeks of January.
When IBM refused to give Perot more machines to sell, he decided to quit and launch his own company, named Electronic Data Systems. His initial investment was a measly $1,000.
“That’s all the money I ever put into my first company. We bootstrapped it from there,” he said of the seed money.
But it seemed that Perot needed little other investment. President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society programs were right around the corner, and they needed computing systems for initiatives such as Medicare and Medicaid. Soon, Electronic Data Systems was being used by NASA and the Pentagon as well. In 1984, his empire expanded even further, by branching into healthcare and government IT networks.
Later that year, Perot sold his company to General Motors for an eye-watering $2.1 billion. However, despite being on the board, he was soon bought out in a move he called “morally wrong,” per The Los Angeles Times. But Perot got his revenge. In 1988, on the day Perot’s non-compete agreement expired, he founded a second company, Perot Systems. The new Perot Systems was incredibly similar to its predecessor EDS, and was even staffed with former EDS members. Perot Systems was eventually sold to Dell for $3.9 billion.
Perot was also a savvy investor. In 1986, he became a key investor in Steve Jobs’s NeXT Computer, which was later sold to Apple. He also invested heavily in real estate, such as a 30,000-acre compound in Texas that was developed into an “inland port” called AllianceTexas.
His wealth remained enormous despite giving tens of millions of dollars in various philanthropic causes, such as his commitment to helping POW/MIA recovery efforts for the Vietnam War and beyond.
He is survived by his wife and five children.