Visiting the Perots

Commentary | May 01, 2014

Writing for The News International, EWI Board Member Ikram Sehgal discusses the development of his friendship and respect for EWI Chairman Ross Perot, Jr. "Ross Perot, Jr. has independently implemented a remarkable and unique entrepreneurial vision along with the family commitment to the bedrock values of ‘integrity, respect, excellence and teamwork,"' says Sehgal. 

Read the piece here on The News International

The first time I saw Ross Perot Sr was during the graduation of my son Zarrar from Boston University in 1994. The US presidential candidate for 1992 was the commencement speaker. 

This day was a high note for me since my son was graduating summa cum laude, topping Boston University in both his majors. My only regret that day was not being able to shake Ross Perot’s hands personally. Thanks to coordination by Darcy Anderson, Ross Jr’s number two in Hillwood Estates, and Dr Ehsan ul Haq (along with his wife Naseem, our wonderful host in Dallas), the father of my son’s best friend Dr Faisal Haq, it was an honour for us almost 20 years to that day to visit this great 83-year old American. Ross Perot Sr took great pride in personally describing the amazing collection of historical memorabilia in his office in Dallas, Texas.

This incomparable privilege would not have been possible without the mutual friendship and respect developed serving as a Board Member alongside Ross Perot Jr, Chairman of the Board of EastWest Institute (EWI) New York (and Brussels), one of the leading think tanks in the world. Two days earlier I was given a helicopter tour of the vast Perot land holdings converted into bustling commercial and residential areas in the farmlands north of Dallas. 

When Ross Jr said that he would personally take me on a helicopter ride and would put me on the helicopter’s controls, I thought he was joking. Reality did not hit me till I was occupying the left seat of the dual controls of his Bell 407 for over an hour from Dallas Fort Worth Airport. 

Flying an Alouette-3 helicopter fully 43 years earlier, in contrast the cyclic was light and sensitive. It took some time before I could prevent the aircraft from lurching and dipping. Out of Texan courtesy Ross Jr and the pilot-in-command Bill Force, a renowned helicopter test pilot, formerly of the US Marine Corps and Eurocopter, pretended not to show any anxiety. 

The Perots of Texas are truly one of the great American families. Eulogised as one of the greatest Americans living, graduating from the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, Ross Perot Sr served five years in the US Navy till 1957, opting thereafter for civilian life as an IBM salesman. 

When the CEO of IBM found out that he was earning more than him because of sales commissions he changed the rules the next year to cap his earnings. Perot Sr reached that cap in the first month. As a salesman, he became acutely aware of the lack of services facilitating operations to the full capacity of the huge computers manufactured by IBM. The ideas he presented to the IBM management were ignored. 

Frustrated, Ross Sr quit in 1962. With a capital of only $1000 he formed Electronic Data Systems (EDS) and did just that. He proudly showed Dr Ehsan and me a copy of that historical $1000 cheque. 

EDS went on to become a success story beyond compare. IBM changed tack later. The irony is that today IBM Global Services is the most profitable part of IBM worldwide. Making it into one of the great corporate successes of the century for method and organisation for others to emulate, Ross Sr eventually sold EDS to General Motors for $2.4 billion in 1984. 

Waiting for the ‘no compete’ period to be over, he founded Perot Systems in 1988 along with eight associates. This was acquired by Dell Systems in 2009 for US$ 3.9 billion, the US$ 30 per share representing 61% premium over the existing share price. An entrepreneur with vision par excellence, Ross Sr invested US$ 20 million in Steve Jobs’ initiative when he left Apple in a power struggle to found his next success story “NeXT”.

Opposing the US entering the First Gulf War, Ross Perot Sr ran as an independent candidate in the 1992 US presidential race. Well ahead with 39 percent of the electorate behind him, he inexplicably quit the race in July. When he decided re-enter the race on Oct 1, the momentum had been lost in the nearly 60-day hiatus. Clearly winning the first debate with his candour, Ross Sr finished third at 19 percent with about 20 million votes in the November elections behind the eventual winner Bill Clinton (45 percent) and George Bush (37.5 percent), the best showing by an independent presidential candidate in US history. 

His son Ross Perot Jr is not just another rich man’s kid. While it does not hurt having the Perot name, it is Ross Sr who struck lucky having him as a son. His calm focus on integrated and organised strategic plan of action for the EWI Board made me soon realise that Ross Jr was no ordinary person. Showing early signs of his father’s determination, he had created history by being the first person (along with Jo Coburn) to fly a helicopter (Bell Long Ranger) around the world in less than 29 days at the age of 21. Graduating from Vanderbilt University he served the US Air Force for nearly nine years as an F-4 pilot. 

Comparably, except for sons of industrial magnate Lt Gen Habibullah Khan Khattak, Lt Gen Ali Kuli Khan Khattak one of the most outstanding sons of the Pakistan Army and Wing Cdre Ahmad Kuli Khan Khattak (winner of the PAF Academy’s Sword of Honour) serving the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), how many sons of our billionaires go into the armed forces to serve the country? Following his father’s sky trail, Ross Jr’s son, Hill, is flying F-16s in the USAF like Ahmad Kuli did in the PAF. 

One was struck by both his vision and eye for detail when Ross Jr briefed me on the map at the Perot-owned Alliance Airport. The ‘Circle T Ranch’ mostly comprises Hillwood Estates, an 18,000 acre landholding in its 25th year of development (40 million square feet of developed space). 

Ross Jr has aggressively expanded the family fortunes through real estate, focusing on development around the Fort Worth Alliance Airport, generating business of about $50 billion and creating 37,000 jobs affecting the lives of millions of people. His great pride in providing economic opportunities for the 1200 persons coming to Dallas per day from other states seeking both secure employment, lesser taxes and a better quality of life was very visible. 

While very much his father’s son, Ross Perot Jr has independently implemented a remarkable and unique entrepreneurial vision along with the family commitment to the bedrock values of ‘integrity, respect, excellence and teamwork’.

Visiting the Perots was both a rare privilege and an eye-opener. While we do have Pakistani magnates like Lt Gen Ali Kuli, currently president of the Pakistan Ex-Servicemen Association (PESA), who give back in service to the people in gratitude for the opportunity this country has given them, many Pakistani tycoons can (and should) do much more than what they presently do for the country in providing jobs and a better quality of life for the people.